Parashat Mishpatim // “The Rules”

- ח ב ו -

Why must we put ourselves “in someone else’s shoes”?

God orders the Israelites to love their neighbor

“Thou shalt neither vex a stranger, nor oppress him: for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt. Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child. If thou afflict them in any wise, and they cry at all unto me, I will surely hear their cry; And my wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword, Now these are the judgments which thou shalt set before them If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing” Exodus 21:1 – 2

  • Caring for and attending to the needs of others is a core value at the heart of the Torah’s moral code. This is especially true in relation to minorities or people in distress. The Jews are ordered to not only help humans in need, but also to empathize with them based on their own past sufferings as a persecuted nation. This verse is a model of humane thought and behavior because it demands that we not only see the needs of others, but also help foreigners and strangers – and even try to imagine what they’re going through.
  • Only someone who can “put themselves in someone else’s shoes” and feel the pain of others can advance spiritually, be a positive influence, and receive God’s light – particularly because this reaction doesn’t always come naturally. We cannot influence others if we are not able to see the world through their eyes.

Freedom and freewill are enshrined by God as superior values

“And if a man smite the eye of his servant, or the eye of his maid, that it perish; he shall let him go free for his eye’s sake, If a man shall deliver unto his neighbour money or stuff to keep, and it be stolen out of the man’s house; if the thief be found, let him pay double. If the thief be not found, then the master of the house shall be brought unto the judges” Exodus 22:7 – 8

  • Although work is an integral part of our existence, we must also be preoccupied with issues of freedom. For instance, we must actively protect human rights and not blindly obey what regimes dictate. It is vital that we champion freewill and freedom of thought for all.

Pearls of Divine Wisdom: “The Rules”

  • Every person has an inner light that is linked to their essence. It is transitory and limited. The truly great light is the external one that we create when we benefit others. The abundance that we share with others is an eternal light that can only multiply and will never vanish.
  • This external light is infinite because it encompasses all acts of kindness and love ever performed. Through our spiritual work, we aim to tap into this light and expand our ability to give and love.
  • To tap into the external light, we must be part of a group conscience – we must acknowledge that we need others in order to build our collective home. 
  • Being humane and concerned for the needs of others is an ethical foundation. The Torah exhorts us to not only help and provide for others, but also to empathize and picture ourselves in their situation.
  • The friction created by freedom and obedience is necessary for eliciting innovation and enlightenment. As such, the revelation at Sinai is about both spiritual illumination and concrete, practical life instructions.

Humanity, or humane behavior, is actually God-like behavior – creating and blessing, rather than causing hurt or damage.