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Rabbi Rothman on Parashat Mishpatim

Bill Murray and Stephen Toblowsky in Groundhog Day (Columbia Pictures photo)

In last week’s parashah, we read the story of the one occasion that man and God touch – the revelation at Sinai. One would think that the next parashah, Mishpatim, would deal with how we interact with God, rather than how we interact with each other. Yet, instead of discussing spiritual issues such as Shabbat, Yom Kippur or tefillin, it deals with the laws of owning slaves, penalties for assault, business ethics and other mundane laws.

It seems that the Torah misses the mark of using the profound inspiration that we acquire by receiving the Torah and squanders it, so to speak, by telling us to follow laws that any society would establish.

Yet what the Torah is trying to teach us is that even the most mundane laws, be it how one frees his slave or how one handles a business loan, are as spiritual as the mitzvah of fasting on Yom Kippur.

The Torah teaches us that how we speak to our spouses, how we act in business and how we interact with people when we are having a bad day is as spiritually important as when we pray, wear tefillin or give charity.

Human relationships and interactions need to be considered as kodesh, or holy. In fact, if we consider our relationships with others to not be holy, we set ourselves on the path to spiritual, if not literal, destruction.

The Torah is not squandering our inspiration, it is using it. It reminds us that how we treat the poor, the widow, the orphan, the elderly, our spouse or that pestering neighbour, is as much a spiritual obligation from God as our prayers and our fasting.

The Torah places these mundane laws in this prime spot to teach this message. Our interactions with others are holy and we must remember that even an offhand slight to the person working in the grocery store or government agency is as spiritually destructive as eating on Yom Kippur.

This is a message that we cannot afford to take lightly.

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