Mishpatim follows immediately on the giving of the Aseret Dibrot, the Ten Declarations in Yitro – and what a follow up it is. We read through 53 Mitzvot – about 23 positive and 30 negative (thou shall and thou shall not) are found in Mishpatim, our social laws. Here we learn how to govern ourselves as a social community – and learn to know where the boundaries are to create maximum social well-being.
Mishpatim is a very special parashah for me. It is also known as Shabbat Shekalim and it was on Shabbat Shekalim that I read Torah for the very first time in 1993. I am attaching a link to a podcast from R. Alex Israel who is with PARDES, who speaks about the history of the half-shekel: https://elmad.pardes.org/2018/02/the-half-shekel/
I alluded last week to my maniacal preparations for my own ceremony of Bat Mitzvah as a grown woman, and as someone who chose to enter the covenant. Mishpatim is that sidra that caused me to pause and consider my need to allow others to help me prepare for that day.
Mishpatim includes many of our civil laws – the Covenant, our legal code, laws which have to do with our interactions with each other – a conjunction which seems entirely fitting for someone choosing to join this community. We have just heard the big picture at Sinai – but now we come down to the pragmatic details. We learn that our conduct amongst ourselves is equal to any theology. We are to live out our relationship with God in real time with real people.