Mishpatim (מִּשְׁפָּטִים — Hebrew for “laws,” the second word of the parshah) is the eighteenth weekly Torah portion (parshah) in the annual Jewish cycle of Torah reading and the sixth in the book of Exodus. It constitutes Exodus 21:1–24:18. Jews in the Diaspora read it the eighteenth Sabbath after Simchat Torah, generally in February.
Jews also read the first part of parshah Ki Tisa, Exodus 30:11–16, regarding the half-shekel head tax, as the maftir Torah reading on the special Sabbath Shabbat Shekalim, which often falls on the same Sabbath as parshah Mishpatim (as it does in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018).
- 1 Summary
- 2 In inner-biblical interpretation
- 3 In classical rabbinic interpretation
- 4 Commandments
- 5 Haftarah
- 6 In the liturgy
- 7 The Weekly Maqam
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
God invited Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and 70 elders to bow to God from afar. (Exodus 24:1.) Moses repeated the commandments to the people, who answered: “All the things that the Lord has commanded we will do!” (Exodus 24:3.) Moses then wrote the commandments down. (Exodus 24:4.) He set up an altar and some young Israelite men offered sacrifices. (Exodus 24:4–5.) Moses read the covenant aloud to the people, who once again affirmed that they would follow it. (Exodus 24:7.) Moses took blood from the sacrifices and dashed it on the people. (Exodus 24:8.)
Moses, Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the 70 elders of Israel then ascended, saw God, ate, and drank. (Exodus 24:9–11.)
Moses and Joshua arose, and Moses ascended Mount Sinai, leaving Aaron and Hur in charge of legal matters. (Exodus 24:13–14.) A cloud covered the mountain, hiding the Presence of the Lord for six days, appearing to the Israelites as a fire on the top of the mountain. (Exodus 24:15–17.) Moses went inside the cloud and remained on the mountain 40 days and nights. (Exodus 24:18.)
In inner-biblical interpretation
Exodus chapter 23
- “Passover” (Pesach, פֶּסַח) (Exodus 12:11, 21, 27, 43, 48; 34:25; Leviticus 23:5; Numbers 9:2, 4–6, 10, 12–14; 28:16; 33:3; Deuteronomy 16:1–2, 5–6; Joshua 5:10–11; 2 Kings 23:21–23; Ezekiel 45:21; Ezra 6:19–20; 2 Chronicles 30:1–2, 5, 15, 17–18; 35:1, 6–9, 11, 13, 16–19);
- “The Feast of Unleavened Bread” (Chag haMatzot, חַג הַמַּצּוֹת) (Exodus 12:17; 23:15; 34:18; Leviticus 23:6; Deuteronomy 16:16; Ezekiel 45:21; Ezra 6:22; 2 Chronicles 8:13; 30:13, 21; 35:17); and
- “A holy convocation” or “a solemn assembly” (mikrah kodesh, מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ) (Exodus 12:16; Leviticus 23:7–8; Numbers 28:18, 25).
Some explain the double nomenclature of “Passover” and “Feast of Unleavened Bread” as referring to two separate feasts that the Israelites combined sometime between the Exodus and when the Biblical text became settled. (See, e.g., W. Gunther Plaut. The Torah: A Modern Commentary, 456. New York: Union of American Hebrew Congregations, 1981. ISBN 0-8074-0055-6.) Exodus 34:18–20 and Deuteronomy 15:19–16:8 indicate that the dedication of the firstborn also became associated with the festival.
Some believe that the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” was an agricultural festival at which the Israelites celebrated the beginning of the grain harvest. Moses may have had this festival in mind when in Exodus 5:1 and 10:9 he petitioned Pharaoh to let the Israelites go to celebrate a feast in the wilderness. (Plaut, at 464.)
“Passover,” on the other hand, was associated with a thanksgiving sacrifice of a lamb, also called “the Passover,” “the Passover lamb,” or “the Passover offering.” (Exodus 12:11, 21, 27, 43, 48; Deuteronomy 16:2, 5–6; Ezra 6:20; 2 Chronicles 30:15, 17–18; 35:1, 6–9, 11, 13.)
