Thoughts on Parashat Mishpatim

If we were following the Triennial System (completing the Torah reading in three years instead of one) this week’s reading of Mishpatim would be Exodus 22.4 through 23.19.[i] In the yearly cycle Mishpatim covers Exodus 21.1-24.18. This week we will step out of our regular pattern and focus on Exodus 22.4-23.19 as in the Triennial System. This Shabbat is also Shabbat Shekalim (the first of four special Shabbats before Pesach), which includes an extra reading from Exodus 30.11 – 16. Mishpatim constitutes a series of imperative commands as well as prohibitions (positive and negative mitzvoth). Interestingly, in our reading, twice Bnei Ysrael in commanded not to mistreat the outsider.

You must not exploit or oppress an outsider, for you were outsiders in the land of Egypt. (22.20; 21 in English).

Do not oppress an outsider, for you know the heart of an outsider, since you were outsiders in the land of Egypt. (23.9)

The word, translated outsider, in both of these verses is גֵר, (ger) which carries the connotation of sojourner, temporary dweller, new-comer. Sojourner, over the years has come to be understood as a proselyte, a person who has converted from one opinion, religion, or party to another. While the idea of proselyte or conversion is not applicable to the time of the Torah, this understanding of a sojourner carries over to the idea of a new-comer, one who has recently entered into the community. The other understanding is that of a temporary dweller or guest. When Isaac was facing a famine in the land, the LORD told him to “live as an outsider in this land (Gerar of the Philistines) and I will be with you and bless you” (Genesis 26.3). Dwelling with the Philistines but not “converting” to their ways of life and worship. Therefore, the idea of an outsider or sojourner, is someone who comes alongside Bnei Yisrael either for protection or maybe deliverance as the mixed multitudes who left Egypt with Bnei Yisrael (Exodus 12.28) or someone who for whatever reason decides to actually align themselves to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and join the people of Israel as “new-comers.”

Whether “new comer” or temporary resident, the command is the same, they are not to be oppressed but to be treated properly, with dignity. However, I am going to suggest that this treatment is a two-way street. In Parashat Kedoshim we read,

If an outsider dwells with you in your land, you should do him no wrong. The outsider dwelling among you shall be to you as the native-born among you. You should love him as yourself—for you dwelled as outsiders in the land of Egypt. I am ADONAI your God. (Leviticus 19.33 – 34)

While “you should love him as yourself,” brings to mind Yeshua’s teaching, “to love you neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12.31), it’s important to note that Yeshua’s exhortation is rooted in the Torah, which He explicitly proclaims that He had no plans to do away with (Matthew 5.17). Another thing to note in these verses concerning the outsider is that they infer that there is a relationship between the outsider and the native born. Yes, those “dwelling among you” are to be treated properly, but at the same time, those “dwelling among you” should be aware that they have certain requirements as well. This fact is affirmed by the LORD’s words to Moshe concerning the annual Passover celebration:

But if an outsider dwells with you, who would keep the Passover for ADONAI, all his males must be circumcised. Then let him draw near and keep it. He will be like one who is native to the land. But no uncircumcised person may eat from it. The same Torah applies to the native as well as the outsider who dwells among you. (Exodus 12.48 – 49)

The issue here concerns those who wish to dwell alongside Bnei Yisrael, to participate in the blessings of the LORD that such a relationship would bring, for them “the same Torah applies.” This commonality issue can be seen in the special reading for Shabbat Shekalim, which recounts the command for the half-shekel offering collected as a memorial to the LORD’s faithfulness in His care for Bnei Yisrael.

The rich are not to give more and the poor are not to give less than the half shekel, when they present the offering of ADONAI to make atonement for your souls. (Exodus 30.15)

All were equally ransomed, all paid the exact amount. One’s social or fiscal status made no difference in one’s standing before ADONAI. In this week’s reading from the Apostolic Writings,[ii] Yeshua uses not the half-shekel offering but offerings in general to teach His disciples (both then and now) a lesson on the real meaning of “giving.”

He sat down opposite the treasury and began watching how the people were putting money into the offering box. Many rich people were putting in a lot. Then a poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, worth less than a penny. Calling His disciples over, He said to them, “Amen, I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those contributing to the box! For they all put in from their surplus; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything she had, her whole living.” (Mark 12.41 – 44)

This was not so much a correction to what the wealthy were doing, but a challenge to emulate what the widow had done – she gave her all. In order to bring an offering to the LORD, she was willing to give everything she had. This same commitment is what Yeshua required of His followers. (see Luke 14.33)

Finally, the special Haftarah reading for Shabbat Shekalim is 2 Kings 12.1 – 17, which is the account of King Jehoash making provision for the collection of monies to repair the Temple. While the offerings connect this reading to the special Torah reading for this week, it is suggested that the time that Jehoash began this collection was Rosh Chodesh Adar, which is this coming Sunday.[iii]


[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.

[ii] According to Chayyei Yeshua Three-Year Besora Reading Cycle compiled by Rabbi Mark Kinzer and edited by Rabbi Jonathan Kaplan

[iii] Fishbane, Michael. The JPS Bible Commentary: Haftarot (English and Hebrew Edition). The Jewish Publication Society, Philadelphia, 2002. p 242

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Michael Hillel with his wife Vered and their three children, made aliyah from the US in late 80s, and in biblical fashion has, for the last 27 years, done whatever his hands have found to do. In 2013 Michael began working on a MA degree in Messianic Jewish Theology. Using the tools learned from his studies, he has been writing teaching and devotional materials from both the Tanakh and Apostolic Writings. Since Messianic Judaism shares a communal context with both Judaism and Christianity, he incorporates material from both traditionally Jewish and Christian perspectives.