Friday, January 28, 2011

Thoughts on Parashat Mishpatim

Photo: Miriam Woelke


This week's Parasha is called Parashat MISHPATIM (see Book of Exodus - Shemot).
Mischpatim are "rational" civil laws; meaning we are able to understand them. Later G - d gave us irrational laws as well and our limited human mind is not able to grasp them. One of the most famous examples is probably the "Red Hefer - Parah Adumah" where it says that not even King Salomon (Shlomo HaMelech) was able to find an explanation for this totally paradox Mitzvah. Parashat Mischpatim lists us 53 of our 613 Mitzvot !

In this article, I only want to refer to the very first sentence of Parashat Mishpatim and its interpretations. 

"These are the laws (judgements) …"

The Ramban (Nachmanides, 1194 - 1270) commentates:
G - d gave these rational laws to the Israelites and the irrational laws were given later. Those 53 Mitzvot follow directly the Ten Commandments (Aseret HaDibrot) - see the previous Parashat Yitro. Furthermore, those Mishpatim are additions to certain subjects mentioned in the Ten Commandments: e.g. parents, murder or adultery. 

Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote a very long commentary on the first sentence of Mishpatim:
Our relationship with G - d depends on the laws (Mitzvot). They enable us to establish a moral and human society. 

Sometimes I just wonder how people, who constantly criticize G - d can have a relationship with Him. They seem to know everything better and thus think that they are superior.

The famous Talmud - and Torah commentator Rashi considered the 53 laws as more detailed additions to the Ten Commandments. 

The kabbalistic ZOHAR (published in 1290) regards those 53 laws in Mishpatim as a special way / order in how G - d is going to judge our souls. The second sentence of the Parasha tells us about the years of duty a slave has to fulfill. The hidden Torah message would be a description of how a soul is transforming within a certain period of time (here: six years). A soul is able to grow by fulfilling Mitzvot its "owner" is doing.
However, the explanation of the Zohar provides us with a totally new and deeper perspective and understanding of the first sentences of Parashat Mishpatim. It is us being responsible for the growth of our soul and if we don't do anything to its advantage, we will be judged by G - d himself. The famous Zohar commentator, Rabbi Yehudah Ashlag, 1885 - 1954, interpreted: The Zohar sees the laws from the Parasha as laws being used by G - d in order to judge our souls. Every soul has its task and if it doesn't fulfill it, reincarnation is going to be the punishment.

The Kabbalist Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (1522 - 1570) from Safed in northern Israel commentated on the Zohar (see his book "Or Yakar): The lowest soul level (Nefesh) is being planted into a body and has the task to advance to higher levels ("Ruach" and "Neshama"). If is misses the goal, the Nefesh is going to be reincarnated into another body. If necessary, it has to undergo more than only one reincarnation.

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