Exodus 12:5–6, Leviticus 23:5, and Numbers 9:3 and 5, and 28:16 direct “Passover” to take place on the evening of the fourteenth of Aviv (Nisan in the Hebrew calendar after the Babylonian captivity). Joshua 5:10, Ezekiel 45:21, Ezra 6:19, and 2 Chronicles 35:1 confirm that practice. Exodus 12:18–19, 23:15, and 34:18, Leviticus 23:6, and Ezekiel 45:21 direct the “Feast of Unleavened Bread” to take place over seven days and Leviticus 23:6 and Ezekiel 45:21 direct that it begin on the fifteenth of the month. Some believe that the propinquity of the dates of the two festivals led to their confusion and merger. (Plaut, at 464.)
Exodus 12:23 and 27 link the word “Passover” (Pesach, פֶּסַח) to God’s act to “pass over” (pasach, פָסַח) the Israelites’ houses in the plague of the firstborn. In the Torah, the consolidated Passover and Feast of Unleavened Bread thus commemorate the Israelites’ liberation from Egypt. (Exodus 12:42; 23:15; 34:18; Numbers 33:3; Deuteronomy 16:1, 3, 6.)
The Hebrew Bible frequently notes the Israelites’ observance of Passover at turning points in their history. Numbers 9:1–5 reports God’s direction to the Israelites to observe Passover in the wilderness of Sinai on the anniversary of their liberation from Egypt. Joshua 5:10–11 reports that upon entering the Promised Land, the Israelites kept the Passover on the plains of Jericho and ate unleavened cakes and parched corn, produce of the land, the next day. 2 Kings 23:21–23 reports that King Josiah commanded the Israelites to keep the Passover in Jerusalem as part of Josiah’s reforms, but also notes that the Israelites had not kept such a Passover from the days of the Biblical judges nor in all the days of the kings of Israel or the kings of Judah, calling into question the observance of even Kings David and Solomon. The more reverent 2 Chronicles 8:12–13, however, reports that Solomon offered sacrifices on the festivals, including the Feast of Unleavened Bread. And 2 Chronicles 30:1–27 reports King Hezekiah’s observance of a second Passover anew, as sufficient numbers of neither the priests nor the people were prepared to do so before then. And Ezra 6:19–22 reports that the Israelites returned from the Babylonian captivity observed Passover, ate the Passover lamb, and kept the Feast of Unleavened Bread seven days with joy.
- The Feast of Weeks (חַג שָׁבֻעֹת, Chag Shavuot) (Exodus 34:22; Deuteronomy 16:10; see also 2 Chronicles 8:13 (חַג הַשָּׁבֻעוֹת, Chag haShavuot));
- The Day of the First-fruits (יוֹם הַבִּכּוּרִים, Yom haBikurim) (Numbers 28:26);
- The Feast of Harvest (חַג הַקָּצִיר, Chag haKatzir) (Exodus 23:16); and
- A holy convocation (מִקְרָא-קֹדֶשׁ, mikrah kodesh) (Leviticus 23:21; Numbers 28:26)
Exodus 34:22 associates Shavuot with the first-fruits (בִּכּוּרֵי, bikurei) of the wheat harvest. (See also Exodus 23:16; Leviticus 23:17; Numbers 28:26.) In turn, Deuteronomy 26:1–11 set out the ceremony for the bringing of the first fruits.
To arrive at the correct date, Leviticus 23:15 instructs counting seven weeks from the day after the day of rest of Passover, the day that they brought the sheaf of barley for waving. Similarly, Deuteronomy 16:9 directs counting seven weeks from when they first put the sickle to the standing barley.
Leviticus 23:16–19 sets out a course of offerings for the fiftieth day, including a meal-offering of two loaves made from fine flour from the first-fruits of the harvest; burnt-offerings of seven lambs, one bullock, and two rams; a sin-offering of a goat; and a peace-offering of two lambs. Similarly, Numbers 28:26–30 sets out a course of offerings including a meal-offering; burnt-offerings of two bullocks, one ram, and seven lambs; and one goat to make atonement. Deuteronomy 16:10 directs a freewill-offering in relation to God’s blessing.
