- Interpersonal laws ranging from the treatment of slaves to the exhibition of kindness to strangers are listed. (21:1-23:9)
- Cultic laws follow, including the commandment to observe the Sabbatical Year, a repetition of the Sabbath injunction, the first mention of the Three Pilgrimage Festivals, rules of sacrificial offerings, and the prohibition against boiling a kid in its mother's milk. (23:10-19)
- The people assent to the covenant. Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and seventy elders of Israel ascend the mountain and see God. Moses goes on alone and spends forty days on the mountain. (24:1-18)
by Rachel Blazer
This week’s Torah portion Misphatim deals with a series of laws laid out by G-d for the people of Israel. Where most portions that contain laws tend to have a focus on rituals and offerings, this portion provides more of rules and laws to live by, similar to those of the Ten Commandments. I feel as though one of the most important of these rules is found in chapter 22; “And you shall not mistreat a stranger, nor shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
I believe that this passage is really an initial instillation of the Jewish idea of Tikkun Olam, or repairing the world. Caring for all people, no matter the economic status or physical appearance, is essential for Jews because we know what it is like to be uncared for. We know what it is like to be beaten down; we know what it is like to lose everything.
As a college student it’s not exactly easy to keep up with community service the same way it was in high school. Aside from the fact that it’s no longer a requirement, between exams, homework, and any other frustrations of collegiate life, there just isn’t really time. I am lucky enough to go to a school that recognizes this and creates programs to counter these excuses.
At Boston University we have a unique second orientation called FYSOP, or First Year Student Outreach Program. Around 1000 freshman come to school a week early to focus and work in a specific service area. The service areas range from children to elderly, from Urban Engagement to Environment. When I had the opportunity to participate in this program I chose to work in the Homelessness and Housing service area. I spent a week not only learning about the homeless issue in Boston and the different organizations that are set up to help, but I also got to visit four different organizations. I painted housing projects, visited shelters, and helped do some maintenance work at the shelters.
By far the most influential experience was at a place called the Margaret Fuller House. It was the last day of their summer camp program and they were having a final day BBQ. They had half of us play in a local park with all the kids while the other half cooked the food. Playing with these kids was probably one of the highlights of my summer.
One of the most important lessons of parshat Mishpatim indeed the whole Torah, is that you should care for the stranger; and there I was in a park in Cambridge, falling in love with the strangers. These kids were so happy to be around us, and we were happy to be around them. Out of all the service I have done in my life, none was as rewarding. When we left, the coordinator thanked us profusely and explained how we had impacted these kids’ lives.
It made me start to think. If every college freshman spent some day at organization like the ones I visited, how many more lives could be changed, how many more people could have roofs over their heads? Why is it that there are so few schools that have programs that get students involved in community issues?
I may not be able to do as much during the year to care for the stranger, but I do know that I will continue to be an extreme advocate for this program and hope that in a couple years I can return as a coordinator.
The secular New Year is now about a month and half old and let’s be honest, by now most resolutions have been broken. However, it’s not too late to make a new one.
Think about a way to help those less fortunate. Is it food? Try volunteering once a month at a food pantry. Is it clothes? Go through your closet and find those clothes you don’t wear and donate them. Nothing can be more rewarding that coming together to help one who may not have as much as you and yours. It can be one time, or a long-term commitment, but it is so easy to get involved.
I challenge you to find a way to care for a stranger, because we all know what it is to be a stranger, and how incredible it is to be cared for.