This Week’s Torah Portion – Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

I discuss the weekly Torah portion with Rabbi Rabbs Mondays at 7:00 pm PST on my cam and on YouTube. Facebook Fan Page.

This week we study Parashat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18).

* Rabbi Berel Wein writes: “The Torah prescribes that a Jewish servant who wishes to remain permanently in servitude – he loves his master’s home and his family – is given a permanent mark, a hole in his ear, as an everlasting reminder of his choice. Rashi explains, based on the Talmud, that the ear that heard on Sinai that the Jewish people are God’s servants and not to be servants to other humans is to be drilled with an awl as a stark reminder of his poor choice in life.”

I think Jews prefer to work for themselves and to not be servants to others. It’s easier to observe Jewish law (and to get time off) if you are your own boss.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “The Talmud taught us that a truly free person is someone whose guide in life is Torah.”

This is paradoxical. I often feel enslaved to Torah and I hate it. I want to do my own thing, not God’s thing, but then I start doing my own thing and I quickly fall into self-destructive habits and addictions and only through pain and failure do I keep coming back to Torah and see it as a path to freedom.

When I stay away from Torah or shul for a few days, I usually head downhill. I tend to become like whatever I surround myself with.

For a few years, one of my favorite sayings to people was, “Work means freedom.” Then one day my Asian ex-GF used the phrase and all these Jews accused her of anti-Semitism.

* When I hear a good sermon on connecting to God, I usually start thinking about much more visceral forms of connection. Perhaps this lust is just a symptom of my lack of relationship with God and with decent people?

* Why does davening have to be so long? If you do it as you are supposed to, you are going to spend a minimum of a dozen hours a week just praying. I guess that many Jews died rather than stop saying certain prayers means that we can’t excise them today from the prayer book. I find it hard to pray for longer than about 20 minutes.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “Jewish civil law is predicated on the idea that there must always be a balance between the welfare of society generally and the property rights of the individual personally.”

One of the powerful effects of leading an observant Jewish life is that you have to constantly ask yourself, what affect will what I’m doing have on the community?

If you grow up a traditional Jew, you’re going to learn how to live in community. That’s powerful. Countless people I know can’t stand to have their freedom constricted by community but they’ve never tasted the deep joys of belonging. The more bonds you have to other people, the less freedom you have. People married with kids and mortgages have the least freedom, but they’re often the happiest.

* Do you ever notice how polite people in professions tends to be? I’ve almost never had a bad experience with a rabbi or a doctor or lawyer or accountant or therapist. Because they have codes of conduct and can face severe punishment for violating these codes, they tend to behave more ethically than bloggers like me. I guess Orthodox Jews are in a profession. They’re in God’s army. They have a code of conduct and there are sanctions for misbehavior.

* Muslims have a code of behavior as well. It is called Sharia. Would Jews and Americans be better off if they also consulted Sharia?

* I distrust people who speak beautiful words but don’t back them up with specific examples. One example would be Barack Obama in the 2008 campaign. He was for “hope and change.”

Rabbi Wein writes: “We are all aware that the devil is always in the details. It is natural to agree that one should not steal or murder. But what is really the definition of stealing? Is taking something that originally did not belong to you always considered stealing? How about grabbing my neighbor’s rope and using it to save a drowning person? Is that also stealing? Is self- defense murder? Are court imposed death penalties murder?”

* Rabbi Wein writes: “The great and holy generalities of the Torah are valid only if they are clearly defined, detailed and placed into everyday life activities.” I often get inspired by a great sermon or piece of music or something but then I don’t commit myself to details and soon the feeling goes away and I’m just as slovenly as ever.”

* Rabbi Wein writes: “Having just heard the exalted message of the Ten Commandments, the Jewish people were undoubtedly inspired and committed to do great things in their lives. Yet, the Ten Commandments, upon close inspection and analysis, are pretty much generalities. What is the definition of murder, of stealing, of coveting?”

The Jewish way is to do the specifics and that will get you right with God. The Christian way is to get right with God and then the deeds will follow.

According to an apocryphal story, after winning the battle of Austerlitz, Napoleon chose three of his bravest soldiers to honor their requests. The Catholic wished that the whole world would embrace the Catholic church. Napoleon granted his wish. The Protestant soldiers wanted the whole world to accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior. Napoleon granted his wish. And the Jew asked for a tuna fish sandwich. Though a little miffed, Napoleon granted his wish.

Afterward, the Catholic and the Protestant remonstrated with the Jew for asking so little. “That’s OK,” said the Jew. “I’ll get my tuna fish sandwich.”

Judaism is a lot of tuna fish sandwiches.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “We have seen in the world how great ideals like love, peace, tolerance, etc. fall by the wayside unless laws and judicial systems are put into place to define and safeguard them.”

I’ve told a lot of women I’d love them forever. Not so much.

And heck, by the standards of women I’ve dated, my love was more constant. In my experience (aside from the religious and righteous), when a woman says “I love you,” it usually doesn’t mean anything more than a momentary emotional spasm. You can’t count on any behavior following from it. If a man says it (aside from trying to get laid the first time), it usually means that he means it — no matter what — for at least a few months.

* Every Jew has to cough up half a shekel for the temple. Even the poor Jews.

* Rabbi Wein writes: “A great rabbi once told me that it is far easier to have glatt kosher meat on one’s plate than to have glatt kosher money in one’s pocket.” Is a Jew who keeps glatt kosher more likely to be honest in business? No.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see My work has been covered in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and on 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (
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