2 Chronicles 8:13 reports that Solomon offered burnt-offerings on the Feast of Weeks.
- “The Feast of Tabernacles (or Booths)” (Leviticus 23:34; Deuteronomy 16:13, 16; 31:10; Zechariah 14:16, 18, 19; Ezra 3:4; 2 Chronicles 8:13);
- “The Feast of Ingathering” (Exodus 23:16, 34:22);
- “The Feast” or “the festival” (1 Kings 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chronicles 5:3; 7:8);
- “The Feast of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:39; Judges 21:19);
- “The festival of the seventh month” (Ezekiel 45:25; Nehemiah 8:14); and
- “A holy convocation” or “a sacred occasion” (Numbers 29:12).
Sukkot’s agricultural origin is evident from the name "The Feast of Ingathering," from the ceremonies accompanying it, and from the season and occasion of its celebration: "At the end of the year when you gather in your labors out of the field" (Exodus 23:16); "after you have gathered in from your threshing-floor and from your winepress." (Deuteronomy 16:13.) It was a thanksgiving for the fruit harvest. (Compare Judges 9:27.) And in what may explain the festival’s name, Isaiah reports that grape harvesters kept booths in their vineyards. (Isaiah 1:8.) Coming as it did at the completion of the harvest, Sukkot was regarded as a general thanksgiving for the bounty of nature in the year that had passed.
Sukkot became one of the most important feasts in Judaism, as indicated by its designation as “the Feast of the Lord” (Leviticus 23:39; Judges 21:19) or simply “the Feast.” (1 Kings 8:2, 65; 12:32; 2 Chronicles 5:3; 7:8.) Perhaps because of its wide attendance, Sukkot became the appropriate time for important state ceremonies. Moses instructed the children of Israel to gather for a reading of the Law during Sukkot every seventh year. (Deuteronomy 31:10–11.) King Solomon dedicated the Temple in Jerusalem on Sukkot. (1 Kings 8; 2 Chronicles 7.) And Sukkot was the first sacred occasion observed after the resumption of sacrifices in Jerusalem after the Babylonian captivity. (Ezra 3:2–4.)
In the time of Nehemiah, after the Babylonian captivity, the Israelites celebrated Sukkot by making and dwelling in booths, a practice of which Nehemiah reports: “the Israelites had not done so from the days of Joshua.” (Nehemiah 8:13–17.) In a practice related to that of the Four Species, Nehemiah also reports that the Israelites found in the Law the commandment that they “go out to the mountains and bring leafy branches of olive trees, pine trees, myrtles, palms and [other] leafy trees to make booths.” (Nehemiah 8:14–15.) In Leviticus 23:40, God told Moses to command the people: “On the first day you shall take the product of hadar trees, branches of palm trees, boughs of leafy trees, and willows of the brook,” and “You shall live in booths seven days; all citizens in Israel shall live in booths, in order that future generations may know that I made the Israelite people live in booths when I brought them out of the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 23:42–43.) The book of Numbers, however, indicates that while in the wilderness, the Israelites dwelt in tents. (Numbers 11:10; 16:27.) Some secular scholars consider Leviticus 23:39–43 (the commandments regarding booths and the four species) to be an insertion by a late redactor. (E.g., Richard Elliott Friedman. The Bible with Sources Revealed, 228–29. New York: HarperSanFrancisco, 2003.)
Jeroboam son of Nebat, King of the northern Kingdom of Israel, whom 1 Kings 13:33 describes as practicing “his evil way,” celebrated a festival on the fifteenth day of the eighth month, one month after Sukkot, “in imitation of the festival in Judah.” (1 Kings 12:32–33.) “While Jeroboam was standing on the altar to present the offering, the man of God, at the command of the Lord, cried out against the altar” in disapproval. (1 Kings 13:1.)
In classical rabbinic interpretation
Exodus chapter 21
Rabbi Akiva deduced from the words “now these are the ordinances that you shall put before them” in Exodus 21:1 that the teacher must wherever possible explain to the student the reasons behind the commandments. (Babylonian Talmud Eruvin 54b.)
