This week we study Parshat Mishpatim, which literally means “laws” or “rules.”   This parshah contains over 50 laws and regulations.  At first glance, it may seem paradoxical or ironic that so soon after leading the people to freedom, Moshe receives the Torah that contains so many do’s and don’ts.  We wonder, along with our students, why freedom seems to require so many rules or laws.  The very first verse of the parshah puts a sharp point on the dilemma.   It describes a law that states that anyone who owns a slave must release the slave after six years. We are shocked that one would even be allowed to own a slave in the first place; and of course today, we reject such a notion intuitively.  However, for Bnai Israel, who lived in Mitzrayyim for so long, where slavery was the way of the land, this law showed them how to bring about the value of freedom in the social context in which they lived.  We learn from this that rules and laws help implement our highest values and aspirations — like freedom, justice, peace, or fairness — in the imperfect contexts in which we find ourselves.   Our Middat Hashavua is deceptively simple:  “Create fair rules.”  As any parent or teacher knows, making rules that are fair for everyone is a daunting task.  It involves trying to apply a very important value, “fairness,” in complex contexts such as family life or the classroom, where each person may have different needs, concerns, or even ideas about fairness.   Thinking about this, we can appreciate what a vast and important task the Torah, and Parshat Mishpatim, models for us:  making laws that lead to freedom, justice, fairness and peace in our lives and in our world.

Shabbat Shalom,

Moreh Greg