Beth Elohim Messianic Synagogue
Parashah #18: Mishpatim (Rulings) Sh’mot (Exodus) 21:1-24:18
Haftarah: Yirmeyahu (Jeremiah) 34:8-22; 33:25-26
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:38-42
In this week’s parashah, we learn that Moshe writes the Sefer haB’rit (The Book of the Covenant) and spells out ways to arrive at mishpatim (rulings). These chapters are referred to as such because this collection presents civil and criminal law, turns to cultic provisions, and ends with a description of how the covenant was concluded (Chap. 24). It is this last portion from which the name Sefer haB’rit is given (24:7). This parashah begins: “V’eleh ha mishpatim asher tasim lifneihem” (and these are the rulings you are to set before them)”. Notice that the above first verse of this section reads “these rulings” are to be “set before” the people not “commanded” or “spoken” (Ex. 21:1). Rather, these rulings are given as a guide to add enforcement provisions to the PRINCIPLES of Aseret haDibrot (the Ten Words-Ten Commandments). It is important to remember when studying this code of rulings that they do not originate with Moshe; they are G-d’s instructions. This means that Israel considered it to be at heart a religious document and thus essentially different from the legal systems of the age; indeed “set-apart.” The laws did not rest on tradition but rather Divine authority. They were dogma and they were based on revelation. There are man-made laws and there are traditional habits and usages of community life which are often “hardened” into law. Both are responsive to the changing needs of societies, and, when they are just and long-established, they come to be regarded as divinely sanctioned. But the ideals and the ultimate moral standards are conceived as having been revealed to man. They are given to us by our Creator. They do not change. They do not ratify long-established tribal customs and time-honored practices. They proclaim that which should be done now and for all future time.
All civil rulings evolve in an enforceable code of law from decisions based on case law. Case law is fluid, meeting different and evolving conditions brought about by changing society. Precedents are decisions flowing from the original Principle that is cited in arriving at a decision in individual cases.
Although we’ve previously addressed the issue, I want to examine the biblical principal of “eye for eye and tooth for tooth” as there have been several questions about it addressed on the website recently. If taken literally there would be many maimed persons running about as a result of this law. Rather, it is an abstract legal formula meaning “fair compensation,” which is a ruling derived from case law. We see this principle of Shen v’ayin (tooth and eye) addressed in Exodus 22:5 (4). Here, cattle have grazed on another’s property doing damage. Since everyone should know that straying cattle graze and trample, the situation is treated as if the owner of the cattle had been forewarned. This ruling is found in (Bav. Kam. 1-3; Gittin 85). Therefore, restitution is always required for wrongs committed. It is never enough to ask for forgiveness and then move on. Here the damages may have arisen from unintentional harm, but Torah demands that the owner pay back not only measure for measure, but from the choicest of his fields’ thereby bringing into case law the principle of “pain and suffering” caused. Some people mistakenly believe this does not apply if they perceive the damage as minor, such as running over someone’s landscape light. However, it has no restrictions.
What about the guilty who go free because of a ruling? YHVH commanded strict standards for applying the rulings and required that holy behavior should accompany attitudes toward authority figures whether they are judges or leaders (Exodus 22:28). Because the judges or leaders job makes them vulnerable to the curses of those of whom he rules for or against, he is not to be cursed even if he has erred and miscarried justice (unintentionally). The creditor is exhorted to remember, lo t’kalel (do not curse or honor lightly). The judiciary must apply high standards of evidentiary proof to ensure a guilty verdict and human error guarantees that some wicked will escape and others who are innocent will not get justice in court. As we intellectually know but seldom internalize, G-d promises to repay the wicked that escape judgment from an earthly court (Exodus 23:7). There were those appointed to enact case law from the principles spoken at Mt. Sinai according to G-d’s instructions, but they would sometimes err.
Derived from this portion is the fact that YHVH Elohim instituted a system of judiciary to pass rulings upon case law presented to them. These rulings should derive from YHVH’s principles found in His Torah. What is important to understand from this is that there is a place for Talmudic rulings when applied honestly in the veneer of YHVH’s plan. That is in the ever-evolving civil and social environment. YHVH recognized the necessity of addressing problems arising from civil and criminal behavior. The problem arose when rulings took precedent over the Principles (Law-Torah) of YHVH Elohim or even contradicted it as sometimes still occurs in Orthodox Judaism today. Mankind civilly and religiously abuses YHVH’s system of government and order. When rulings become more important than the principles upon which they are founded we transgress YHVH’s Torah. When men began to overlay YHVH’s Torah with their own law they changed the intent and meaning of it. They negated it and abused it to their own damnation temporarily and eternally. Unfortunately, many suffer as a result, never receiving Torah in its true and unblemished light. Even more, these men take upon themselves god like qualities placing themselves above YHVH and His Torah claiming authority to do so. It is important to examine what is being taught from all perspectives of G-d’s Torah and if we do not agree with the teaching, we have a duty to ask our Torah teachers to clarify their teachings and the biblical concepts that support their teachings. We are all at different spiritual levels of maturity and need to questions that which we perceive to be in conflict with our understanding of G-d’s instructions.