The Mishnah taught that a Hebrew manservant (described in Exodus 21:2) was acquired by money or by contract, and could acquire his freedom by years of serice, by the Jubilee year, or by deduction from the purchase price. The Mishnah taught that a Hebrew maidservant was more privileged in that she could acquire her freedom by signs of puberty. The servant whose ear was bored (as directed in Exodus 21:6) is acquired by boring his ear, and acquired his freedom by the Jubilee year or the master's death. (Mishnah Kiddushin 1:2; Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 14b.) Part of chapter 1 of Tractate Kiddushin in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of the Hebrew servant in Exodus 21:2–11 and 21:26–27; Leviticus 25:39–55; and Deuteronomy 15:12–18. (Mishnah Kiddushin 1:2; Tosefta Kiddushin 1:5–6; Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin ch. 1; Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 14b–22b.)
The Rabbis taught in a Baraita that the words of Deuteronomy 15:16 regarding the Hebrew servant, “he fares well with you,” indicate that the Hebrew servant had to be “with” — that is, equal to — the master in food and drink. Thus the master could not eat white bread and have the servant eat black bread. The master could not drink old wine and have the servant drink new wine. The master could not sleep on a feather bed and have the servant sleep on straw. Hence, they said that buying a Hebrew servant was like buying a master. Similarly, Rabbi Simeon deduced from the words of Leviticus 25:41, “Then he shall go out from you, he and his children with him,” that the master was liable to provide for the servant’s children until the servant went out. And Rabbi Simeon deduced from the words of Exodus 21:3, “If he is married, then his wife shall go out with him,” that the master was responsible to provide for the servant’s wife, as well. (Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 22a.)
Rabbi Eliezer interpreted the conjugal duty of Exodus 21:10 to require relations: for men of independence, every day; for laborers, twice a week; for donkey-drivers, once a week; for camel-drivers, once in 30 days; for sailors, once in six months. (Mishnah Ketubot 5:6; Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 61b.)
Chapter 2 of tractate Makkot in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of the cities of refuge in Exodus 21:12–14, Numbers 35:1–34, Deuteronomy 4:41–43, and 19:1–13. (Mishnah Makkot 2:1–8; Tosefta Makkot 2:1–3:10; Jerusalem Talmud Makkot ch. 2; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 7a–13a.)
The Mishnah taught that those who killed in error went into banishment. One would go into banishment if, for example, while one was pushing a roller on a roof, the roller slipped over, fell, and killed someone. One would go into banishment if while one was lowering a cask, it fell down and killed someone. One would go into banishment if while coming down a ladder, one fell and killed someone. But one would not go into banishment if while pulling up the roller it fell back and killed someone, or while raising a bucket the rope snapped and the falling bucket killed someone, or while going up a ladder one fell down and killed someone. The Mishnah’s general principle was that whenever the death occurred in the course of a downward movement, the culpable person went into banishment, but if the death did not occur in the course of a downward movement, the person did not go into banishment. If while chopping wood, the iron slipped from the ax handle and killed someone, Rabbi taught that the person did not go into banishment, but the sages said that the person did go into banishment. If from the split log rebounding killed someone, Rabbi said that the person went into banishment, but the sages said that the person did not go into banishment. (Mishnah Makkot 2:1; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 7a–b.)
Rabbi Jose bar Judah taught that to begin with, they sent a slayer to a city of refuge, whether the slayer killed intentionally or not. Then the court sent and brought the slayer back from the city of refuge. The Court executed whomever the court found guilty of a capital crime, and the court acquitted whomever the court found not guilty of a capital crime. The court restored to the city of refuge whomever the court found liable to banishment, as Numbers 35:25 ordained, “And the congregation shall restore him to the city of refuge from where he had fled.” (Mishnah Makkot 2:6; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 9b.) Numbers 35:25 also says, “The manslayer . . . shall dwell therein until the death of the high priest, who was anointed with the holy oil,” but the Mishnah taught that the death of a high priest who had been anointed with the holy anointing oil, the death of a high priest who had been consecrated by the many vestments, or the death of a high priest who had retired from his office each equally made possible the return of the slayer. Rabbi Judah said that the death of a priest who had been anointed for war also permitted the return of the slayer. Because of these laws, mothers of high priests would provide food and clothing for the slayers in cities of refuge so that the slayers might not pray for the high priest’s death. (Mishnah Makkot 2:6; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 11a.) If the high priest died at the conclusion of the slayer’s trial, the slayer did not go into banishment. If, however, the high priests died before the trial was concluded and another high priest was appointed in his stead and then the trial concluded, the slayer returned home after the new high priest’s death. (Mishnah Makkot 2:6; Babylonian Talmud Makkot 11b.)
