Parashat Mishpatim: Them’s the Rules

Parashat Mishpatim: Them’s the Rules


I recall growing up in Cincinnati, Ohio and attending religious school at my synagogue. I didn’t much care, at the time, for the additional commitment on Sunday morning to anything referred to as “school,” and I frequently tried to persuade my parents that I did not need to attend any further.

Rabbi Bradley Levenberg
Rabbi Bradley Levenberg

Around the time that I hit the third grade, I adopted a new routine for my religious school attendance: I would spend the first half-hour or so in the classroom, enjoying snack and contributing to the weekly tzedakah collection. Then, I would begin to disrupt the flow of the class, almost always through talking with my neighbors, getting up out of my seat or offering responses to questions that, if not appropriate, at least generated a laugh from my classmates (and consternation from the teachers).

Within a short amount of time of beginning such a disturbance, I would be invited to either sit in the hall for a few moments or I would be sent to the principal’s office.

Thus, I slowly learned: Rules are not always something to which we look forward. They do not always serve as a comfort to us, and indeed we traditionally spend a large part of our childhood and adolescence challenging them.

And we certainly do not look kindly upon being burdened with additional rules, especially not all at once. Nevertheless, in our Torah portion for this week, Mishpatim, Moses ascends Mount Sinai, G-d passes him the new rules and laws for the community and Moses brings them back down to an agreeable people.

It would have been all of the Israelites against one man putting down new rules. How easy it would have been to overpower him, to throw him aside and continue living as they had been in the wilderness.

Instead, they responded with one voice: “All the words which the Lord has spoken, we will do.”

According to our tradition, Moses responded by immediately writing down the words of G-d. To this day, we keep in our midst a physical reminder of that Sinai moment: our Torah.

The Torah itself brings us back to the moment when Moses, tired and hungry, brought the text from the heavens to the people.

Year-in and year-out, we find ourselves staring not only at that physical reminder of our commitment to the law handed down to our community, but we also read that law over and over again. And each and every Shabbat, we stand…we stand together at Sinai.

We stand together, amidst G-d and the people – our people, the people of Israel. On this particular Shabbat, we stand and celebrate life and joy, and also that an old man once climbed up a mountain, alone, and changed the world forever.

Rabbi Bradley Levenberg is a rabbi at Temple Sinai in Sandy Springs and a member of the Atlanta Rabbinical Association.

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