Friday, February 17, 2012

Slaves to Hashem

There are fifty three mitvot in parshat mishpatim, second only to parshat ki tetze.  Rashi (24:12) quotes a midrash that states that the ten commandments are really ten catagories of mitzvot and all 613 mitzvot can somehow fit into those ten categories.  

Based on this idea, the Abravanel in his commentary on Mishpatim included a brilliant section in which he demonstrates how the seemingly random laws of Parshat Mishpatim are actually a specifically ordered and expanded detailed restatement of the ten commandments found in last week's parshah.  

As is his style, the Abravanel writes at length arguing his thesis point by point.  For example he shows how the mitzvot in Mishpatim can be grouped as those dealing with the value of human life and limb (don't murder), sexual morality (don't commit adultery), individual property rights (don't steal), and an honest court system (don't swear falsely).  During the Torah reading I recommend trying to see if you can figure out which category each mitzvah fits into.

Mishpatim begins with the laws of the Eved Ivri, the Hebrew slave.  According to the Abrvanel, this is a restatement of the very first Mitvah, "I am Hashem your God who took you out of Egypt from the house of slavery."  The laws of Eved Ivri officially abolished eternal servitude so that the Jewish people would be  completely free to serve only Hashem.  A Jew facing hard times has the option to sell himself into servitude, but only for a limited time.  After six years he is presented with a choice; will he continue to serve his master or will he make the correct choice of liberty and serve only Hashem? 

This Shabbat at Beth Israel we are welcoming a new member to the Jewish People.  But converts to Judaism are not the only ones who actively choose to serve Hashem.  Mishpatim is my bar mitvah parshah.  Every year on this Shabbat I make a personal commitment to serve Hashem as I did at my bar mitzvah.  Each of us must actively choose to serve Hashem and regularly commit ourselves and inspire ourselves to observe the Torah with love and devotion as our ancestors did at Har Sinai.