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Haddy the Hebrew: Parshat Mishpatim

This week’s Parshah is Parshat Mishpatim, which means “ordinances.” This parshah begins in Exodus 21:1 and ends in Exodus 24:18. 

Last week’s parshah ended with the revelation at Mount Sinai. Mishpatim picks up from there and lays out the series of laws which G-D gives the Jewish people. While in last week’s parshah, the Israelites received the Ten Commandments, they are now being told in-depth laws they must also keep. 

The laws that are given to them range across many topics. They have to do with things like the laws of keeping slaves, the penalties for various crimes like murder, assault and theft, kidnapping and restitution for damages and the laws of loans.

This is also where the Jewish people receive the laws about not mixing meat and dairy, how to observe seasonal festivals and what gifts are to be brought to the Holy Temple. In all, the Israelites receive 53 commandments. In Judaism, we abide by 613 commandments, so this is just scratching the surface. 

G-D then promises the Israelites that he will bring them to Israel and warns them not to fall into the Pagan practices of the current inhabitants. Moses then leaves his brother Aaron and Hur, Moses’ nephew, in charge of the camp while he descends up Mount Sinai. Moses remains there for 40 days and 40 nights to receive the Torah from G-D.

Growing up, I always thought of this Parshah as boring. Reading through a list of laws, especially seemingly irrelevant ones, can be overwhelming. We don’t enslave people, and our laws are made by the countries we inhabit. 

The relevancy isn’t exactly in the laws themselves but rather in the type of law presented. All of these are civil laws. But the Torah is a religious book, so why does it concern itself with seemingly areligious concepts? We can understand why the Torah would explain the laws around celebrating festivals and bringing sacrifices to the Holy Temple. Still, it’s more complicated when the Torah explains laws that we would leave up to a federal court. 

So what are civil laws doing in the Torah? And why do they get so much detail and attention when laws having to do with religious practices don’t? The law for Shabbat, for example, is just one line. But the laws for who is liable if one person’s animal kills another person’s animal are pages and pages long. 

Laws are generally supposed to ensure that we all act in a decent way toward each other. Laws exist so that we can be good people. Throughout history, the earliest civilizations created laws and rules for their people. Through this parshah, we can understand that the Torah is not just a holy book, it is also a book of legislation. 

The Jewish people are not just part of a religious group. The Israelites were a civilization bound by their shared belief in G-D. In a time when Jews are spread far and wide, this remains true. Judaism continues to be much more than a religion, even if it is not necessarily a civilization. The Jewish community is greater than a religion, and these laws are a reminder that from a civilization came a people. 

Hadass Galili is a senior studying political science pre-law at Ohio University. Please note that the views and opinions of the columnist do not reflect those of The Post. Do you agree? Tell Hadass by tweeting her at @HadassGalili.

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