Yahshua and Sha’ul both refer to rabbinic laws that were established and considered superior to G-d’s Torah as the “Traditions of men (Oral Torah),” which had made the “law of G-d” to none effect.” We see this not only in ancient and modern Judaism, but in historical and modern Christianity. YHVH’s Torah, “Living and Written” is the eternal foundation stone of this universe. Unfortunately, mankind has done much damage to it. Some by declaring it an invalid system only for the ancients such as in Christianity and others by assaulting it with their multitudinous rulings that pervert the ideals of His Justice expressed in His Torah.
Haftarah: Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26.
In this week’s haftarah, Jeremiah describes the punishment that would befall the Jews because they continued enslaving their Hebrew slaves after six years of service–transgressing the commandment discussed in the beginning of this week’s Torah reading. Keep in mind this punishment does not only apply to this particular time and the biological Jews. It has great import for anyone having knowledge of G-d’s commands from the time they were given to the time of the end, Jew and Gentile alike.
King Zedekiah made a pact with the people according to which they would all release their Jewish slaves after six years of service–as commanded in the Torah. Shortly thereafter, the Jews reneged on this pact and forced their freed slaves to re-enter into service. G d then dispatched Jeremiah with a message of rebuke: “Therefore, so says the Lord: You have not hearkened to Me to proclaim freedom, everyone to his brother and every one to his neighbor; behold I proclaim freedom to you, says the Lord, to the sword, to the pestilence, and to the famine, and I will make you an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.” The haftarah then vividly depicts the destruction and devastation that the Jews would experience.
The haftarah concludes with words of reassurance: “Just as I would not cancel My covenant with the day and night and I would not cancel the laws of heaven and earth, so too I will not cast away the descendants of Jacob . . . for I will return their captivity [to their land] and have mercy on them.” Again we see the inextricable connection between G-d’s justice and mercy applied as He sees fit.
B’rit Chadashah: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:38-42.
“You have heard that our fathers were told, ‘Eye for eye and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you not to stand up against someone who does you wrong. On the contrary, if someone hits you on the right cheek, let him hit you on the left cheek too! If someone wants to sue you for your shirt, let him have your coat as well! And if a soldier forces you to carry his pack for one mile, carry it for two! When someone asks you for something, give it to him; when someone wants to borrow something from you, lend it to him.”
As mentioned in the first part of this teaching, this is another of the most frequently misunderstood passages in the Bible. People are often taught that we are to lay down and roll over for anyone who assaults us, steals from us, or makes other demands that are not just. However, this is not what Yahshua is telling us. Recall if you will, how He never got upset or vindictive towards those who attacked his character. However, when someone attacked the Torah, He did not tolerate it.
Yahshua takes G-d’s commands to a stricter/higher level by explaining the concepts behind the particular. For example, He takes the written law of “an eye for an eye”, and expands the concept beyond monetary compensation for property or personal injury. Yahshua was more concerned about the “concept” underlying the principles than about the particulars. In other words, in our scriptures we see that He cites the principles and then illustrates the concept underlying each of the six areas He addresses during the Sermon on the Mount. Many believers have this tendency to allow their misunderstandings of biblical concepts to interfere with their ability to expand their understanding of G-d’s Torah when the subject matter becomes personal. I submit that all of G-d’s Torah should be taken personally; the connections that sooner or later become clear through the teachings of Torah teachers who have received credible training.
Let us place ourselves back to the time that Yahshua was addressing these statements to the people. In the formula Yahshua uses, He does not say “what you have read in the ‘Law of Moshe’ or “It was written and you have read it.” Rather, He says “You have heard it was said by them of old time.” It’s important to understand this because the same conditions exist today as then. We seem to leave the interpretation to others, neglecting to seek understanding ourselves because we fail to understand the concept. In Yahshua’s time, the Jews had returned from Babylon where they generally forgot Hebrew and now spoke Aramaic. They depended upon the Rabbis to interpret scripture for them. Judaism then and now is like the Catholic Church when they had the Latin Mass and read the scriptures in Latin, a language most parishioners did not understand. In a sense, the Protestant reformation gave the Bible back to the people. But true to form, most people do not want to read the Scriptures for themselves or actively seek to understand G-d’s Torah. They choose instead to depend on friends, people who look like they know what they’re talking about, or others, blindly accepting what that individual says without verifying the information.
