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Mishpatim 2020

Reading through the Sedra, the first verse in Revii jumped off the page at me. ‘You shall not curse a judge, neither shall you curse a prince among your people (Shemot 22:27).’ It did not seem to follow on from what came before, nor connect with what comes after. I looked at the hebrew text and didn’t see the word I expected for judge – shofet, but Elokim which has a completely different connotation for me, being one of the names of Hashem.

I was intrigued and jumped down the rabbit hole. Before long I found myself looking at Talmud Sanhedrin 66a which references the verse above when discussing the punishment for someone who curses their mother or father – stoning, but only if they had included the name of God in the curse.

How is this conclusion derived? From the sentence quoted above coupled with a kaleidoscope of different points of view. The situation where the father is a king or a judge – pretty obvious. It is then taken wider. What is the difference between a judge and a king? We are commanded to follow the halachic ruling of a judge. We are commanded to ignore the halachic ruling of a king however we are commanded not to rebel against the king. Very different forms of respect. The only common denominator is that they are ‘of your people’ as are one’s parents and they’re are all people who deserve respect.

The discussion continues with the introduction of another verse. ‘You shall not curse the deaf nor put a stumbling block before the blind (Vayikra 19:14). These are ‘the wretched of your people’ and we must not curse them. If we can’t curse prominent people and we can’t curse wretched people – it’s not too big a leap to suggest that we shouldn’t curse anyone at all.

There’s further discussion about the use of the word ‘Elokim’. For those who believe it means ‘judge’ it follows that we also should not curse God. For those who believe that it means God, the suggestion is that anyone who is called by the name ‘Elokim’ should not be cursed because God can’t be cursed. Hence it applies to judges.

Reading the page made my head spin – I could imagine the debate taking place before my eyes. I can’t wait to turn over to Sanhedrin 66b!

Written for the Refuah Sh’lemah of Yaffa Adina bat Elka.

Steven Daniels

More documents on this Parshah: