Mishpatim

  1. The slave laws are one of the earliest groups of laws after ten commandments section. Isn’t this weird. We just learned we were free, why bring up slavery? Perhaps because in those days, slavery was a reality, but our slavery was different. As we see here, our slavery had rules and had an end. With law, our slaves had hope.
  2. If we have a man who strikes a slave – if enough time passes he isn’t (effectively) charged with murder even if the person dies. As an interesting counterpoint, this week (in 2012) there was a New York cop who was badly hurt by a man. 6 years later, she died and the New York authorities were then considering charging the man for murder. Is this just? It is food for thought.
  3. Why do we have such a hard time lending money to the poor at interest? Isn’t risk real – even more for the poor? Doesn’t interest open up funding they might need? I think the prohibition is fundamental. Interest is an acknowledgement of real-world risks. As part of being a holy people, we intentionally ignore those risks – especially when lending to people who need the peace and security of Kedusha.
  4. Why can’t we favor the poor person in a lawsuit? We can look at is like a mirror of options: We don’t favor the rich because we should not be corrupted by their power. But we don’t favor the poor because we should not corrupt ourselves and the poor with things that they did not earn.
  5. Why leave land fallow in the seventh year. If the reason is to rejuvenate the land, why not do it rotationally. That way most land is always being farmed and the community has food. But the Sabbatical is all at once – for everyone. Not only that, but it is bundled together with the poor eating of the crops. This is a time of Shabbat, of rest – not agricultural maximization.
  6. Why can’t we cook a kid in mother’s milk? On one level you are combining life-giving milk with the life-taking of meat. But I think it goes beyond that. The mother’s potential is in her children and her milk is a tool for that enabling that potential to become real. It is especially cruel to combine the loss of that potential with the life-giving tool she uses to actualize it.
  7. There are discussions that suggest the nobles of Israel sinned by eating before Hashem. It is an amazing scene – they perceive Hashem and they eat and drink – but Moshe himself doesn’t eat or drink for 40 days to get the Ten Commandments and pray for forgiveness. Isn’t eating disrespectful? They key to me is the word chazo – it implies a vision or prophecy, not direct sight. Perhaps through eating and drinking they celebrate the presence of Hashem just like we do at the Shabbos table. We eat and drink partially as a process of perceiving – they just reversed it. Indeed, the elders pass the test… Moshe is invited to collect the stone tablets. In our interactions with Hashem we should have fear and love. But when we fear, we shouldn’t shudder like the people did at Har Sinai (resulting in them not being able to come up). It implies a lack of trust. Here, the elders are trusting enough to eat and that is a good thing.

 

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