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Judgments of the Law


Torah Portion: Parashat Mishpatim ("Judgments")

Shabbat: Feb. 18, 2023 / Shevat 27, 5783

Torah: Exod. 21:1-24:18 Exod 30:11-16 

Prophets: 2 Kings 12:1-17

New Covenant: Matt. 5:38-42; Matt. 17:1-11


The Shema

“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength”. Deut. 6:4-5


Last week's Torah portion (Yitro) explained that exactly seven weeks after the Exodus from Egypt (i.e., 49 days after the first Passover), Moses gathered the Israelites at the foot of Mount Sinai to enter into covenant with the LORD. In a dramatic display of thunder, lightning, billowing smoke and fire, the LORD descended upon the mountain and recited the Ten Commandments to the people. Upon hearing the law's categorical requirements, however, the people shrank back in fear and begged Moses to be their mediator before God. The people then stood far off, while Moses alone drew near to the thick darkness to receive the various laws and rules from the LORD. This week's Torah portion (Mishpatim) begins with Moses in the cloud of "thick darkness" receiving additional instructions regarding civil law for the Israelite people. The Jewish sages traditionally count 53 distinct commandments in this portion of the Torah, making it one of the most "legalistic" (i.e., law-focused) sections of the entire Bible. Civil laws, liability laws, criminal laws, agricultural laws, financial laws, family purity laws, Sabbath laws, and holiday laws are all given in this portion.... After receiving these additional instructions and laws, Moses descended from Sinai and went before the people and told them all the words of the LORD. Upon hearing the details, all the people responded in unison, "all the words which the LORD has said we will do" (i.e., na'aseh: נַעֲשֶׂה). Moses then wrote down the words of the covenant into a separate scroll (sefer ha'brit), built an altar at the foot of Sinai, and ordered sacrifices to the LORD to be made. He then took the sacrificial blood from the offerings, threw half upon the altar, and read the scroll of the covenant to the people. The people ratified the covenant by saying, "all that the LORD says we will do and obey" (i.e., na'aseh ve'nishmah: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע). Upon hearing this, Moses took the other half of the sacrificial blood and threw it on the people saying, "Behold the blood of the covenant that the LORD has made with you in accordance with all these words." After this, Moses, Aaron (and his sons Nadab and Abihu), and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended Mount Sinai to eat a "covenant affirmation meal" between Israel and the LORD. After returning from the mountain with the elders, the LORD commanded Moses to go back up to receive the tablets of stone inscribed with the Ten Commandments. On the seventh day there, he heard the Voice of the LORD calling to him from the midst of the cloud of glory, and then entered into the Presence of the LORD. He remained on the mountain for a total of forty days and forty nights receiving further revelation about the Mishkan (i.e., Tabernacle) while the Israelites waited for him at the camp down below.

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