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Parashat Mishpatim - 5777

Dear friends,

Last week, we read of the Giving of the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai. This week's parasha, Mishpatim, describes more laws, most of them regarding dealings between people, which, when observed would make the Israelites a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. They emphasize that the society must be governed by laws that reflect justice for all.

This Shabbat, called Shabbat Shekalim, is the first of four special Shabbats that take place before Passover, when a second Torah scroll is taken out of the Ark for an additional reading, besides the portion of the week. In the passage for Shabbat Shekalim, we are told that when it comes to taking a census, rather than counting heads, each person is commanded to give one-half of a Shekel. This Mitzvah was practiced during Temple days. Every individual was instructed to give one-half shekel, and this money was used to purchase the animals to be used for the daily offerings in the Temple. The offerings, therefore, represented a gift on behalf of the entire community - rich and poor alike - so that the prayers for forgiveness were for the entire community. The practice of animal sacrifices ceased with the destruction of the Temple in the year 70 C.E., but the ritual of donating one-half shekel continued throughout the generations. It emphasized the importance of being counted when it came to being part of the community. The money raised was used to help those in need to be able to celebrate Passover.

There is an interesting discussion in the Talmud regarding the Mitzvot in the Torah. The great sage Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakai asked his students to tell him what they thought was the most important Mitzvah in the Torah:

Rabbi Yohanan explained his support for the third opinion. He did not mean to belittle the first two; on the contrary, loving and observing G-d's rituals and Mizvot, or showing love and compassion to others, are the essence of the Torah. But they are only good when they are practiced regularly at all times, just like the mitzvah of offering a daily sacrifice. They are meaningful when one adopts them into his/her daily life, not just when it's something that one practices once in a while or when in the mood.

Sometime, it takes extraordinary efforts and sacrifices to come forward and be consistent in our religious observances and in our relationships with others. These are the mitzvot that we read about in this Parasha of Mishpatim (laws) and in the practice of Shekalim: consistency and being part of the community, even when it demands some sacrifice on our part.

I wish you Shabbat Shalom and a Good Month (the new month of Adar begins this Sunday).

Shabbat Shalom,

Avram