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

“…All the things the Lord has commanded we will do.” (Exodus 24:3)

It would be easy to think that with the Reed Sea split, the Israelites delivered from Egypt, and the Torah revealed at Sinai, we are done.  After all, what could be left? Plenty, turns out.  Aseret haDibrot (the Decalogue) is merely the Executive Summary.  The full report begins in Parashat Mishpatim. And as Mies van der Rohe, the noted architect, stated, “God is in the details.”

It would be easy to focus on the lengthy and detailed list of civil laws that comprise most of the parasha.  However, the more important aspect of Mishaptim is that the laws are revealed to the entire Jewish people at the same time.  One of the implications of the commandment to be a mamlechet kohanim, a nation of priests, is that everyone be literate in the codes of law, and therefore not dependent upon an elite caste for basic knowledge.  In that regard, the Torah is unique among ancient law codes in its egalitarian presentation.

The expectation of universal Jewish literacy is the root of the Jewish commitment to learning and education.  It also explains the primary relationship between God and the Jewish people:  that of teacher and student (it is not accidental that we refer to Moses, the greatest Jewish leader as Moshe Rabbeinu, Moses our teacher).  Further, it makes an important observation about freedom (a new experience for the Jewish people).  If freedom is about being able to choose, then knowledge is a prerequisite.  Ignorance may be bliss, but it robs you of choice and enslaves you.  JCCs are there to help people learn, so they can make choices about the Jewish lives they want to live.

Good Shabbos/Shabbat Shalom,

David


Dr. David Ackerman is the Director of JCC Association’s Mandel Center for Jewish Education.

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