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Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

“You shall be holy people unto me…” (Exodus 22:31)

Parashat Mishpatim includes the first set of specific “Torah” laws beyond the general principles of Aseret Hadibrot and is referred to as Sefer Habrit (the Book of the Covenant). Two of these laws include, “The choice first fruits of your soil you shall not bring to the house of Adonai your God. You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (Ex. 23:19). Most commentators use this as the prooftext for the separation of milk and meat in the Jewish dietary laws.

Rabbi Sheldon Marder (Rabbi and Department Head of Jewish Life at the Jewish Home of San Francisco) asks why the Torah combines these two commands in one verse. He cites Ibn Ezra (1089- ~1164; great medieval Spanish scholar) who connects g’di, the Hebrew word for kid, to meged, which means delicacy, especially fruit (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 127a). Menachem ibn Saruk (10th Century Spanish philologist) argues, therefore, g’di means berries. Menachem ben Solomon (1160-1248; Italian rabbi and author) builds on this reading, claiming mother’s milk means the juice of the bud containing the berry. Now the verse means something very different: don’t bring the first fruits offering to the Temple before they ripen.

The Jewish interpretive tradition is based on the belief the Torah records the actual word of God in its original language. Since language is an aspect of infinite divine wisdom it cannot have finite meaning. Therefore, it is impossible to ever identify the one “true” meaning of a Biblical verse. Imagine how Jewish life might have evolved if this reading of the verse had taken hold instead.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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