May 24, 2024 ~ Shabbat BEHAR. Maqam SIGAH.

Shabbat Mishpatim - שבת משפטים


The Hebrew Slave

כי תקנה עבד עברי - Soon after being freed from slavery, the Covenant Code (Exodus 21-23) begins with the laws of a Hebrew slave. Rather than attempt to completely abolish slavery, the Torah recognizes this institution as a practical means to provide the poor with a safety net (clothing, food, shelter) in exchange for their labor. The focus here is not whether one owned slaves, but rather how they treated them. The slave typically works in order to repay a debt and biblical guidelines mandate that he is set free on the seventh year. One should not make the mistake of equating the humane treatment of the Hebrew slave with the slavery practiced in other societies. A high level of kindness and dignity is expected from the master, and the master is responsible for the slave's physical well-being. The Talmud states that "One who purchases a Hebrew slave is acquiring for himself a master (TB Qiddushin 22a)." Beth Torah Bulletin, 2/25/17.

No Money

ויצאה חנם אין כסף - The concept of "Ki Tob" refers to how the Aleppo custom assures that each aliyah opens and closes on a positive note. In the Aleppo custom for Mishpatim, Kohen ends at “Veyassea Ishto 'Imo” (Exodus 21:3), Levi ends at “Va'abado LeOlam” (21:6), and Yisrael ends at “Verapo Yerape” (21:19). Aleppo readers never stop at “Hinam Ein Kasef" (21:11), which translates as "No Money,” nor will they open with “Makeh Ish Va’met,” meaning “beating a man to death” (21:12),“ because it is viewed as too negative. "Years ago at a Halabi k'nis in Brooklyn,” recalls Haim Shayo, “when a reader ended an aliyah at ‘Hinam Ein Kasef,’ the ‘Oleh (recipient) refused to say the closing blessing signaling for the Qoreh to read further. Afterwards, he said to the Qoreh, ‘how do you expect me to pay my bills and make money if you stop at Ein Kasef?'” This story shows the importance of honoring each ‘Oleh by always opening and closing on a positive note. Tiqqun Highlights, Beth Torah Bulletin, 2/2/19.

Do Now, Ask Later

כל אשר דבר ה׳ נעשה ונשמע - When people would approach my great grandfather, Matouk Gemal (~1880-1967), with critical questions about religious observance, he would respond to them "just do it now and you will understand later." This simple statement of trust in God in a way summarizes the covenant that Israel enters in Exodus 24. When Moses writes the words of God and reads them to the nation, they respond "all that God says we will do and accept" (Exodus 24:7). Acceptance implies having an understanding about what is being performed. Notice that the word "do" (נעשה) is placed before "accept" (נשמע). Shouldn't we only do something once we accept what we are doing? The lesson that I learn from the words of Matouk Gemal is that whereas we recognize the importance of having a understanding of the Torah, this cannot be the prerequisite to observance. In our relationship with the Almighty, we must do now and accept later. Beth Torah Bulletin, 2/10/18.

The Ear

וְרָצַ֨ע אֲדֹנָ֤יו אֶת־אָזְנוֹ֙ בַּמַּרְצֵ֔עַ - Exodus 21:6 mandates that one must release his Hebrew servant at the seventh year. If the Hebrew servant chooses not to go free (in consideration of the many comforts in his master's home), there is a ritual in which the master brings him to the doorpost and pierces his ear with an awl, thereby remaining in servitude forever. The Talmud in Qiddushin 22b discusses this. Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakai explains that the ear is specifically being punished, because it is the ear that heard God's voice at Sinai saying "For to me the Children of Israel are servants; they are my servants" (Leviticus 25:55), and not servants of servants. Similarly, in regards to the doorpost, Rabbi Shimon explains that the doorpost is singled out, because the doorpost is witness in Egypt when God passed over all the doorposts. The lesson here is that the Israelites are supposed to be a nation whose only master is God, but willfully remaining a servant and not choosing freedom, goes against this ideal. Beth Torah Bulletin, February 22, 2020.

Maqam of the Week: NAWAH / SABA

For Shabbat Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1- 24:18), services are conducted in Maqam NAWAH (~6 sources) or SABA (~11 sources). NAWAH, the maqam applied for Qabbalat Shabbat, is appropriate, because like Shabbat, when God worked for six and then rested on seven, similarly the Hebrew slave works for six and then rests on seven. Another option is to apply Maqam SABA ('Sabi,' in Arabic, means baby boy), which is used to mark 'berit' or covenant. This connects here, because Israel has committed to observing the laws mentioned with "Dam HaBerit" (Exodus 24:8), or blood of the covenant. Sephardic Pizmonim Project,