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Parashat Mishpatim / פרשת משפטים

Crop of Moses Forbids the People to Follow Him by James Joseph Jacques Tissot


Parashat Mishpatim is the 18th weekly reading in the annual Torah reading cycle, and the sixth reading of Shemot (“Exodus”). Ha’Mishpatim (הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים) is Hebrew for The Judgements and is the second word of the parashah, which records HaShem’s instructions concerning the governance of His Kingdom and the judgment of various matters among His people, which HaShem instructs Moshe (Moses) to relate to His people following the Mitzvah (Commandment; a.k.a. Ten Commandments) which He spoke in our hearing at Sinai.

HaShem now instructs His people in how they are to be governed and judged, beginning with instructions pertaining to the treatment and freeing of the Eved Ivri (Hebrew Slave) in the seventh year. Moshe returns to address matters of justice concerning slaves a few times in the parashah, prescribing the penalty for possessing and selling kidnapped persons, the penalty for the death of a slave at the hand of its master, and the judgment for the excessive use of physical force against a slave.

The Judgments of HaShem continue here and later with a number of crimes for which the death penalty is prescribed by HaShem for the love of His nation, as well as HaShem’s judgments pertaining to assaults of various kinds, followed in turn by how the people are to be judged for accidentally causing harm to one’s neighbour. Moshe then continues with the appropriate judgments for when one’s animal harms a neighbour, when one’s actions lead to the harm of a neighbour’s animal, and when one’s animal harms a neighbour’s animal. Moshe then records the appropriate judgment for when one steals a neighbour’s animal, as well as when one kills a thief, followed by the appropriate judgment for when one’s actions cause their neighbour a loss of property in a variety of circumstances, and what should happen when a man seduces an unbetrothed virgin.

Parashat Mishpatim continues with HaShem’s instructions pertaining to the needy among us, whether foreigner, widow, or orphan, and the consequences for mistreating them. Moshe continues with the prohibition against reviling HaShem and/or a ruler of His people, who administer justice. Instead, we must understand that our best belongs to HaShem, and we are therefore instructed to give to HaShem all that belongs to Him from our harvest, our presses, the firstborn of our sons—which the Levi’im (Levites) fulfill on our behalf (cf. Bamidbar / Numbers 3:11-13)—our oxen, and our sheep.

The parashah continues with a variety of ways in which we must be set apart in our conduct, to HaShem and from the world, in being honest and impartial in matters of justice, not bearing a grudge against our neighbour, but loving even our enemies, reemphasizing that we must not mistreat the foreigner among us. The parashah provides practical instructions pertaining to how to care for the needy among us, as well as HaShem’s instructions pertaining to our appearance before Him at three of His feasts each year. Moshe then records the promise of HaShem that He will fight for us against our enemies if we will obey Him.

Parashat Mishpatim further records Bnei Yisrael’s (the Children of Israel) acceptance of the judgments of HaShem, as summarized above. Moshe therefore writes the words of HaShem and builds an altar at the foot of the mountain. The words of HaShem are then read in the hearing of the people, and the people confirm their acceptance of HaShem’s judgments. It is then that HaShem establishes the Mosaic covenant with Bnei Yisrael by the hand of Moshe through the blood of the burnt offerings and peace offerings that are offered.

The parashah concludes with Moshe, Aharon (Aaron), Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of Ziknei Yisrael (the Elders of Israel) ascending the Mountain of G-d to worship HaShem from afar, where they eat and drink before the G-d of Yisrael. After this, Moshe alone draws near to HaShem with his assistant to receive the stone tablets, Ha’Torah (The Teaching; a.k.a. “The Law”), and the Mitzvah which HaShem wrote for our instruction. The parashah describes the awe-inspiring event in some detail.

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Torah Portion: Exodus 21:1 – 24:18

1st Aliyah: Exodus 21:1-19 (19 verses)
2nd Aliyah: Exodus 21:20-22:3 (21 verses)
3rd Aliyah: Exodus 22:4-26 (23 verses)
4th Aliyah: Exodus 22:27-23:5 (9 verses)
5th AliyahExodus 23:6-19 (14 verses)
6th Aliyah: Exodus 23:20-25 (6 verses)
7th Aliyah: Exodus 23:26-24:18 (26 verses)
Maftir: Exodus 24:15-18 (4 verses)

Special Maftir
Shabbat Rosh Chodesh: Numbers 28:9-15 (7 verses)
Shabbat Shekalim: Exodus 30:11-16 (6 verses)

Reading from the Nevi’im (Prophets):
Jeremiah 34:8 – 34:22; 33:25 – 33:26

When Parashat Mishpatim coincides with a special Shabbat, a different Haftarah is traditionally read:

Shabbat Rosh Chodesh: Isaiah 66:1 – 66:24
Shabbat Shekalim: II Kings 12:1 – 12:17

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