Parashat Mishpatim – Shabbat Shekalim

The Torah Portion this next Shabbat is Mishpatim, and this Shabbat is also one of the special Shabbats of the year, it is called Shabbat Shekalim. You probably already know that the Israeli money is called Shekel in the singular and Shekalim in the plural. Shekel is actually a unit of measurement, and it is also the name of the Israeli modern coinage. The reading is from Exodus 21:1-24:18. From the prophets the reading is from 2 Kings 12:1-17. There is an additional text that is read especially because it is Shabbat Shekalim. The special reading for Shabbat Shekalim is from 2 Kings 11:17 – 12:17. We must remember that a week ago on Shabbat in the reading of the Torah portion was Yitro, Jethro the father-in-law of Moses, the priest of Median, there was the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the Ten-Commandments. Immediately after the giving of the Torah there come the practical out working of the laws of the Torah.  It is interesting that the first thing after the giving of the Torah God addresses that status and the rights of the weakest link of the Israeli society – the Hebrew Slaves.  A law that discusses the affect of the law on the weakest link of Society, the rights of the Slaves is truly God’s Law. God regulates the relationship and rights of the Hebrew Slave and the relationship of the owner of the Slaves towards his slave with the practical and almost modern human-rights of the 21st century:” (Exodus 2) The other ancient laws from Mesopotamia, the Code of Hammurabi, and the Um-Namu laws, from around 2100 – 2400 B.C.E., and other laws that are even earlier laws than the Um Namu laws, all have a totally different attitude toward their house slaves, that actually actively puts the slave as property with very limited human rights.

It is clear that the Torah is doing two things, 1) accommodating the slaves with privileges and limits that the slave owner can exercises over his Hebrew human slave an not treat him like property. The law of Moses that gives limited rights of the Hebrew slaves is miles above the other ancient laws that speaking clearly for the Aramaic, and Assyrian regulation.  2) We have the Torah of God speak about an accidental damage to people that are not involved in a fight or a quarrel.  The Torah law takes into account that it doesn’t matter who you are and what is your status in society if you cause damage to innocent by stander you are responsible to pay for that damage.  Human trafficking and enslaving a person for any reason is taken very seriously and such a case the Torah says: ““He who kidnaps a person (male of female) and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16 NKJV). In all the great empires during that period and even much later like in the 18th and 19th centuries in England, France, Belgium, Spain, Portugal, and the “good old” United States of America, from children to adults, from male to female people where kidnapped in Africa and in some south East Asian countries thousands upon thousands of people were kidnapped and loaded on ships and shipped to good old CHRISTIAN families to be slaves.  Some of these slaves contributed to American culture and intellect even from their slavery:  Here are just two examples of some of those who were born in slavery and achieved greatness in their contribution to humanity:

William Wells Brown, (born 1814?, near Lexington, Ky., U.S.—died Nov. 6, 1884, Chelsea, Mass.), American writer who is considered to be the first African-American to publish a novel. He was also the first to have a play and a travel book published.

George Washington Carver, (born 1861?, near Diamond Grove, Missouri, U.S.—died January 5, 1943, Tuskegee, Alabama), American agricultural chemist, agronomist, and experimenter whose development of new products derived from peanuts (groundnuts), sweet potatoes, and soybeans helped revolutionize the agricultural economy of the South. For most of his career he taught and conducted research at the Tuskegee Normal and Industrial Institute (now Tuskegee University) in Tuskegee, Alabama. Carver was born into slavery, the son of an enslaved woman named Mary, owned by Moses Carver. During the American Civil War, the Carver farm was raided, and infant George and his mother were kidnapped…

The reason that I am brining this information and sharing it with you is so that the “self-righteous” that condemn Israel today would understand how great the Torah was and still is in comparison to the great empires of the ancient world and even great in comparison to the not so ancient world.  In antiquity around in the Middle East those ancient laws like the laws of Um-Namu and the Code of Hammurabi that are being praised as great achievements of humanity, and they are great for even having such a thing as a code of laws.  But even today in the countries around us now if you are an important person and you have an accident with your car and wound or kill a poor person you can get away with murder and just pay some small sum and walk away.  The Torah states in Torah portion that is read around the whole world: ““He who kidnaps a person (male of female) and sells him, or if he is found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.” (Exodus 21:16 NKJV). May be dear brothers and sisters if the world would believe and keep the Torah human-trafficking would not be so popular, sexual enslavement human beings might not be considered such attractive business.

