This week’s parasha, Mishpatim, is quite the departure from the preceding parshiot. While last week, we had the perfect balance between narrative and law, this week, the Torah has hit pause on the narrative of our story and has done a deep dive into the laws and obligations for the Israelites. If last week, you felt like the Ten Commandments were a good starting point, but maybe you wanted a little more, well then you’re in luck!
For me personally, the mitzvot in this parasha can be divided into (at least) three categories. There are mitzvot that deal with capital punishment, mitzvot that deal with damages and how people treat each other, and then there are all sorts of mitzvot that may seem irrelevant to us in our modern society, but are also intriguing and can lead to excellent conversations.
With our students, seeing how each person relates to the text and the different laws in a different way gives me a renewed sense of why it is so important for us to be studying and discussing these issues, especially the ones which may not seem as relevant.
The mitzvah that jumped out at me this week was Shmita. The Torah explains that after six years of planting and farming, that the seventh year is a year of rest. The Torah tells us that this is so that animals and workers may also get a rest. Following God’s days of creation and the seventh day of rest, we are told that the land deserves this rest as well. Shmita is still observed in Israel today and while I personally find it fascinating how a modern society is able to still make a concept like this relevant, perhaps I’ll talk about my two years living on a kibbutz another time and focus on the present.
Each year, the mention of Shmita in the Torah gives me a chance to slow down and think about the world and the places where I have lived in a different way. I was in a very different place in my life and career the last time there was a Shmita year. Shmita also teaches us about the value of hard work and a well earned rest. While we may not live in an agricultural society today, these laws can still guide us to think about how to treat the places where we live, the people we live and work with, and the Earth as our home.
As I look out the window in my office, I’m also struck by the beautiful view in front of me and how much more we can be utilizing this amazing land. Following our celebration of Tu Bishvat and moving (slowly) towards spring and our agricultural holidays of Pesach and Shavuot, I’m very much looking forward to committing to using our forests and green spaces with an even greater intentionality.
Wishing you all and your families a warm and restful Shabbat,