In Yahshua’s time, the Pharisees and Scribes added their own interpretations to Scripture. It was nearly impossible to tell G-d’s Torah from Oral Torah. Many young and seasoned believers alike do not know the difference as they may not have been brought up with a background in Hebrew or the concepts of Torah. Furthermore, they may not actively study or pray for wisdom from above in learning G-d’s instructions. The reality is that the people thought the interpretation was the Law when in reality it was not the Law itself, but a representation of it given by the Scribes and Pharisees. We should check out all teaching and ask questions of the rabbi at the appropriate time.
During the Sermon on the Mount, Yahshua was saying “I am interpreting the Law of Moshe and it is My interpretation that is true and not that of the Pharisees and Scribes or that of those today who misuse Scripture.” In fact He is saying “ I, who am speaking to you, am the very One who was responsible for the Law of Moshe; it was I who gave it to Moshe and it is I alone, therefore who can truly interpret it for you.” After all, Yahshua is G-d.
It’s a characteristic of human nature that we prefer to have everything cut and dry rather than to seek understanding underlying concepts. This explains why certain forms of religion are popular. The natural man likes to be given a list; then he feels as long as he conforms to the things stated in the list, all is well. Or, like Christianity, simply throw the Old Testament and G-d’s Law away and live happily ever after thinking that Yahshua /G-d no longer holds us responsible for our actions, since there are no action that is necessary; a “believe and receive” sort of program. The Bible simply does not teach that all is forgiven no matter what you do and you are already saved no matter how many times you sin and no matter what type of sin you commit. Those who teach this ideology must not have read about the unforgivable sin and all the accounts of people who were once on their way to salvation falling from grace and perishing. Examples of this are found in the Old and “New” Testaments, or the plethora of other scripture that repeats the commands and designated times.
Yahshua does not present the Torah in this way. He presents it as a living well of thought, yet, we all tend to like our Torah in lists. It is much easier to think of holiness in terms of a list of things to do than it is to apply a concept or principle to every situation that occurs and requires a course of action or other response on a daily basis. The particular addresses one situation, but a concept addresses all the situations we may encounter. For example, if you take one of the six detailed statements in the Sermon on the Mount and say, “As long as I do not shoot someone I have not committed murder,” then you have missed Yahshua’s point entirely. As He points out, to speak evil against someone (lashon hara) is a serious sin and constitutes murder. How? When we speak ill of someone else, we are murdering their character. This is just one example of the importance of learning the concept beyond the literal English terminology. If we are concerned only with the particular and do not understand the concept upon which it is based we fail to see Yahshua’s point. Yahshua is not giving a code of ethics here. He describes a certain way of life, and He says in effect, “Look, I am describing and living this kind of life He wants us to emulate. It means this type of behavior in all aspects of living. So, we must hold to the concept instead of the particular, lest we go on sinning thinking we are safe because of our adherence to a particular instead of a concept or principle.
If you apply the formula “Ye have heard” and “I say unto you” you will find that the principle or concept He uses is exactly the same in every case. In one, he is dealing with sex-morality, in the next with murder, and in the next with divorce. He gives six illustrations of the one truth. Ask your selves, what is the common principle or concept to be found in all six?
First, Yahshua’s chief desire is to show us the true meaning and intent of the Torah. To correct the erroneous conclusions, which had been drawn from it by the Pharisees, the scribes as well as today’s modern commentators, and to correct the false notions they have overlaid upon the Torah.
The first principle Yahshua is showing us is that the spirit of the Law (Torah) implies more than the letter of the law. The Law was not meant to be mechanical, but living. The trouble with the Pharisees and Scribes and their modern counterparts is that they concentrate only on the letter to the exclusion of the spirit. It is like the relationship between form and content. Spirit is something that must always be embodied in form, and that is where the difficulty arises. Man will ever concentrate on the form rather than on the content, upon the letter rather than upon the spirit. Sha’ul stresses this in 2 Corinthians where he says: “the letter killeth, but the spirit giveth life.” The purpose of the letter is to give body to the spirit. There is also a biblical concept of kal va Chomer meaning from the “lesser to the greater.” This is where we learn that as a community of believers, we should consider what is most beneficial for the community over what we perceive as best for us as individuals.
We must realize the Law of G-d is concerned as much with what leads to the action as it is with the action itself. We cannot recognize this unless we recognize the concept. Again, it does not mean that the action does not matter, our action is an expression of our belief. However, thought and action complete the equation.
The next principle is that the Law (Torah) must not only be thought of in the negative form. The ultimate purpose of the Torah is not merely to prevent our doing certain things that are wrong. Its real object is to lead us positively, not only to do that which is right, but also to love doing it. We should be hungering and thirsting for righteousness, not merely avoiding evil things. As we study G-d’s Torah, we must come to understand there is much more beyond the particular and ask that the Ruach HaKodesh reveal the concepts as taught by YHVH/Yahshua through our Torah teachers, prayerful study, and an open mind and heart.
Rabbi Tamah Davis