If a person strikes his male or female slave in the eye and blinds it, he shall set the slave free in compensation for the eye. What on earth is anyone doing with slaves? you might ask. Well, this was a new law given in a place and a time when slavery was the order of the day. Remember, too, that, not much more than a century ago, slaves were treated with little or no justice at all in the south of the United States. Nor would it would have been very different in the British colonies of the Caribbean some time before. What we have in Mishpatim is the beginning of a code of personal and social justice which, when it was given, was breathtaking in its humanity (or divinity). When you lend money to My people, to the poor man among you, do not press him for repayment… If you take your neighbour’s garment as security [for a loan], you must return it to him before sunset… with what shall he sleep?… Do not follow the majority to do evil… If you see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its load, you might want to refrain from helping him, but you must make every effort to help him. Now that’s a hard one, but in one sentence it teaches us compassion for both man and beast.
The mishpatim of Mishpatim are accompanied by the sealing of the Covenant, which, in one of their moments of greatness, the people promise to keep “with a single voice”. We also witness Moses ascending the mountain and entering the presence of God. What an awesome scene this is!
When it comes to this week’s parsha of Terumah, the writer is keeping schtum. You can find out about it, however, by coming this Saturday at 10.30 to hear Liz Berg, whose Bat Mitzvah it is, and Rabbi Laura Janner-Klausner, who will be leading the service. After kiddush Rabbi Laura will be leading a discussion, as already announced, on ‘Strangers in the Land’.