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Posted February 24, 2017 - 3:56pm

Although Parashat Mishpatim is just over three chapters in length, it contains over fifty of the six hundred and thirteen commandments. It is densely packed with various commandments, particularly those involving civil issues. There’s a problem, however, with the application of these commandments if we are attempting to follow a literal reading of the text. Here is an example:

For every breach of trust, whether it is for an ox, for a donkey, for a sheep, for a cloak, or for any kind of lost thing, of which one says, ‘This is it,’ the case of both parties shall come before God. The one whom God condemns shall pay double to his neighbor. (Exodus 22:9)

There are numerous problems with reading this passage literally, however. For instance: How do disputing parties “come before God?” Where is this to take place? Also, according to this passage, “the one whom God condemns” is liable to the financial penalty. But how do they know the verdict? What if both parties believe that God has judged in their favor? How is this resolved?

The problems with this passage revolves around translation. In this passage, both parties are to be brought before אלהים, elohim. The problem is that this Hebrew word has a wide variety of meanings. It literally means god(s), but can also mean God, powers, judges, mighty ones, etc. Although it use used frequently throughout the Hebrew Scriptures to refer to the Creator, it also has numerous other uses. Psalm 82 begins:

God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment: “How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Selah (Psalm 82:1–2)

Posted February 24, 2017 - 4:47am

Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion said: If two sit together and no words of Torah are interchanged between them, theirs is the session of the scornful, as it is written (Psalm 1:1) “Nor sit in the seat of scoffers.” But when two sit together and words of Torah pass between them, the Divine Presence rests between them, as it is written (Malachi 3:16) “Then those who revered the LORD spoke with one another. The LORD took note and listened, and a book of remembrance was written before him of those who revered the Lord and thought on his name.” (m.Avot 3:3)

Some will scoff at Rabbi Chananiah ben Teradion’s directive and say that he is an extremist. They will claim that his expectations are unrealistic. They believe that conversations like Rabbi Chananiah suggest are the tell-tale signs of a religious fanatic. However, conversations along these lines should probably be the norm for followers of Yeshua, rather than the extreme. And it may be easier than one may think. Here is why.

It is easy to peer inside a person’s heart. Just listen to the topics of their conversations. What do they normally talk about? Yeshua said, “Out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). If a person’s conversations always gravitate towards a particular topic, then that is what fills his heart. Our conversations naturally echo our hearts. The words of Rabbi Chananiah are a constant reminder to examine our conversations in order to truly know what is in our hearts, and begin steering our conversations in the proper direction.

Posted February 17, 2017 - 12:11pm

This week’s parashah is one of the most pivotal in terms of human history. In this parashah, the Creator of the Universe begins to reveal Himself in a manner previously unknown to mankind. It is the pinnacle of the Exodus, and the very reason He delivered His people from Egypt. Hashem delivered the Children of Israel from the bondage of Pharaoh in order to bring them to this moment. It was on Mount Sinai that the Lord called Moses and commissioned him to lead the Children of Israel out of Egypt. And now it was from Sinai that God would reveal Himself and His divine will to His people. His voice would be heard for the first time by an entire people. And for the first time He would call an entire people to Himself as a nation that would be set apart from all other nations on the face of the earth.

But in order for all of this to happen, Hashem had to set the stage to allow His people to hear His voice and accept the offer He would present to them. The specific thing He had to do for this to happen was to get the Israelites to trust in His messenger, his shaliach. Therefore, the Lord did great and mighty works through the hand of Moses so that they would fully realize he was indeed sent by Hashem:

Israel saw the great power that the LORD used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the LORD, and they believed in the LORD and in his servant Moses. (Exodus 14:31)

As the Israelites encamped at the base of Mount Sinai, the mountain was surrounded by various displays of the Divine Presence. Why? Because the Lord needed to remind the people to trust in His shaliach. He explained this to Moses:

Behold, I am coming to you in a thick cloud, that the people may hear when I speak with you, and may also believe in you forever. (Exodus 19:9)

Posted February 10, 2017 - 9:04am

Don’t Pray. Just obey.

Aren’t we supposed to pray about everything? Shouldn’t we pray before doing anything? After all, Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.” Why wouldn’t we pray about everything we do? This week’s parashah offers an interesting insight into a very good reason why prayer might not always be the best thing for our situation.

In the beginning of our Torah portion, the Children of Israel are faced with a dilemma. Pharaoh realized what a terrible loss he had incurred by allowing the Israelites to leave Egypt, and so he begins pursuing them with a massive army. When he and his army catch up with the Children of Israel, they are in a particularly strategic position: they have the Israelites cornered. There is no where to go but into the sea. The Torah records the reaction of the Israelites:

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they feared greatly. And the people of Israel cried out to the LORD. (Exodus 14:10)

The Children of Israel were trapped and they cried out to the LORD. And although the text isn’t explicit, it appears that Moses follows their lead because just a few verses later we read:

The LORD said to Moses, “Why do you cry to me? Tell the people of Israel to go forward. (Exodus 14:15)

What? Why does Hashem rebuke Moses because he prayed? Isn’t this a natural response, the response God desires? Doesn’t He want us to seek Him in times like these? Isn’t this the very purpose of prayer? Rabbi Yehudah recognized the problem most people would associate with this passage and therefore explained the situation:

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Latest Book Review

The Magerman Edition

Author: Daniel Rose & Jay Goldmintz
Publisher: Koren Publishers
Year: 2014

The Koren Ani Tefilla Siddur is one of the latest in Koren’s growing collection of siddurim (prayer books) geared towards a specific demographic. Koren describes Ani Tefilla as “an engaging and thought-provoking siddur for the inquiring high school student and thoughtful adult.” Koren says that Ani Tefillah has been developed in order “to help the user create their own meaning and connection during the Tefilla [prayer] experience.” The name of the siddur is connected with its objective. Ani Tefilla means “I pray.” 

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