Weekly Torah Portion – Mishpatim

31
Jan

Finding Jesus in the Old Testament: A Weekly Reading from the Torah – Mishpatim

 

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What’s in a name?: Mishpatim

This week’s Torah portion is named Mishpatim, which means “statutes.” More specifically, mish-pat-im in the context of this Torah reading refers to social laws given by God to ensure the Jewish people don’t abuse others but instead treat them with dignity and respect.
 
 

Parashat Mishpatim

  • Reading 1- Exodus 21:1–19
  • Reading 2- Exodus 21:20–22:3
  • Reading 3- Exodus 22:4–26
  • Reading 4- Exodus 22:27–23:5
  • Reading 5- Exodus 23:6–19
  • Reading 6- Exodus 23:20–25
  • Reading 7- Exodus 23:26–24:18
  • Haftorah for Mishpatim: Jeremiah 34:8–22 and 33:25–26.
  • Brit Hadasha: Matthew 20:20-27, Matthew 11:28-30

 

Commentary by Rabbi Jason Sobel

This week’s Torah portion begins by discussing the laws of the indentured Hebrew servants.

Why after the giving of the 10 Commandments does the Torah talk about Hebrew slaves?

One of the fundamental messages of the book of Exodus is that God wants to continually move His people from slavery to greater levels of freedom. God wants to completely break His people out of their slave mentality, just like He took Israel out of Egypt then had to take Egypt out of Israel. Israel’s redemption was the beginning of this process. It was not the end, but the start of a long spiritual journey of transformation and healing.

The indentured servant spoken of in this passage is the Hebrew who is forced to become a servant due to hardship. Either they could not provide for themselves or they owed a debt they could not repay. But the Scripture makes it clear that they are not to remain slaves forever but only for a season: “If you buy a Hebrew servant, he is to serve for six years, and in the seventh he is to go free, without payment” (Exodus 21:2).

The indentured servant had to be given an opportunity to be set free. Why? Because humanity is made in God’s image. This means that every individual has an inherent dignity and worth. As the Declaration of Independence states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

God’s justice is not like the Egyptians who want to enslave Israel in perpetuity. God commands Israel not to be like the Egyptians, the people and place that seeks to destroy destiny and potential by limiting freedom for personal profit. The mishpatim commandments in the Torah are in part meant to ensure that the Children of Israel do not do to others what the Egyptians did to them. This is really significant, because too often the abused become abusers and perpetuate the cycle of abuse. God wants to empower you to rise above and break any negative cycles in your past.

A person could become a slave for six years but in the seventh year, the indentured servant had to be given the option to go free. Numbers are significant; God does not choose them arbitrarily. So why six years of servitude and the option of freedom in the seventh?

Man was created on the sixth day, which is a Friday, according the Genesis account. In Jewish thought, man also fell on the sixth day and lost six things as a result. Thus, six is the number associated with man, the physical world, and the fall of man. Also, six is the number associated with toil and labor, as a person can only work six days a week but is commanded to rest on the seventh, the Shabbat (Ex 20: 8-9). Hebrew farmers worked the land six years but were commanded by God to give the land a rest in the seventh, known in Hebrew as the Shimittah/Sabbatical Year:

“For six years you may sow your field and for six years you may prune your vineyard and gather in its fruits. But in the seventh year there is to be a Shabbat rest for the land—a Shabbat to Adonai” (Leviticus 25:1–7 & Exodus 23:10–11).

Thus the slave can work six years but in seventh year must be given the opportunity for rest and for freedom just like the land.

Six in Hebrew is written with the letter Vav. The Hebrew letter Vav occurs for the first time in the Bible in the sixth word of Genesis 1:1 where it used as the conjunction “and,” as in “the heavens and earth.” Thus, the letter Vav and the number six symbolize the connection between heaven and earth. Man was created on the sixth, but we were meant to live in the seventh, the place and time of completion and rest. But due to the fall, humanity lives the majority of week toiling to earn bread by the sweat of their brows and only get to experience the Sabbath one day a week at best.

For this reason, Yeshua in the New Testament performs His first miracle with six stone pots (John 2) and dies on the sixth day of the week, Friday. He came to restore the connection between heaven and earth, set us free from slavery, and offer us freedom. The One whom the Son sets free is free indeed, and His yoke is easy and His burden light!

Most people think of servitude as only negative. Being a slave to a human master is clearly not good. The Torah is critical of the person who decides to not go free in the seventh year and chooses to remain in perpetuity as an indentured servant. But servitude can be good if the one whom you are serving is the Lord, as it states latter in this week’s Torah portion: “You are to serve the LORD/Adonai your God, and He will bless your food and your water. Moreover I will take sickness away from your midst” (Exodus 23:25).

One of the highest praises the Lord gave to Moses was to call him an eved Hashem/a servant of the Lord. But of course there is more! Concerning the Messiah, who is the Greater Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18), Isaiah writes, “See, my servant will prosper, he will be raised and lifted up and highly exalted” (Isaiah 52:13). What’s so amazing is that the phrase Hebrew servant/Eved Ivri has the same numerical value as Messiah/Mashiach in Hebrew, which is 358. This points to the truth that Messiah was the ultimate servant and example for us!

 

Connecting Old & New: Finding Jesus in the Old Testament

Messiah Yeshua came to serve and not to be served. If we want to be like Him and hear the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant,” then we like Messiah must make God’s will our will and humbly serve so that we can be exalted with Him in the Messianic Kingdom.

The “six years” that a Hebrew servant can be indentured for is also symbolic of something more! The Rabbis teach that the world as we know it will only exist for 6000 years. A day with the Lord is like 1000 years, which means that we can only serve and work during the six days of this world’s existence.

By the seventh millennium, all work will cease, the world as we know it will come to end, and Messiah will arrive to establish the Kingdom! God’s people will be totally free from the toil and hardships of this world and will enter into the seven, the seventh day Sabbath, the time that is all Shabbat! But you must prepare, work, and serve to get the full blessing of the Seventh day, the Sabbath of the Messianic Kingdom. Our focus must to be live not for this world, but to serve the Lord with all heart, soul, and strength in anticipation and preparation for the World to Come.

Bu even now the Lord wants you to begin to move from the sixth to the seventh, from slavery to freedom, from harsh labor to serving from a place of rest in Him! Yeshua invites you to join Him in an Exodus journey into greater freedom and rest so that you can know Him more intimately and serve the Lord with joy and gladness!