04 Feb 2016

Mishpatim 5776: The Ties That Bind

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“…She learned me about Moses and the Bulrushers, and I was in a sweat to find out all about him; but by and by she let it out that he had been dead for a considerable long time; so then I didn’t care no more about him, because I don’t take no stock in dead people.”
— Mark Twain, Huckleberry Finn

I am a bit ashamed to admit that this week was the first time I had ever visited the British Museum. Although I always had a great desire to see it I waited until I would be able to do so with an educated guide. I was indeed fortunate to be guided on my maiden visit by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, the Dean of the London School of Jewish Studies. Rafi knows the museum quite well and this visit was planned with a unique goal in mind: to view the ancient Egyptian displays and artefacts through the lens of the Exodus. There is no one that I know who is more equipped to do this than Dr Zarum.

We not only viewed the great statues of Rameses II, the Pharaoh believed to be the Pharaoh of the Exodus[1], but also had a glimpse of the nature of his reign. We began to understand the implications of ‘an outstretched arm’ and what unique significance such imagery meant to the ancient Egyptians[2]. We also understood the way in which the Egyptians viewed sheep[3], crocodiles[4], death and even the ‘heaviness’ of one’s heart[5]. We viewed the living conditions and lifestyles of the simple peasants of ancient Egyptian society and gained a sense of the world and circumstances in which our ancestors lived. We had a greater understanding of what it meant to be a slave in Egypt.

As a close friend and I followed Rafi’s remarkable lead through the museum’s great halls, I could not help but feel a profound sense of personal attachment to so much of what stood before us. Whether it was the Babylonian, Assyrian, Persian or Greek exhibits all of it was a part of my personal history.

But these monuments and statues along with the cuneiform tablets and hieroglyphics that we observed — so many of which were built and fashioned to exhibit grandeur, strength and majesty — were not simply indicative of societies in which my people had once lived; they all, at some point, attempted to oppress, enslave, persecute or destroy us.

Many of my forbears did not survive their powerful regimes but, nonetheless, here I was, living, breathing, aware and standing before the faint echoes of their mighty civilisations. I stood a bit taller that day.

My friend and I were fortunate that the visit to the museum had been preceded, albeit unintentionally, with an apt morning. We had the privilege of attending a lesson given by Trudy Gold on the developments of Zionism before World War I. After two millennia of wandering and seeing ourselves as faithful citizens of the countless countries in which we lived, the spirit of a long, dormant nation began to stir, and Jews recalled that long ago, they were a nation called Israel.

Reflecting back on the morning’s lesson at the end of the day, it had greater impact for me. We had moved through so many powerful civilisations, in some we found untapped elements of our splendour and in some we experienced profound cruelty, but we came through it all, heads held high. We had weathered the tides.

I could not help but feel moved by how our parasha related to all of it. I envisioned the final scene of Perashat Mishpatim as Moshe Rabenu established a covenant between the nascent nation and the Almighty. Then the people heard the terms of a bond sealed in blood and embraced it.

Moshe…took the book of the covenant and read it in the ears of the people. They said: ‘All that G-d has spoken we will do and we will hearken!’…And the sight of the Glory of G-d was like a consuming fire on top of the mountain. (24:7,17)

They could not know the epic journey that the covenant would create for their descendants, but surely, somewhere deep in their subconscious, was the hope, the tikvah, that they would walk with G-d through time and space.

1       2
[1] He was king during the 19th dynasty of the new kingdom from 1279-1213 BCE.

[2] I will rescue you from servitude to them, I will redeem you with an outstretched arm! (Ex., 6:6) Rameses II had colossal statues made of his likeness in which his arm stretched forth as a display of might and power.  (photo of the salvaged arm beside the head below).

[3] The Egyptians saw the sheep as protective and godlike. Statues of pharaoh under the protection of a sheep were found in ancient Egypt. The first command that we received in Egypt was to slaughter a sheep as an offering to G-d. Pick out, take for yourselves a sheep for your clans, and slay the Passover-animal’ (Ex., 12:21)

[4] Crocodiles lived in the Nile and were feared by the population. The crocodile held a frightening role in Egyptian mythology. Take your staff and throw it down before Pharaoh: Let it become a crocodile!’ (7:9)

[5] In Egyptian mythology (Book of the Dead of Hunefer, 1280 BCE) after death a person’s heart was weighed against ‘Truth’ to ascertain its faithfulness and purity.
G-d said to Moshe: ‘Pharaoh’s heart is heavy — he refuses to send the people free’. (7:14)

Law and Lore

About the Prayers – Amida – Select Procedures I

‘Amida’ literally means ‘standing’. We call the prayer this because we are meant to stand while saying it.

When it is not possible for someone to stand (due to sickness or old age) or when standing will disturb one’s concentration (on a plane or moving train), it is permitted to sit and say the prayer[1].

When standing, it is proper to do so with feet together. The prayer is said facing Jerusalem[2].

Properly, one should not wave and shake one’s body during the Amida, but stand with reverence as a ‘servant stands before the master’.

One must cover the head for the prayer.

One should strive to pray in the same place daily so that it is both familiar and a special, designated meeting place with G-d.

The Amida is said silently for it is a personal and intimate prayer between G-d and the individual. However, one should be able to hear one’s own voice. The prayer is not fulfilled by sight-reading the words.

Although it is prevalent among many, one is not required to take 3 steps back and forward to begin the Amida. One simply stands with feet together to pray. However, it is a requirement to take 3 steps back while bowing at the end of the Amida for we are stepping away from an audience with G-d.
[1] Mishne Torah, Tefila, 5:1,2

[2] ibid, 3

Parasha Perspectives

VI              Mishpatim

36a           Hebrew servants (21:1-6)
36b           Hebrew maidservants (21:7-11)
36c           Murder and accidental killing (21:12-13)
36d           Intentional murder (21:14)
36e           Injuring parents (21:15)
36f            Kidnapping (21:16)
36g           Cursing parents (21:17)
36h           Repayment for causing injury (21:18-19)
36i            Injuring servants (21:20-21)
36j            Cost of killing fetus: eye for an eye (21:22-25)
36k            Injuring servants leads to their release (21:26-27)
37a           A goring ox (21:28-32)
37b           Neglect leading to damaged animals (21:33-34)
37c            One ox goring another (21:35-36)
37d           Animal theft (21:37-22:3)
37e           Animals eating other people’s crops (22:4)
37f            Arson (22:5)
37g           Laws of safe-keeping money or objects (22:6-8)
37h           Laws of safe-keeping animals (22:9-12)
38a           Borrowing (22:13-14)
38b           Seduction (22:15-16)
38c            Witchcraft, bestiality (22:17-18)
38d           Not serving other gods or oppressing the
unfortunate (22:19-23)
39a           Lending and interest (22:24-26)
39b           Cursing God and leaders; firstborn for
God (22:27-30)
39c            Following the crowd (23:1-3)
39d           Returning lost property (23:4)
39e           Assisting your enemy (23:5)
39f            Lying; bribery; shmitta; Shabbat;
Pesach, Shavuot, Sukkot; kashrut (23:6-19)
40a           Guardian angel; protection of God;
no alien worship (23:20-25)
40b           God will prepare the land for God’s people;
no foreign gods (23:26-33)
41a            The Covenant is established (24:1-11)
41b            Moshe ascends Sinai to receive Torah (24:12-18)

Taken from, ‘Torah for Everyone’ by Rabbi Dr Raphael Zarum, Dean of LSJS