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Shabbat 13 February 2015 – Parasha Mishpatim

Shabbat comes in at 4.57pm & goes out Saturday 6.01pm

rabbipaulsmlParashat Mishpatim has a long list of commandments that is referred to as the “Holiness Code.”   Many of these mitzvot are based on inter-personal relationships — how we should treat one another.  And if we don’t obey them?   God does not discuss very many consequences for failure to obey these commandments. There is one exception. God commands (Ex. 22:21-22):

“You shall not mistreat [oppress] any widow or orphan. If you indeed mistreat them, when they cry out to Me I will certainly heed their cries. And My anger will flare up, and I will kill you by the sword; your wives will become widows and your children orphans.”

Rabbi Yose said, Why does God love orphans and widows? It is because their eyes are fixed only on God, as it is written, “A father to orphans; a defender of widows” [Ps. 68:5]. Therefore all who rob them – it is as if they robbed the Holy One of Blessing, for God is their father in heaven, and God becomes angry for their sake, as it is written, “And My anger will flare up, and I will kill you,” etc….

The Torah’s statement applies to all orphans and widows, no matter their station in society because, as Ramban (Nahmanides, Spain 13th C.) points out, anyone suffering such a loss becomes vulnerable; “their souls become lowly” (to Ex. 22:21).   Rashi adds that in reality, the Torah means every vulnerable person, and merely singles out widows and orphans because these are particularly vulnerable “and are commonly mistreated” (to Ex. 22:21). We probably all know of, or at least have heard of, cases in which the elderly, mentally ill or others without the means or strength to defend themselves become victims, whether of theft, intimidation or violence.

It has often been said that a society is judged by the way it treats its most vulnerable members. God commands Israel in the Holiness Code to protect its vulnerable members, setting the example for all nations.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Paul Arberman

February 13, 2015