Gathering Sources: Mishpatim

Some thoughts and resources for exploring the Torah portion Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18. This is part of a series of weekly “gathering sources” posts, collecting previous material on the weekly Torah portion, most originally part of a 2009-2010 series called “Opening the Book.”

Something to Notice: Torn foodstuff

Great Source(s): Wandering Asses

Language and Translation: What should not be done to a ger

A path to follow: Do and Say

See also
One Woman’s Conclusion
Pavement of Sapphire Below, Consuming Fire Above

Mishpatim is next read in the Diaspora minchah Feb 15 through Shabbat February 22.

Mishpatim: Pavement of Sapphire Below, Consuming Fire Above

“Then Moses and Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascended; and they saw the God of Israel: under his feet there was the likeness of a pavement of sapphire, like the very sky for purity. Yet He did not raise His hand against the leaders of the Israelites; they beheld God, and they ate and drank….the cloud covered the mountain….Now the Presence of the LORD appeared in the sight of the Israelites as a consuming fire on the top of the mountain. Moses went inside the cloud and ascended the mountain; and Moses remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights.”
–Exodus 24:9-18, parashat Mishpatim

ZachLynch_Mishpatim

Multi-media work by Zachary L. Very Special Arts-DC ARTiculate Program. June 2011. NOTE: viewers can see themselves in the reflective surface atop the mountain.

Zachary L. was called to the Torah as a bar mitzvah on Shabbat Mishpatim 5771 (Jan 29, 2011). His Torah reading included the verses above. A skilled artist, Zach extended his learning by using images from the Torah portion to complete a multi-media work, “Mt. Sinai.” This new visual midrash, commissioned by and installed at Temple Micah (DC), was created through the ARTiculate Studio of Very Special Arts-DC.

ARTiculate

VSA Washington D.C. was launched in 1981 and forced to close, due to financial difficulties, in 2011. It was a community-based non-profit developing, implementing and supporting arts-integrated education and employment programs for youth and adults with special needs. VSA-DC was a local affiliate of “Very Special Arts: the International Organization on Arts and Disability,” founded 40 years ago by Ambassador Jean Kennedy Smith.

Along with a gallery, an arts-based charter school and other programs, VSA-DC offered “ARTiculate,” designed to help individuals with disabilities or other disadvantages develop vocational, social and life-management skills. ARTiculate worked to increase participants’ independence, productivity and inclusion into their communities through creative learning activities that integrate adult education with art experiences.

Shabbat Mishpatim: One Woman’s Conclusion

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“Aaron suggested looking for Moses, who’d disappeared by then, but Miriam and I agreed — a rare event in our acquaintance…and about something concerning her brother, at that! — to let Moses pursue his experience as we pursued ours. So, we saw God, and we ate and drank.” — From One Woman’s Conclusion (A Haftarah): Exodus 24:1-11 AKA “Lunch with God”

This midrash, written in the year 2000, I think, is based on the last verses of Parashat Mishpatim. So I share it again for this Shabbat.

Mishpatim: Racism and Idolatry

This week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim ([Laws], Exodus 21:1-24:18), warns us severely and often about evils of racism. The bible knew no such word, of course, and, ironically, this portion also contains material that appears to accept “bondage” as a normal part of [ancient] life. But messages about racial justice and related concepts are nonetheless there, and quite strong, if we look carefully.

“God’s wrath” and “idolatry”

The biblical expression “divine wrath” is reserved for cases of idolatry on the part of the whole Nation, according to Maimonides and later scholars. And this understanding calls us to avoid afflicting “widows and orphans”:

In our case [Exodus 22:23: “My wrath will burn (וְחָרָה אַפִּי)”], the same expression is deliberately used in order to equate the affliction of the orphan and the widow to idolatry, teaching us that there is no crime greater than this.
New Studies in Shemot/Exodus, Nehama Leibowitz, p.395

Many teachers understand “widows and orphans” as a biblical expression meaning “the most vulnerable among us,” which surely includes victims of hundreds of years of racism in the U.S. From a somewhat more literal perspective, black communities today include too many widows and orphans, as well as grieving mothers and traumatized communities.

Moreover, idolatry and racism are directly connected:

Few of us seem to realize how insidious, how radical, how universal an evil racism is. Few of us realize that racism is man’s gravest threat to man, the maximum of hatred for a minimum of reason, the maximum of cruelty for a minimum of thinking.

Perhaps this Conference should have been called “Religion or Race.” You cannot worship God and at the same time look at man as if he were a horse.

