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Torah Sparks

MISHPATIM - SHABBAT SHEKALIM
February 24, 2001 - 5761

Prepared by Rabbi Randall J. Konigsburg
Temple Sinai, Hollywood, FL

Edited by Rabbi David L. Blumenfeld, PhD
Department of Services to Affiliated Congregations

Annual Cycle: Exodus 21:1-24:18; Hertz Chumash, p. 305
Triennial Cycle III: Exodus 23:20-24:18; p. 319
Rosh Hodesh: Numbers 28:9-15 / Maftir: Exodus 30:11-16; p. 352
Haftarah: II Kings 12:1-17; p. 993

(21:1-11) The beginning of the Covenant Code. Laws regarding master and slave.

(21:12-17) Capital crimes.

(21:18-22:5) Laws of personal injury, property damage, theft, and negligence.

(22:6-14) Laws governing different kinds of property custodians: unpaid, paid, and borrowers.

(22:15-26) Laws against the seducer, occult practices, and forbidding the oppression of the powerless and the weak, including the stranger, the widow and the orphan, and the poor.

(22:27-30) Miscellaneous laws concerning respect for authority, gifts to the priests, and the prohibition of eating torn flesh (trefah).

(23:1-9) Laws of righteous behavior toward others.

(23:10-19) Laws concerning the Sabbatical year, Shabbat, and Festivals.

(23:20-33) An epilogue exhorting the Israelites to follow God's law, emphasizing the rewards they will receive if they do so.

(24:1-18) The covenant is ratified through a formal ceremony of acceptance. Moses and the elders eat a meal and see a vision of God. Moses alone ascends the mountain to receive the stone tablets, remaining there for forty days and nights.

Discussion Theme 1: Can We Just Switch Words?

He designated some young men among the Israelites, and they offered burnt offerings and sacrificed bulls as offerings of well-being to the Lord (Exodus 24:5)

  1. Once King Ptolemy assembled seventy-two sages, placed them in seventy-two separate rooms, and said to them, "Transcribe for me into Greek the Torah of Moses your teacher." whereupon the Holy One Blessed be He placed goodly counsel into the heart of each one. An example: they all translated (the above verse) as one: "and he sent the dignitaries of the Children of Israel" (lest "young men" be taken negatively). (Talmud Megillah 9a)
  2. Three scrolls were found in the Azarah (the Temple Court). In one scroll it was found to be written: "And he sent dignitaries of the Children of Israel" and in the two others: "the youths of the children of Israel." The latter two were retained and the first one, voided. (Yerushalmi Taanit 4:2)
  3. Ibn Ezra himself included several enigmatic comments in his own writings that hint that he had doubts of his own. He alluded to several biblical passages that appeared not to be from Moses' own hand: passages that referred to Moses in the third person, used terms that Moses would not have known, described places where Moses had never been, and used language that reflected another time and locale from those of Moses. Nonetheless, Ibn Ezra apparently was not willing to say outright that Moses was not the author of the Five Books. He simply wrote, "And if you understand, then you will recognize the truth."

Discussion Sparks:

There are, sometimes, Hebrew passages in Torah that are so cryptic that it is difficult to understand what is happening. For instance, who are these "youths" who offer the sacrifices? Can we just change words (as in this case, "youths" to "dignitaries") to fit our meaning? Why are we so concerned that the biblical text not be changed when scholars for centuries were talking about difficulties with the text we have? What danger is there in amending the text? What danger is there in NOT amending the text?

Discussion Theme 2: The Way You Do The Things You Do

Then he took the record of the Covenant and read it aloud to the people. And they said, "All that the Lord has spoken we will faithfully do (lit. "we will do and obey") (Exodus 24:7)

  1. There are so many wise men, scholars, and philosophers in the world all of them pondering, investigation and delving into the mystery of G-d. And why do they misuse their wisdom? They only misuse it because they are limited by their intellectual level and perceptual capacity. But the people of Israel are a holy people. They possess special instruments that elevate their perceptual capacity and enable them to transcend the level of their intellect and attain the level of ministering angels themselves. And these are the instruments: the performance of mitzvot. This is just what Israel said when they stood at Mount Sinai, "We will do and we will hear". Through the power of the mitzvot we perform, we are able to understand. (Menachem Mendl of Kotzk, in L. Kushner and K. Olitzky; Sparks Beneath The Surface; p. 89-90)
  2. Only three months after their miraculous liberation from slavery, they were asked to willingly submit to a new sovereign. Even the miracles they had witnessed had not convinced them that G-d was any different from Pharaoh... They were resistant to the idea of G-d. They wished to be freed from slavery by miracle, but to have no concomitant sense of commitment to the force that freed them. In a word, Israel was no different than us. We, too, are resistant to the idea of G-d. And submission to G-d is even more difficult. There is almost no modern sense that such submission has anything to do with freedom. We value freedom, and so we try to keep freedom itself unrestrained by what looks like strictures. Freedom is desirable, even great. But the vigilance that freedom demands and the commitment to be a nation under G-d, well, that is another story. (Burton Visotzky; The Road to Redemption; p. 210)

Discussion Sparks:

Isn't is just like a human being, we just can't make a commitment! The ratification of the Law here, is quite different from when the Commandments were spoken in last week's parashah. Are the people responding here to the Law or to the ceremony of covenant? What is it that the "Kotzker" says makes us better than all the non-Jewish scholars? How does doing mitzvot help us the understand G-d better?

Why is there such lack of commitment among many Jews about doing mitzvot? Why did our ancestors immediately say, "we will do and we will listen" and we, their descendants, don't jump at the opportunity as they did?


 
 
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