“From the River to the Sea…”
Our rabbi always said, “Don’t get caught up in the details when reading the Torah, but ask yourselves… “to whom was God speaking, when and where?” The Israelites had just been freed from years of slavery in Egypt, a nation with many gods, superstitions, idolatry, death cults, etc. It was a very different nation than the one that the God of Israel would now begin to form and help them to change their belief systems. He would slowly redirect their focus from the gods of Egypt toward Himself, the Creator. The key to understanding these passages is to step back as if we are looking at a mosaic and then search for the Torah’s wonderful, life-changing principles. When we follow them, we can change for the better.
This week’s portion, Mishpatim, “Judgments”, begins with slavery, a subject with which the Israelites were well acquainted. They understood how slavery could eliminate all aspects of free will. It would take an entire generation before they could learn how to make their own decisions. That is one of the hardest things that we humans have to do. I struggle every day with making the right decisions in so many areas of my life and sometimes I make the wrong choices. I handle some things poorly and others, well. One of the things that Mishpatim teaches us is that when we mess up, we have the opportunity to make restitution and learn from our mistakes. Although they can come at a heavy cost, isn’t it wonderful to know that our God always helps us to start again? When we walk with God, it is as if we are on an upward spiral…we take two steps forward, but only one step back; that means that we are always moving ahead. It’s important to stop and take inventory of where we are instead of thinking that we are locked in the past.
There is a type of slavery that, right now, is devastating so many lives around the world…the human slave trade. Mishpatim speaks about what to do with someone who kidnaps another human being… the kidnapper needs to be put to death. This week we learned that 31 of the hostages whom Hamas kidnapped have been murdered, leaving us with about one hundred people who remain victims of torture, both mental and physical. This also affects families and friends and even us. They are being robbed of their humanity by people who have been robbed of theirs. We need to keep praying that God reaches down, comforts them and helps the IDF to find them and set them free, but let’s not forget all the others from countries around the world who are caught in the vicious web of the slave trade.
The Torah holds the solution. Did you know that there is no prison system in the Torah? The people who commit these heinous crimes are to suffer the death penalty. Today we think that by eliminating it, we are more humane than God, but let’s examine the results. Crime is on the increase and there are more prisons than ever. This shows us that when we throw out the Torah, we throw out justice.
In Mishpatim we find the solution for other crimes such as theft where the thief needs to pay back what he stole “with interest”. That is called making restitution. Those who commit premeditated murder are given the death penalty. If it was not premeditated, there would be cities to which they could flee, so that the victim’s family could not exact vengeance upon them. These mishpatim elaborate upon the last five of the Ten Commandments, teaching us how to treat our neighbor as ourselves. They are not extra commandments; they are not the 613 mitzvot by our sages meant solely for the Jewish people while the Gentiles only have to obey the seven Noahide laws. That is not Torah!
The Ten Commandments are universal which is why God gave them to us at Mount Sinai, not in the Promised Land. They are examples to show us how to “apply” them to our daily lives. They may seem simple, but they are not easy to do. The entire Scriptures are stories about what happened to us as a people when we kept them and when we didn’t. Our history until today has this pattern repeated. We cried out to Moses that we didn’t want to hear God’s voice. Most of us still prefer to spend more time looking for the latest fads by so-called gurus on every subject under the sun, while most still don’t want to hear His voice. But those who do are a remnant and it is up to the remnant to hold onto the light of Truth and spread it by living the principles in the Torah. It only takes one small candle to light up a room.
Mishpatim goes into great detail about how we are to live…about good and decent behavior…and keeping them is a full-time job. We are each responsible for our actions and we must accept the consequences and stop blaming others for our lot in life. No one else can make restitution for what we do but us. The moment we accept that, is the moment our lives can change for the better. When we obey, God helps us to progress from confusion and hate to order and peace. When we add or take away anything from the Torah, we cause confusion. When people become too religiously fanatic, making everyone around them feel inferior, and imposing their rules on others, it turns people away from God. Make no mistake – it is not only the Orthodox Jews who do this; it is any of us who think that we are better than others and proudly parade our good deeds without seeing that we ourselves are breaking any one of the original Ten.
