Shabbat Mishpatim, Shabbat Mevarhin, Shabbat Shekalim

Rosh Hodesh Adar - Thursday & Friday
Candles - Friday, February 9th 2 5:03pm
Havdalah - February 10th @ 6:00pm

Last week we read about the fundamental principles of Judaism. This week we begin the listing of the detailed laws of the “Jewish Constitution.” Thanks to archaeology and historical research, we can see that many of the laws in the Torah were already part of earlier codes in the Middle East and Egypt and elsewhere. The most famous is the Hammurabi Code which dates roughly to the time of Abraham and parts of it can be seen in the British Museum.

It is not surprising that laws existed long before Moses. After all civilizations around the world date back thousands and hundreds of thousands of years. They might have been pagan, but they still had laws of various kinds. Even the Torah itself tells us about early laws like those that applied to Noah and pre-existed Sinai.

If so what was unique about Israelite laws? In earlier codes, different standards applied to different classes and sexes within the society. Aristocrats were treated much more favorably than the poor or servants. Men had privileges over women. The greatness of the Torah constitution was its civil law treatment of everyone, including strangers, equally under the law. Yes, there were differences in regard to ritual and temple service, certain tasks allocated only to priests. And women and men although treated equally in terms of status were certainly not equal in the way are now in the free, modern world. Outsiders did not have the same privileges unless they became citizens, but they were protected in ways that Jews under Christianity and Islam were not.

But to me the important difference was the introduction of a dual system, of Justice and Charity. Mishpat and Tsedek. Sometimes the law can seem rigid and inhuman. By insisting on care, concern for humanity as well as the law itself you combine the two core principles that made the Torah unique. Important as law is, humanity even more important. We need both. Either without the other is inadequate as we can see in our society how often the best of laws can go wrong or be applied unfairly.