The Gemara taught that the words “eye for eye” in Exodus 21:24 meant pecuniary compensation. Rabbi Simon ben Yohai asked those who would take the words literally how they would enforce equal justice where a blind man put out the eye of another man, or an amputee cut off the hand of another, or where a lame person broke the leg of another. The school of Rabbi Ishmael cited the words “so shall it be given to him” in Leviticus 24:20, and deduced that the word “give” could apply only to pecuniary compensation. The school of Rabbi Hiyya cited the words “hand for hand” in the parallel discussion in Deuteronomy 19:21 to mean that an article was given from hand to hand, namely money. Abaye reported that a sage of the school of Hezekiah taught that Exodus 21:23–24 said “eye for eye” and “life for life,” but not “life and eye for eye,” and it could sometimes happen that eye and life would be taken for an eye, as when the offender died while being blinded. Rav Papa said in the name of Raba that Exodus 21:19 referred explicitly to healing, and the verse would not make sense if one assumed that retaliation was meant. And Rav Ashi taught that the principle of pecuniary compensation could be derived from the analogous use of the term “for” in Exodus 21:24 in the expression “eye for eye” and in Exodus 21:36 in the expression “he shall surely pay ox for ox.” As the latter case plainly indicated pecuniary compensation, so must the former. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 84a.)
Tractate Bava Kamma in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of damages related to oxen in Exodus 21:28–32, 35–36, pits in Exodus 21:33–34, men who steal livestock in Exodus 21:37, crop-destroying beasts in Exodus 22:4, fires in Exodus 22:5, and related torts. (Mishnah Bava Kamma 1:1–10:10; Tosefta Bava Kamma 1:1–11:18; Jerusalem Talmud Bava Kamma 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 2a–119b.)
Noting that Exodus 21:37 provides a penalty of five oven for the theft of an ox but only four sheep for the theft of a sheep, Rabbi Meir deduced that the law attaches great importance to labor. For in the case of an ox, a thief interferes with the beast’s labor, while in the case of a sheep, a thief does not disturb it from labor. Rabban Johanan ben Zakkai taught that the law attaches great importance to human dignity. For in the case of an ox, the thief can walk the animal away on its own feet, while in the case of a sheep, the thief usually has to carry it away, thus suffering indignity. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 79b.)
Exodus chapter 22
The Mishnah interpreted the language of Exodus 22:2 to teach that a man was sold to make restitution for his theft, but a woman was not sold for her theft. (Mishnah Sotah 3:8; Babylonian Talmud Sotah 23a.)
Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Akiba differed over the meaning of the word “his” in the clause “of the best of his own field, and of the best of his own vineyard, shall he make restitution” in Exodus 22:4. Rabbi Ishmael read Exodus 22:4 to require the damager to compensate the injured party out of property equivalent to the injured party’s best property, whereas Rabbi Akiba read Exodus 22:4 to require the damager to compensate the injured party out of the damager’s best property. The Mishnah required that a damager compensates for damage done out of the damager’s best quality property. (Mishnah Gittin 5:1; Babylonian Talmud Gittin 48b.) The Gemara explained that the Mishnah imposed this high penalty because Exodus 22:4 requires it, and Exodus 22:4 imposes this penalty to discourage the doing of damage. (Babylonian Talmud Gittin 48b–49b.)
Rabbi Samuel bar Nahmani in the name of Rabbi Johanan interpreted the account of spreading fire in Exodus 22:5 as an application of the general principle that calamity comes upon the world only when there are wicked persons (represented by the thorns) in the world, and its effects always manifest themselves first upon the righteous (represented by the grain). (Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 60a.)
Rabbi Isaac the smith interpreted Exodus 22:5 homiletically to teach that God has taken responsibility to rebuild the Temple, as God allowed the fire of man’s sin to go out of Zion to destroy it, as Lamentations 4:11 reports, “He has kindled a fire in Zion, which has devoured the foundations thereof,” and God will nonetheless rebuild them, as Zechariah 2:9 reports, “For I, says the Lord, will be to her a wall of fire round about, and I will be the glory in the midst of her.” (Babylonian Talmud Bava Kamma 60b.)