Whenever justice, according to the Ten Commandments, is removed from society, order turns to chaos. The God of Israel is a God of order, yet we humans seem to insist upon chaos. That is what we are seeing today in every area of our lives. God wants to free us from slavery, from greedy power mongers who impose upon us perverted systems of justice.
At the end of Mishpatim in Exodus 24, we read: Moses went and repeated to the people all the commands of יהוה and all the mishpatim; and all the people answered with one voice, saying, “All the things that יהוהhas commanded, we will do.” God’s Mishpatim were never imposed upon us and if we are willing to keep them, as we said we would, He promises to keep us safe, happy and healthy. Are we safe, are we happy, and are we healthy today? What is it about us that causes us to refuse to do and obey the simple words that Moses wrote and prefer to do things our way? Children are like that, constantly challenging their parents. The children of Israel were no different. We are no different. It is an inner battle between the Yetzer ha rah and the Yetzer ha tov, the evil and good inclinations. We must constantly examine ourselves and be willing to leave behind the slavery of our past.
As we look around at the world, we are witnessing what our sages call “chevlei ha Mashiach, birth pains of the Messiah. From the moment that male and female were created and expelled from the Garden of Eden for disobeying only ONE commandment, we have been rebelling against our God, even blaming Him for everything that goes wrong in our lives. We either refuse to believe in His existence or we turn away from His Commandments, His Mishpatim, and His Chukkim and we replace them with our own Suggestions. By so doing, we go against everything God stands for, i.e., we take His Name, His identity, in vain. If He says that His creation of male and female was very good, we say, “I can change my gender if I want!” Then we impose this ideology upon the masses as if we were gods. The further we remove ourselves from His commandments, the stronger the birth pains will get. The horrendous violence from Hamas against our children, our people is worse than what Hitler did…the birth pains are increasing. If you and I think that the Ten Commandments are just suggestions, that we don’t need them, we are lying to ourselves and are allowing chaos to rule and the birth pains to continue to increase.
When I read Exodus 23, I thought of the people who are marching and shouting, “from the River to the Sea, Palestine will be free.” Once again our enemies want to annihilate us.
But here is what the God of Israel has to say to them in Exodus 23:20 – 31: “20. Behold, I send an angel (or messenger perhaps Joshua or Archangel Michael?) before you, to guard you on the way, and to bring you to the place which I have prepared. 21. Take heed of him and listen to his voice; do not rebel against him; for he will not pardon your transgression; for My name is in him. 22. But if you shall indeed listen to his voice and do all that I speak; then I will be an enemy to your enemies, and an adversary to your adversaries. 23. For My messenger shall go before you, and bring you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites; and I will cut them off. 24. You shall not bow down to their gods, nor serve them, nor do as they do; but you shall utterly overthrow them and break their pillars into pieces. 25. And you shall serve the LORD your God, and He will bless your bread and your water, and I will remove sickness from among you. 26. None shall miscarry nor be barren in your land; you will live a long life. 27. I will send My terror before you and will unnerve all the people to whom you shall come’ and I will make your enemies turn their backs on you. 28. And I will send the hornet before you to drive out the Hivites, the Canaanites, and the Hittites, from before you… (now listen carefully)… 31 And I will set your border from the Sea of Reeds to the sea of the Philistines, and from the wilderness to the river; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hand; and you shall drive them out before you.”
Wow! That is God’s promise and He never goes back on His Word. The only way for us to be safe from our enemies is to turn back to the God of our fathers, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and His Torah. Then His angel of the armies will march to war before us. No one can save us from our enemies but YHVH, the LORD of the armies; there is no other. This is not only for us as a nation but for each of us who walks with Him in our lives, both the natural born citizen of the land and the “ger”, the stranger among us. There is only one God for all the peoples of the world. This is confirmed in our haftarah portion, Isaiah 66. If you haven’t read it yet, I highly suggest that you do.