Mishpatim 

Exodus 21:1-24:18

2 Kings 12:1-17

Compared to our crossing the Red Sea two weeks ago and the reading of the “Ten Commandments” last week, this week’s parsha, Mishpatim, reads as a bit anti-climactic. 

Those original 10 utterances we read in last week’s parsha carry so much weight. 

They are the subject of public debate and they grace the lawns and halls of courthouses and school buildings. Charlton Heston held them high and Mel Brooks let a few of them hit the ground. We have barely digested the mitzvot of last week’s parsha and then comes parshat Mishpatim with 53 additional commandments. 

Our parsha contains laws of indentured servitude, tort law, laws regarding loans and interest, civil law and laws about how we treat both those at the center and on the fringes of our community. We have laws pertaining to festivals, prayer, and the ever-confusing edict to not boil a goat in the milk of its mother. 

By the time we get to the end of the parsha we long for the simple two-word commandments of parshat Yitro, Lo Tirzakh – Don’t Murder, or Lo Tignov – Don’t Steal. We favor simplicity because we are familiar with the expression, “The Devil is in the detail.” 

However, according to the “Random House Dictionary of Popular Proverbs and Sayings,” the original phrase, coming into usage in the mid-1800s was, in fact, “God is in the detail.” I believe this is exactly what parshat Mishpatim has to teach us. God is not only in the proximity and simplicity of the revelation atop Sinai. God dwells, as well, in the complexity of our relationships at the foot of the mountain.

The Kedushat Levi, a 17th-century Ukrainian chasidic master, comments on the verse in this week’s parsha in which Moses and company are instructed to go toward God and prostrate from a distance. (24:1) He says that though the angels may dwell close to God, being close to the source gives only a limited view of God. From a distance, we can see the big picture and attach ourselves to God’s essence. One must have an awareness of closeness and distance in order to be in relationship with God. 

We might think of closeness as the moment of revelation as we experienced it in parshat Yitro. However, a little bit of distance allows us to see the big picture. With Mishpatim we get to see the big picture. May we be so blessed this week to see our world from all angles, and to remain connected to the Holy Blessed One wherever we may find ourselves.  


Rabbi Scott B. Roland is the spiritual leader of Congregation Shaarey Tikvah in Beachwood.

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