Portions of the latter chapters of Tractate Bava Metzia in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of bailment in Exodus 22:6–14. (Mishnah Bava Metzia 7:8–8:3; Tosefta Bava Metzia 7:9–8:1; Jerusalem Talmud Bava Metzia; Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 93a–99b.) The Mishnah identified four categories of guardians (shomrim): (1) an unpaid custodian (Exodus 22:6–8), (2) a borrower (Exodus 22:13–14a), (3) a paid custodian (Exodus 22:11), and (4) a renter (Exodus 22:14b). The Mishnah summarized the law when damage befell the property in question: An unpaid custodian must swear for everything and bears no liability, a borrower must pay in all cases, a paid custodian or a renter must swear concerning an animal that was injured, captured, or died, but must pay for loss or theft. (Mishnah Bava Metzia 7:8; Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 93a.)
Rabbah explained that the Torah in Exodus 22:8–10 requires those who admit to a part of a claim against them to take an oath, because the law presumes that no debtor is so brazen in the face of a creditor as to deny the debt entirely. (Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 18a.)
Rabbi Eliezer the Great noted that the Torah warns about kindness to the stranger (ger) no less than 36 times, and some say 46 times (including twice in Parshah Mishpatim, in Exodus 22:20 and 23:9). (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 59b.)
Citing Exodus 22:20 to apply to verbal wrongs, the Mishnah taught that one must not say to a repentant sinner, “remember your former deeds,” and one must not taunt a child of converts saying, “remember the deeds of your ancestors.” (Mishnah Bava Metzia 4:10; Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 58b.) Similarly, a Baraita taught that one must not say to a convert who comes to study the Torah, “Shall the mouth that ate unclean and forbidden food, abominable and creeping things, come to study the Torah that was uttered by the mouth of Omnipotence!” (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 58b.)
The Gemara taught that the Torah provided similar injunctions in Exodus 22:25 and Deuteronomy 24:12–13 to teach that a lender had to return a garment worn during the day before sunrise, and return a garment worn during the night before sunset. (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 31b.)
Exodus chapter 23
A Baraita taught that one day, Rabbi Eliezer employed every imaginable argument for the proposition that a particular type of oven was not susceptible to ritual impurity, but the Sages did not accept his arguments. Then Rabbi Eliezer told the Sages, “If the halachah agrees with me, then let this carob tree prove it,” and the carob tree moved 100 cubits (and others say 400 cubits) out of its place. But the Sages said that no proof can be brought from a carob tree. Then Rabbi Eliezer told the Sages, “If the halachah agrees with me, let this stream of water prove it,” and the stream of water flowed backwards. But the Sages said that no proof can be brought from a stream of water. Then Rabbi Eliezer told the Sages, “If the halachah agrees with me, let the walls of this house of study prove it,” and the walls leaned over as if to fall. But Rabbi Joshua rebuked the walls, telling them not to interfere with scholars engaged in a halachic dispute. In honor of Rabbi Joshua, the walls did not fall, but in honor of Rabbi Eliezer, the walls did not stand upright, either. Then Rabbi Eliezer told the Sages, “If the halachah agrees with me, let Heaven prove it,” and a Heavenly Voice cried out: “Why do you dispute with Rabbi Eliezer, for in all matters the halachah agrees with him!” But Rabbi Joshua rose and exclaimed in the words of Deuteronomy 30:12: “It is not in heaven.” Rabbi Jeremiah explained that God had given the Torah at Mount Sinai; Jews pay no attention to Heavenly Voices, for God wrote in Exodus 23:2: “After the majority must one incline.” Later, Rabbi Nathan met Elijah and asked him what God did when Rabbi Joshua rose in opposition to the Heavenly Voice. Elijah replied that God laughed with joy, saying, “My children have defeated Me, My children have defeated Me!” (Babylonian Talmud Bava Metzia 59b.)
The Mishnah interpreted Exodus 23:8 to teach that judges who accept bribes and change their judgments on account of the bribe will not die of old age before their eyes grow weak. (Mishnah Peah 8:9.)
