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Mishpatim 2018

It would be quite legitimate to feel that our Torah readings up
until this point have been narrative, historic and ethical in their
import. For the most part the Sidrot that remain until Simchat
Torah are legislative in their character.

The legislation firstly encompasses religious observances per
se, in the strict sense, uniquely concerning the relationship
between man and Hashem. Secondly socially and ethically
orientated laws, which non religious thinkers claim are based
in common sense. Perhaps, they forget that their line of
reasoning is made with the benefit of western philosophy based
over the past 1500 years in Judeo-Christian ethics.

Mishpatim, is a sedra that contains 53 mitzvot arranged in their
own peculiar logic. To have some perception of this logic, one
might refer back to last week’s sedra and note how one of the
commentators (the Netziv) explains the reason the giving of
the 10 commandments was accompanied by thunder and
lightning. He considers the thunder and lightning evidenced the
communication of the Oral Torah; which was given
simultaneously as the actual words of the written Torah. The
thunder and lightning may have been incomprehensible until
decoded by Moshe and the rabbis. Yet, the communication of
the Oral Law by thunder and lightening hints that the Written
Torah is equally perplexing in its agenda, unless one delves
into it diligently.

The weeks ahead will tantalize us with long enactments of some
laws, and mere reference to others, which are juxtaposed in a
unique arrangement, testing our intellectual faculties to the limit.
I for my part will take strength, solace and intellectual
nourishment from the thunder and lightning which evidences
that the Torah is a symphony that requires an acute tonal
aptitude.

Jeffrey Samuels

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