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

“Three times a year you shall hold a festival for Me.” (Exodus 23:14)

Parashat Mishpatim follows the revelation of the Torah at Mt. Sinai with a list of 52 mitzvot, or commandments, defining personal responsibility. Moses then erects an altar, offers a sacrifice, and reads the covenant to the people one more time. They respond, “…. all that the Lord has spoken, na-aseh v’nishma, we will do and we will hear.” (Ex. 24:7). Scholars have explored the meaning of “will do” and “will hear” for generations.

Rabbi Pinchas Peli (1930 – 1989; Israeli rabbi, poet, and scholar of Jewish philosophy) says the phrase’s significance is found in God’s offer of an if/then proposition to the Israelites (through Moses) in Parashat Yitro: “… and now if you will hear my voice and keep my covenant then you will be my treasured people.” (Ex. 19:5) The Israelites consent by stating, “… all that the Lord has stated, we will do!” (Ex. 19:8) But God doesn’t want blind obedience; God wants the Israelites to hear and listen and think and learn. So God repeats the condition a second time (Ex. 19:9). And the Israelites declare, again, “All the things the Lord has commanded, we will do.” (Ex. 24:3). But it’s still not good enough.

When Moses reprises the laws defining the contours of a civil society, the Israelites realize they must engage with the Torah intellectually and emotionally as well as behaviorally. They will need to practice these new ideas and reflect upon their experiences. So they respond appropriately, finally, to God’s offer: na-aseh v’nishma. The Israelites commit to absorbing the lessons, internalizing the principles, and incorporating the behaviors into daily life. Now God is satisfied.

Gut Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom

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