“Parsha and Purpose” – Mishpatim 5782 
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“The Big Picture AND the Fine Print”

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

Parshat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 -24:18

“The Big Picture AND the Fine Print

This week in Jerusalem, when you walked the beautiful streets of the city, you saw geysers of water on the rooftops of the apartment buildings.

You see, it was a very frigid week and the water heaters on the rooftops exploded, so you just saw water coming from the rooftops. It was like Jerusalem had its own set of Niagara Falls.

Because it was warm and then cold, the “stoppers” of the water heaters expanded and then contracted, and so it basically just broke into two with all the water flying out all over the place.

Left bottom photo credit: Erez Shiryon and Moshe Roseman

Last week’s Torah portion, Parshat Yitro, is about the beautiful meta-narrative of receiving the Torah: the pomp and circumstance, the stage, about our relationship, the marriage canopy, so to speak, between ourselves and God [Exodus, Chapters 19 and 20].

In this week’s Torah portion we’re introduced to the details. “Ve’eleh Hamishpatim”, ‘and these are the details’ [Ibid., Chapters 21 through 23]. The juxtaposition between the meta-narrative, the big picture, and the details, is critically important, highlighted by so many of our commentators.

What an important message for us, because, sometimes, in order to deal with big, grandiose ideas, you need to understand that the details, the small things, are critically important.

True, we can’t just deal with the details, because then we lose the larger message. But born into the details is the ability to implement the larger message.

Parshat Yitro was about the larger message. It’s about the need for us to inspire this message in ourselves, in our children and in our grandchildren; to speak about the larger message, and not to get focused just on the details.

But Parshat Mishpatim is about the fact that if you truly want to have a fidelity to the larger message, it has to be found in understanding the details.

After all, Shabbat is a beautiful meta-narrative, but it is only experienced when you’re connected and committed to the details.

Our responsibility to be a moral people and to engage people with respect is critical, but it can only be implemented via through the details that are found in the nooks and crannies of Parshat Mishpatim.

You can have a large water heater that contains 150 liters of water on your rooftop, but if the stopper, the small item that holds the water in place, expands and then contracts and shatters – if the small details are forgotten – then all of a sudden the water explodes all over the place.

The juxtaposition between Parshat Yitro and Mishpatim is not only a requirement in the Torah – therefore that “vav”, that connection, starts off this week’s Torah portion – it’s also true about our lives.

We always have to be committed to the larger narratives. And we have to share those larger narratives.

But we have to realize that those larger narratives in our lives, whether it’s in our relationships with our spouses, children, grandchildren and parents, or with God, really happen when we’re committed to the details that are found in Parshat Mishpatim and the details that are found in any important relationship in our lives.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbanit Bili Rabenstein

Parshat Mishpatim and Aseret HaDibrot Rabbanit Bili Rebenstein is the Rosh Beit Midrash for Midreshet Lindenbaum‘s Israeli programs The giving of the Torah on Sinai, of which we read in last week’s portion of Yitro, is a formative moment in the history of our people.  It is the moment when the Divine turns to simple …

Read more

Shabbat Shalom: Parshat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin Efrat, Israel –“And he took the Book of the Covenant, and read it into the ears of the nation, and they said, ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we shall do and we shall understand” (Exodus 23:7) At Sinai, the Jewish nation entered into its …

Read more

Esti Honig

Parshat Kedoshim: Friends, Jews, Countrymen, Lend Me Your Ears! Esti Honig (Midreshet Lindenbaum Maria and Joel Finkle Overseas Program 2001) teaches Gemara and Tanakh at Kohelet Yeshiva High School just outside Philadelphia, PA, where she is also the director of Israel Guidance for Girls.  . Parashat Kedoshim starts much the way several other paragraphs in …

Read more

“Parsha and Purpose” – Mishpatim 5781
Rabbi Kenneth Brander’s weekly insights into the parsha 

“And these are the laws”: Connecting Sinai with Everyday Living


Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. Ut elit tellus, luctus nec ullamcorper mattis, pulvinar dapibus leo. Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit. 

“And these are the laws”: Connecting Sinai with Everyday Living

This year I am reading Parshat Mishpatim with sadness.

I ask myself in front of all of you are we fulfilling the mandate of this parsha, which focuses on our responsibility to create a just and civil society?

