The Humane Covenant

Our sedra opens, and mainly contains, a discussion of Jewish civil law, including slavery, the judicial system, and damages. Most of the sedra is a monologue, with Hashem delivering the mishpatim to Moshe. Towards the end of the sedra, however, Moshe goes down and tells the people about these laws and writes them down. The next morning, they sacrifice korbanot to Hashem and Moshe presents a new sefer to the Jewish people: וַיִּקַּח סֵפֶר הַבְּרִית וַיִּקְרָא בְּאָזְנֵי הָעָם. Our ancestors, enthusiastic to uphold even the less exciting civil Torah law, respond:  וַיֹּאמְרוּ כֹּל אֲשֶׁר דִּבֶּר ה’ נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע- “Everything which Hashem has said, we will do and we will listen” (שמות כ”ד:ז’)

The narrative introduces a new element in this passuk, the “ספר הברית, book of the covenant.” Nearly every commentator except Rashi follows the logical progression of the pesukim that the ספר הברית is in fact a codified civil law, the written ספר of Parshat Mishpatim. They learn from here the importance of being careful how we treat fellow Jews, and keeping to the highest levels of בין אדם לחבירו, especially when it comes to setting and keeping civil law- this is tantamount to a ברית, a divine covenant between us and Hashem.

This lesson becomes even more apparent if we turn to our Haftarah reading in the thirty fourth perek of Yirmiyahu. The Jews of Judea in the time of King Zidkiyahu had been keeping their Jewish slaves past the seven year maximum, in clear violation of Parshat Mishpatim, and Yirmiyahu had approached the king and warned him to fix this, especially with Nebuchadnezzar and his army not far away. They do teshuva and send away the slaves in an extensive ceremony which very much paralleled Avraham’s acceptance of the ברית בין הבתרים. Unfortunately, this repentance was very short-lived, and the people returned to sinning and keeping their slaves past the allotted seven years.

Hashem comes to Yirmiyahu and tells him to approach the Jews of Judea with a harsh message, telling them off for re-accepting His ברית only to break it again. It’s clear from the pesukim that the covenant being mentioned here is the ברית of Parshat Mishpatim, the sefer that Moshe brought down for the Jewish People at the end of our sedra, and it’s clear that a terrible price was paid for their violation of this covenant, as the Temple was destroyed because of a lack of respect בין אדם לחבירו.

The Haftarah ends with two pesukim of consolation, from the perek immediately preceding this story (there were no divrei nechama in our perek, because, as we know all-too-well, Yirmiyahu’s warning came true)

כֹּה אָמַר ה’ אִם לֹא בְרִיתִי יוֹמָם וָלָיְלָה חֻקּוֹת שָׁמַיִם וָאָרֶץ לֹא שָׂמְתִּי. גַּם זֶרַע יַעֲקוֹב וְדָוִד עַבְדִּי אֶמְאַס מִקַּחַת מִזַּרְעוֹ מֹשְׁלִים אֶל זֶרַע אַבְרָהָם יִשְׂחָק וְיַעֲקֹב כִּי אָשִׁיב אֶת שְׁבוּתָם וְרִחַמְתִּים (ירמיהו ל”ג:כ”ה-כ”ו)

First is the warning, not only for Yirmiyahu’s time but also for future generations: if we don’t keep Hashem’s ברית (read: civil law between Jews), then our people will never survive. But, Hashem adds, we will survive- He will return us to Israel and have mercy on us, so we clearly will eventually keep His ברית properly.

In our times, as Hashem’s hand has begun to be revealed before all of us and He has openly begun fulfilling His promise to Yirmiyahu of “כִּי אָשִׁיב אֶת שְׁבוּתָם וְרִחַמְתִּים,” we are unfortunately still failing at keeping our ברית to Him. It has become apparent over the past few months that the Israeli government and the Shin Bet/ISA have been arresting our Jewish brethren on the suspicion of having a part in a questionable arson attack last summer (never mind the abundant evidence which still shows that this was a feud between two families). They have gone as far as to plant fake extremists at a wedding (agents that are operationally known as “champagne”) in the hope of inciting wedding guests who are understandably very angry at Muslims (considering that the Israeli government has done almost nothing proactive to head off the nonstop attacks of the past five months, especially in Judea and Samaria), and then arresting them. Snares of this magnitude are not even being done to our neighboring cousins, and the Israeli government is just stepping aside and letting her over-active security service focus on Jewish activism instead of the real problem, Islamic terrorism.

Besides for the obvious moral injustice of targeting and blaming the victims, the constantly under-fire “illegal occupants” of Israel’s fairly won Judea and Samaria, the torture and administrative detention being done to our brethren is a clear violation of nearly every part of Parshat Mishpatim. Just like in Zidkiyahu’s time, our modern-day rulers are breaking Hashem’s ברית, and it’s rather obvious that if they continue in this strategy, it wouldn’t even take any Divine intervention for our modern-day Babylonians (read: ISIS and Iran, very hostile entities currently occupying ancient Babylonian territory) to overrun our country- imprisoning the only activists with the “kishke’s” to fight terrorism won’t leave anyone to defend Israel when she needs it most.

At this time, our government must listen to Hashem’s promise and warning to Yirmiyahu, re-accept the covenant of Parshat Mishpatim (including the parts which require a fair and due process for all Jews), and stop imprisoning our brethren on the suspicion of wanting to kill Arab terrorists (perhaps we should be imprisoning those who don’t have any desire to kill terrorists at this point, because if they’ve been living in Israel for the past five months and don’t want terror to stop, then something is seriously wrong with them– unfortunately, there are so many of our misled brethren living in this disjointed reality that they could fill all of the beds in Israel’s six psychiatric hospitals at least twice… too bad there aren’t any doctors in Gaza, Syria or Judea and Samaria that would agree to treat them…).

Only through a more stringent acceptance and application of Jewish Civil Law by our government can we ever hope to merit a fulfillment of Hashem’s promise to Yirmiyahu, an end to the five month wave of terrorism, and the coming of the redemption which we so desperately desire (no matter how deep down for some of us), very, very soon.

About the Author
Born and raised in Teaneck NJ, Tzvi Silver moved to Israel in 2012 after catching aliyah fever while learning abroad. Tzvi is now pursuing a degree in Engineering from the Jerusalem College of Technology, and works on the side as a contributor for local newspapers in the New York Area. Tzvi's interests include learning Torah, rabble-rousing, and finding creative ways of mixing the two.
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