MISHPATIM (ordinances of the court)

Judgment Seat of Moses

Exodus 21:1 Now these are the judgments which you will set before them. C-MATS

Question: What is the civil law? The civil laws are an extension of the Tenth Commandment: Do not covet. In order to know what he may not covet, one must know the rights and property of others. Torah now goes on to begin defining what it is that belongs to others. Chumash

Question: The Torah is full of very detailed codes of conduct. Why do you think an infinite Elohim would be so concerned with such seemingly unspiritual petty details as property laws? The answer to that depends upon how we define spirituality. The Hebrew spiritual ideal is to neither overly indulge in, nor abstain from the physical world and all of its activities. Rather, our goal is to perfect the physical world by being involved in it, but in a moderate and just way. יהוה‘s ‘concern’ is to provide us, via the Torah, with detailed guidance in all of life’s situations, so that we can best elevate them, and by doing so, perfect the world, and ourselves. Chumash

Question: Why does this chapter start with the rules for slaves? Even the most degraded men and women are made in the image of יהוה and their treatment is carefully regulated by Torah, just as much as the Temple service. The freedom of these servants after six years is a reminder of Israel’s own freedom from Egyptian slavery. Our own freedom and right to property is a Divine gift. Chumash

Exodus 21:2 If you buy a Hebrew servant, six years he will serve: and in the seventh year he will leave free owing nothing. C-MATS

Question: When does a Hebrew become a slave? A Hebrew becomes a slave only by order of the court. If he is caught stealing and must be sold to pay for his debt, or if he sells himself into slavery to pay for his debts, the court must decide if he becomes a slave or not. Chumash

Exodus 21:3 If he came in by himself, he will leave by himself: if he was married, then אשְׁתו his wife will leave with him. C-MATS

Question: What responsibility comes with this commandment of owning a Hebrew slave? If the Hebrew slave was not married at first, his master may not give him a Canaanite maidservant from whom to marry and have children. If he is someone’s husband, meaning an Israelite woman, his wife will go out with him. Rather, the text informs us that whoever purchases a Hebrew slave is also responsible for supporting his wife and his children. When the slave leaves after six years, the owner is required to give him substantial gifts so that he can start out with a chance to rebuild his life. Chumash