Sit down, folks…I’m about to go political. This week’s parasha, Mishpatim, is just yelling right at me about the kind of society we live in, the kind we want to live in, the kind we can build if we have the right vision and leadership.
Jews are listmakers and do-ers. Torah tells us what to do, not only what to believe, and last week we got the mother of all lists: the Ten Commandments. But this week, we get the detailed list , and frankly, this one is almost more important than the other one. This is a bullet-point document of how to build a non-Egypt society. It’s not enough to say we’re not going back to being slaves in Egypt. No, Torah is saying here we’re not going to live anywhere like slaves ever again. We will treat humans with respect and dignity. We will not traffic people, or break up families, and we will assign cities of refuge, places where individuals on the run can feel safe from a vigilante mob. It’s all in there.
Mishpatim also sets out ways to protect society from other ills. “You shall not tolerate a sorceress” (Ex 22:17) Rashi (11th c France) says this applies to both men and women, though he personally feels it is a more common occurrence for women than men to take this role. Ok, Rashi. But Ramban (13th c Spain) goes further. He says the society cannot tolerate a sorceress because she is (quoting Ezekial here) “besmirched of name and laden with iniquity”, and that fools are easily lured after her.
There are plenty of ways of describing the head of the current administration, but that works for me – besmirched of name, laden with iniquity and fools are easily lured to follow him. And Torah tells us not to tolerate someone like that in our midst. Granted, the text identifies this as a capital offense, for which the sorcer/ess must be put to death. I am not advocating that at all. But I do believe the Torah is telling us to pay attention to those in our society that promise magical endings to problems we face, that with the wave of a hand, all our troubles will cease, if only we put our faith in him. It’s too easy to be swayed and fooled by promises like that, lies that are told, and Torah is telling us to stay ever vigilant against those that come forward in that vein.
We would do well to study Mishpatim as deeply as we study Yitro, when the Ten Commandments are given. Those broad-brush guidelines for how to live a just and righteous life are great, but the nitty-gritty, what-if situations of Mishpatim are of greater value…indeed, they present the Jewish values that weave through our lives: Human dignity and respect, how to treat the vulnerable of our society, how we treat the land we depend upon for our sustenance, and even the animals in our keeping.
I will not tolerate this sorcerer in our midst. Ever vigilant, always resisting.