Moving from Commandments to Commitments

The portion of Mishpatim is abound with details, empowering us to translate the Commandments into Commitments. The Law becomes the Lore, the natural modalities through which we as a people give expression to the  ethical and moral ideals that must become habits of the heart.The essence of who we are will also be seen through our treatment of the other. No less than thirty six times in the Torah, we are commanded to love the stranger. 

In proximity to this charge, brought in the parsha, there is a striking verse.The segment opens with 22:20;

וְגֵ֥ר לֹא־תוֹנֶ֖ה וְלֹ֣א תִלְחָצֶ֑נּוּ כִּֽי־גֵרִ֥ים הֱיִיתֶ֖ם בְּאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃

You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Not the directive from Torah alone, but our very experiences generate compassion to the stranger, it is deeply reflective and essentially determines not only who we are, but how we are.

Developing this ideal, the Torah continues;

כָּל־אַלְמָנָ֥ה וְיָת֖וֹם לֹ֥א תְעַנּֽוּן׃

You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan.

With the astounding climax;

אִם־עַנֵּ֥ה תְעַנֶּ֖ה אֹת֑וֹ כִּ֣י אִם־צָעֹ֤ק יִצְעַק֙ אֵלַ֔י שָׁמֹ֥עַ אֶשְׁמַ֖ע צַעֲקָתֽוֹ׃

If you do mistreat them, I will surely hear their outcry as soon as they cry out to Me.

Note the striking use of the double words in Hebrew, the passion and sense of urgency, solely lacking in translation.

As we observe International Holocaust Memorial Day, we may or perhaps should question this pledge of hearing and responding to the fervent cries, “Tza’akot”, of the widow and orphan, and the vulnerable, occurring three times in this verse alone. These crucial questions and challenges to our belief may well remain unanswered, but perhaps the reflective and repetitive use of these phrases emphasizes the gravity of responsibility, resting perhaps, not exclusively with God.

Shabbat shalom

About the Author
Shalom is a senior educator and consultant for The iCenter and serves as faculty for the Foundation for Jewish Camp . Prior, he served as the AVI CHAI Project Director and Director of Education in the Shlichut and Israel Fellows unit for the Jewish Agency. He has served as a consultant for the Jim Joseph Foundation and the Jewish Peoplehood Committee, and teaches a course in experiential education at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Shalom was also a scholar on the prestigious Jerusalem Fellows Program, after which he served as the Executive Director of Jewish Renewal for United Jewish Israel Appeal (UJIA). Shalom is an acclaimed public speaker on contemporary Israel who brings extensive knowledge, humor and passion. He feels privileged to live in Jerusalem and loves sharing stories about life in the Land of so much Promise.
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