04 February 2016
This week’s parasha, Mishpatim (“rules”), is full of “fine print” and numerous distinctions of right from wrong, examples of how to behave and rules about making restitution and resolving disputes. For example: “If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor.” (Click Here for more information about an important local resource based on this commandment, the Hebrew Free Loan Association of Greater Washington).
The laws in this portion can be divided into ritual mitzvot – commandments between humans and God, and ethical mitzvot – commandments between the individual and other human beings. Some of the laws, while accurately reflecting the realities of life for the ancient Israelites, are not as relevant today. The ethical mitzvot, however, are timeless. We are reminded to be honest, to compensate others for their losses and to be especially careful in our business dealings.
I am struck by the theme of fairness and compassion which flows through the text. So often these days, I hear the word “justice” substituted for “revenge” and wonder whether our legal system is viewed as a way to channel societal anger. When wrongs are committed, justice is indeed called for. When justice is administered, fairness and compassion must rule.