“Race prejudice, a universal human ailment, is the most recalcitrant aspect of the evil in man” (Reinhold Niebuhr), a treacherous denial of the existence of God.

What is an idol? Any god who is mine but not yours, any god concerned with me but not with you, is an idol.
Abraham Joshua Heschel, Conference on “RELIGION AND RACE” (14 JANUARY 1963)

Both Heschel and Leibowitz stress, based on ancient tradition, that being silent in the face of oppression is as serious as committing the crime ourselves. (No time to explore this further right now — Shabbat is almost upon us — but will return to this theme.)

Strangers

This portion is also one in which we are warned about not oppressing a stranger, reminded again and again that we were once strangers in Egypt.

In addition, we are warned against “false reports” and “running with the multitude,” both of which seem obviously connected to racism. (Again, time has run out for now. More later.)
Continue Reading

A House of Prayer for All People?

“…to the poor person who is with you [et-he’ani imach]…” (Exodus 22:24)

Listen! 
Did that study group just ask “us” to consider the plight of “the poor”?
Did that prayer just focus on “the needy” as though we were weren’t present? 
Is this house of prayer really for all people?

Listen! 
Recognize the special burdens of relative wealth, but don’t assume everyone here bears them. 
Acknowledge privilege but don’t assume everyone present enjoyed its fruits. 
And never speak as though “the poor” are not in the house. 

Listen!
Can you hear the sounds of loss and fear, struggle and stress all around you?  
Know the difference between sleeping on a park bench and moving in with friends when house payments fail; 
Realize that worrying about whether one will eat today is different from making excuses to skip business lunches; 
Understand that dropping out of college is more catastrophic than struggling on without textbooks or funds to visit home; 
And be aware that never having a day of economic ease sits on one’s consciousness differently than losing one’s pension. 
But remember that no challenge is easy to manage just because someone else is facing a greater — or a different — one.
Hear, and honor, everyone’s experience.

Only then, when all have listened and all have heard. Only then, when our language and our minds make room for the full variety around us… only then, together, will our “light blaze forth like the dawn” and our “wounds quickly heal.”

(2012, CC BY-NC-SA)

Mishpatim: Something to Notice

People of holiness shall you be to Me: you shall not eat flesh of an animal that was torn in the field [t’reifah]; to the dog shall you throw it. — Exodus/Shemot 22:30

The Hebrew “treif” — Yiddish, “trayf” — comes from the verb taraf (tav-reish-feh), “to prey, devour,” and came to mean, more generally, “unfit to eat” or unkosher.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.

Mishpatim: Great Source(s)

“When you encounter your enemy’s ox or ass wandering, you must take it back to him.” — Exodus 23:4

One of the important features found in Mishpatim regarding the regulating of behavior in the public sphere is when it deals with those situations wherein there is a breakdown within the normal and expected realities that generally govern this sphere. Such a breakdown undermines peaceful coexistence between society’s members….

…the Torah is attempting to create men who, in their interactions with others, are governed by a sense of responsibility to act not in accordance with their own interests, but rather in accordance with the needs, hopes, and aspirations of the other. If Hillel (Talmud, Shabbat 31a) states that the fundamental principle governing our moral interactions is “what is hateful to you, do not do to others,” the laws of lost property dictate and teach us that you are not the sole barometer of what is right and what is necessary, but, rather, the other person who is in need of your assistance. It is your responsibility to truly see the other — to be senstive to their needs and desires and then to respond with moral activism. — Hartman, p.117, 121

This quote is taken from R. Donniel Hartman’s essay, “A Man in Public,” IN The Modern Men’s Torah Commentary.* The entire essay can be read at http://books.google.com. The brief article discusses some of the related issues in Jewish law, such as how to determine when an article is “ownerless.”

Shemot/Exodus 23:4 is frequently referenced in explorations of Jewish values generally and, more specifically, with regard to “hakem takem imo” — lifting up/aiding those in distress. It is cited, along with other verses from this week’s portion, in Hershey H. Friedman’s “Creating a Company Code of Ethics: Using the bible as a guide.” (Also see Talmud as a Business Guide at Academia.edu)See also, Nechama Leibowitz,* “Two Acts of Help.”

* Please see Source Materials for complete citations and more details.

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The “Opening the Book” series was originally presented in cooperation with the independent, cross-community Jewish Study Center and with Kol Isha, an open group that for many years pursued spirituality from a woman’s perspective at Temple Micah (Reform). “A Song Every Day” is an independent blog, however, and all views, mistakes, etc. are the author’s.