We who set ourselves to be the most committed to Judaism continue to flout safety measures that were enacted to save lives.

We see images of hundreds of people attending weddings in the midst of this COVID-19 pandemic, where many people become infected and unwittingly act as super spreaders to elderly members of their family, their children and everyone they are in contact with.

We see thousands gathering for the funerals of great rabbinical leaders. Is this how we honor the lives and legacies of these tzaddikim? By knowingly flouting the law and spreading a devastating virus?

Yeshiva break is celebrated by thousands making a pilgrimage to Orlando & South Florida only to be found crowded and unmasked in restaurants and other public venues.

Our hospitals are flooded with so many people who are ill and in need of care.

So, no, I do not think that we are fulfilling the mandate of this week’s parsha.

The very first words of Mishpatim give us a clue to how important it is to be kind, thoughtful careful and just:

ואלה המשפטים” – “And these are the laws”. Exodus 21:1

The parsha that speaks about detailed laws begins with the letter Vav, the word “and”, indicating that the laws of our parsha do not stand alone.

No, the laws are a continuation of last week’s parsha, Yitro, in which we received  the Torah.

The laws of mundane living are part of the Divine revelation. It is about imbuing the ideals of the Torah in the everyday.

The Talmud tells us in the name of Rav Yehuda, “One who wishes to be pious should study the laws of נזיקין, the laws of torts, the laws of a civil society.” Bava Kamma 30a

That is why so many begin their study of the vast sea of Talmud with the tractates of Bava Kama, Bava Metzia and Bava Batra, tractates which are based on the laws discussed in this week’s Torah portion.

Laws relating to the vulnerable members of society with kindness; laws of financial ethics; property management and capital punishment. Laws regarding our responsibility to heal the sick; to behave ethically in business, and so much more.

Ultimately, the Torah obligates us to transform ourselves into a ממלכת כהנים – a priestly nation – וגוי קדוש, a holy society. This can only happen when we create the kind of society that is careful about how we treat one another. Exodus 19:6

When will we finally learn that the true manifestation of serving God is found in the details of  laws like “ורפא ירפא”, of making sure that we and those around us are healthy? Exodus 21:19

When will we finally heed the directives of respected medical professionals with the same mandated responsibility of “נעשה ונשמע, of dutifully obeying and only questioning later? Exodus 24:7

I am sad as I read Parshat Mishpatim this year because while in so many ways our service to God has increased and become more committed, it is clear that we have forgotten the message of the juxtaposition between receiving the Torah with our responsibility to create a civil society that looks after the needs and well-being of others.

Parshat Mishpatim ends with another revelation of God

Nachmanides points out that this revelation is different from the one found in Yitro prior to receiving the Torah. Ramban on Exodus 24:1

Unlike the prior this revelation has no barriers between God and the Jewish people.

For the revelation of Misphatim is not rooted in the theoretical, it is anchored in the holiness found in the mundane – in the every day.

May we merit to experience that pristine engagement with God internalizing the message of Parshat Mishpatim, fully engaging in our responsibility in building a holy society once again.

Shabbat Shalom.

Parshat Mishpatim: Representing Godliness Shoshana Chanales (Midreshet Lindenbaum Overseas Program 2000-2002) teaches Tanakh and Jewish philosophy at Yeshivat Frisch. Following the revelation at Har Sinai and the aseret hadibrot (Ten Commandments), Parshat Mishpatim takes a different turn in commandments. While there is much discussion about the structure and sequence of the laws included in Mishpatim, …

Read more

Shabbat Shalom: Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1- 24:18) By Rabbi Shlomo Riskin            Efrat, Israel –– “When [Hebrew: ‘im’] you lend money to My people, to the poor person with you, you shall not behave toward him as a lender; you shall not impose interest upon him.” (Ex. 22:24) How can we ensure that Jewish ideals—such …

Read more

Rabbanit Billy Rabenstein

Parshat Mishpatim: “You shall surely return it to him” Rabbanit Billy Rabenstein is the Rosh Beit Midrash for the Israeli programs at Midreshet Lindenbaum “You shall surely return it to him” (Exodus 23:3) Parashat Mishpatim is packed with commandments tied to the finer details of our everyday lives. Some of those commandments concern our interaction …

Read more