• August 28th, 2022
  • Elul 1st, 5782

MISHPATIM

Laws and Judgments

Presented By
Torah Contributor

The Laws of Cause and Effect

The portion of Mishpatim opens with a lengthy explanation of civil and criminal laws including rules regarding the time limitations on keeping slaves, laws of assault, theft and idol worshiping – a comprehensive set of actions upon which systematic justice is based. Since many of the laws deal with things that are no longer applicable to us today or which seem to have disproportionate penalties, we can find a deeper meaning. The laws teach us about both the Law of Cause and Effect in the physical world and, according to the Zohar, the process of reincarnation. All of our actions in life have an effect or a resulting action. The challenge is that effects are often separated by time and space from the cause so that we do not appreciate the connection between the two. For instance, we would not put our finger in a light socket since we know we will get the immediate effect of a shock or electrocution. However, when we are reactive and get angry or we judge someone or gossip, the effect of that action is not immediately seen. When we experience the resulting effect from our negative actions at a later time and place, we do not connect the two and therefore miss the opportunity to learn from the event. The creation of time and space between cause and effect in our lives is an opportunity for us to exercise free will and become proactive. By recognizing the time delay often found between cause and effect – we can hopefully become more proactive and responsible for our actions. The detailed description of laws in this portion shows us how all of our actions have an effect – guiding us in our daily decisions to exercise free will and restrict actions that may have negative effects in our lives.

Slaves

The first law set forth in Mishpatim concerns the way to treat a slave. It says that a slave can serve you for 6 years, but must be released in the 7th year and set free of charge. While literal slavery exists today in only a few countries, the concept of slavery in the spiritual realm still exists within each one of us – slavery to chaos, slavery to our ego and slavery to fears and lifestyles. Commentators have suggested that at one level it is okay to be connected to the world of slavery for 6 days during the week, but on the 7th day, whether that day is Shabbat or any day of separation, we must connect to a higher consciousness where we are not enslaved by our ego and other material things and “let the slave free”. On a more literal level, the discussion of proper treatment of slaves indicates that like all things, there is a process to follow, even with slaves, that yields the proper result and effect from our actions..

An Eye for an Eye

One of the most famous passages from the Torah appears in this portion regarding the repercussion from seriously injuring a slave. The portion says “If there is serious injury you are to take life for life, an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound and bruise for bruise.” It is hard to see how this barbarism can be taken in the literal sense, being at such odds with the moral endeavor of the Torah. The Kabbalists view this as a hint towards the secrets of reincarnation. It means that whatever we cause to our fellowman will come back to us in similar proportion – unless we otherwise correct the issue in this or a subsequent lifetime. From the mystical perspective of unity, when you take an eye, you are really taking your own eye as we are all inherently intertwined. This passage describes what happens metaphysically when you hurt someone – pointing us towards the unity of all people – whether friend or foe. When we can understand this unity between people, we gain access to G-dliness – the highest state of consciousness.

Secret to Separating Milk from Meat

Mishpatim also provides the basis for the prohibition of mixing milk and meat where it states “Do not cook a goat in its mother’s milk.” A Kabbalstic interpretation of this law describes the underlying spiritual reason as the separation of two distinct energies – the mixing of which creates a negative effect. Meat, which is red in color, represents the Divine energy of Gevurah – severity and judgment. It is similarly representative of death and end, as meat turns rancid if left out over time and is available as food only when an animal has been killed. Milk on the other hand is white in color and represents the Divine energy of Chesed – sharing and mercy. Milk is conversely taken from an animal that is alive and has continuity, the ability to be turned into other products (yogurt and cheese) over time.

This week in Mishpatim G-d describes the various civil and criminal laws applicable to humanity and provides a glimpse into the concepts of cause and effect and reincarnation. Only when we understand the nature of cause and effect can we exercise our free will and take control over our lives in a proactive and positive way.