Our Torah was and is the most enlightened code of laws existing in the history of humanity. Yes, there are laws that to the anti-semitic critics of the Torah might look look horrible because of their ignorance or because of the modern self-righteous values that have brought western civilization to the state of affairs of Sodom and Gomorrah.  Please you examine the following laws in their context and remember that these laws were preexisted not in self imposed situations but only when a proper examination and a court of law decreed the such punishment and it was always executed by payment not actually going to take a person’s eye or tooth…

This prayer list is way too short to enter into greater detail and more examples, but my central point in this Jerusalem Prayer List is to defend and stand with God’s laws and rules as the Psalmist states so clearly the truths and the blessings of having a divine law given to us and to all of humanity on Mount Sinai by God’s own hand:

The law of the LORD is perfect, 

converting the soul; The testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple;

The statutes of the LORD are right,  rejoicing the heart;

The commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes;

The fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever;

The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, Yea, than much fine gold;

Sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb.  Moreover by them Your servant is warned, And in keeping them there is great reward.  (Psalm 19:7–11 NKJV)

Please notice the following phrases from this Psalm 19:  “The judgments of the Lord are true and are righteous altogether.”  This verse if of the greatest importance for understanding the Torah and understanding God.  These words of God state clearly that only when you take the whole Torah and in context of the whole picture of God’s revelation you can see the righteousness of God and His great love for His creation in general.  The second important thing to notice is verse 11 of this Psalm:  “Moreover by them I.e. The Torah commandments.”  “Your servant is warned” and “in keeping them there is great reward.”  We learn from this Psalm that the Torah was given as a prophylactic to prevent sin and wrong-doing, not essentially as list of punishments for wrongdoers.   Here is a quotation from the Mishnah dated no later than 210 A.D.

“The mishna continues: The commandment to establish a Sanhedrin with the authority to administer capital punishments is in effect both in the land of Israel and outside the land of Israel. A Sanhedrin that executes a transgressor once in seven years is characterized as a destructive tribunalSince the Sanhedrin would subject the testimony to exacting scrutiny, it was extremely rare for a defendant to be executed. Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya says: This categorization applies to a Sanhedrin that executes a transgressor once in seventy years. Rabbi Tarfon and Rabbi Akiva say: If we had been members of the Sanhedrin, we would have conducted trials in a manner whereby no person would have ever been executed. Rabban Shimon ben Gamaliel says: In adopting that approach, they too would increase the number of murderers among the Jewish people. The death penalty would lose its deterrent value, as all potential murderers would know that no one is ever executed.”

(Mishnah Tractate Makkot 1:10).  This text from the Mishnah is a proof that execution of a criminal was a very rare thing. This also explains why the Apostle Paul was feeling so guilty for participating in the court case of Steven as the prosecuting attorney that twisted the trial in order to achieve an execution of a innocent convert to Judaism like Steven. Paul says the following about himself:  This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief.”  (1 Timothy 1:15 NKJV)

What is interesting for us to note is that the family of Gamaliel is involved in this discussion. Please remember that Gamaliel was the Apostle Paul’s teacher and here in this Mishnah the son of Rabbi Gamaliel is involved.

The saddest thing about all this is in our own Jewish camp we have twisted and wrapped the good laws of God and took them so far from the Torah that God gave us and so strange to the Spirit of the Torah or even the Spirit of the Sanhedrin of the Second Temple that today’s Judaism is like some Medieval parody of the Torah and the intent of the Lord in the Torah. Authorities of Judaism today in the land of Israel have made the Torah that they stretched and expanded and twisted for political gain into a Quasimodo.  I say Quasimodo because he had was a good person with good intent and with the ability to love and sacrifice for others, but he looked twisted and unseemly on the outside.  I see the present form of Israeli Orthodoxy at least a reflection of Quasimodo, the deaf, pitiably ugly protagonist of Victor Hugo’s novel The Hunchback of Notre Dame.  Please don’t judge me for using this description of what is being done in today’s Orthodox Judaism with the image of Quasimodo.  It is the best that I can do!

The most important this is that the Torah is still today exactly the way that the Psalmist described God’s Torah: The law of the LORD is perfect!  

Christians don’t gloat over what I said about todays’ Judaism and the Torah. Most of so called Christianity has gone far beyond where Jews are today. There are only four branches of Judaism and not more thousands of Christian denominations.  Jews never built concentration camps or had decades of wars against other Jews or even not for out enemies.  We are all sinners and we have all made mistakes and keep making them.  

However we have the following instructions from the book of Hebrews 10:19 – 25.  

Therefore, brethren, having boldness to enter the Holiest by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way which He consecrated for us, through the veil, that is, His flesh, and having a High Priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful. And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching.