Do this. Don’t do that.
Last week, ten broad commandments
This week, some details
Last week we read about receiving the Ten Commandments amidst fire, clouds and thunder at Sinai. Still at the mountain, the Israelites are now presented with a list of 53 more detailed laws – the name of the portion, “Mishpatim” means “laws” or “statutes” – covering a wide range of issues. From treatment of slaves to dishonoring parents, from payment of damages to observing the Festival calendar.
Many of the laws have to do with being considerate of others. We are commanded to return the lost property even of our enemies (23:4) and not to ill-treat widows and orphans (22:21). Mentioned twice in this portion is the well-known prohibition against oppressing the stranger (22:20 and 23:9).
Much of this is reminiscent of the famous answer Hillel gave when asked to teach the entire Torah while standing on one foot: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah, the rest is commentary.” This is sometimes rendered as “love your neighbor as yourself.”
Alden Solovy has written a beautiful meditation on this week’s reading, which reflects on the idea of love as a path to a life of holiness. Not only does it remind us of Hillel’s lesson, but it seems oddly appropriate as Valentine’s Day, our (or perhaps Hallmark’s) secular celebration of love, falls on this Shabbat.
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