Tractate Sheviit in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the Sabbatical year in Exodus 23:10–11, Leviticus 25:1–34, and Deuteronomy 15:1–18, and 31:10–13. (Mishnah Sheviit 1:1–10:9; Tosefta Sheviit 1:1–8:11; Jerusalem Talmud Sheviit 1a–87b.) The Mishnah taught that exile resulted from (among other things) transgressing the commandment (in Exodus 23:10–11 and Leviticus 25:3–5) to observe a Sabbatical year for the land. (Mishnah Avot 5:9.) Rabbi Isaac taught that the words of Psalm 103:20, “mighty in strength that fulfill His word,” speak of those who observe the Sabbatical year. Rabbi Isaac said that we often find that a person fulfills a precept for a day, a week, or a month, but it is remarkable to find one who does so for an entire year. Rabbi Isaac asked whether one could find a mightier person than one who sees his field untilled, see his vineyard untilled, and yet pays his taxes and does not complain. And Rabbi Isaac noted that Psalm 103:20 uses the words “that fulfill His word (dabar),” and Deuteronomy 15:2 says regarding observance of the Sabbatical year, “And this is the manner (dabar) of the release,” and argued that “dabar” means the observance of the Sabbatical year in both places. (Leviticus Rabbah 1:1.)
The Gemara deduced from the parallel use of the word “appear” in Exodus 23:14 and Deuteronomy 16:15 (regarding appearance offerings) on the one hand, and in Deuteronomy 31:10–12 (regarding the great assembly) on the other hand, that the criteria for who participated in the great assembly also applied to limit who needed to bring appearance offerings. A Baraita deduced from the words “that they may hear” in Deuteronomy 31:12 that a deaf person was not required to appear at the assembly. And the Baraita deduced from the words “that they may learn” in Deuteronomy 31:12 that a mute person was not required to appear at the assembly. But the Gemara questioned the conclusion that one who cannot talk cannot learn, recounting the story of two mute grandsons (or others say nephews) of Rabbi Johanan ben Gudgada who lived in Rabbi’s neighborhood. Rabbi prayed for them, and they were healed. And it turned out that notwithstanding their speech impediment, they had learned halachah, Sifra, Sifre, and the whole Talmud. Mar Zutra and Rav Ashi read the words “that they may learn” in Deuteronomy 31:12 to mean “that they may teach,” and thus to exclude people who could not speak from the obligation to appear at the assembly. Rabbi Tanhum deduced from the words “in their ears” (using the plural for “ears”) at the end of Deuteronomy 31:11 that one who was deaf in one ear was exempt from appearing at the assembly. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 3a.)
Tractate Pesachim in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of the Passover in Exodus 12:3–27, 43–49; 13:6–10; 23:15; 34:25; Leviticus 23:4–8; Numbers 9:1–14; 28:16–25; and Deuteronomy 16:1–8. (Mishnah Pesachim 1:1–10:9; Tosefta Pisha 1:1–10:13; Jerusalem Talmud Pesachim 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Pesachim 2a–121b.)
The Gemara cited Exodus 23:15 to support the proposition, which both Resh Lakish and Rabbi Johanan held, that on the mid-festival days (Chol HaMoed) it is forbidden to work. For the Rabbis taught in a Baraita the view of Rabbi Josiah that because the word “keep” is read to imply prohibition of work, the words, “The Feast of Unleavened Bread shall you keep, seven days,” in Exodus 23:15 teach that work is forbidden for seven days, and thus work is forbidden on the mid-festival days. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 18a.)
According to one version of the dispute, Resh Lakish and Rabbi Johanan disagreed over how to interpret the words, “None shall appear before Me empty,” in Exodus 23:15. Resh Lakish argued that Exodus 23:15 taught that whenever a pilgrim appeared at the Temple, even during the succeeding days of a multi-day Festival, the pilgrim had to bring an offering. But Rabbi Johanan argued that Exodus 23:15 refers to only the first day of a Festival, and not to succeeding days. After relating this dispute, the Gemara reconsidered and concluded that Resh Lakish and Rabbi Johanan differed not over whether additional offerings were obligatory, but over whether additional offerings were permitted. (Babylonian Talmud Chagigah 7a.)
Tractate Sukkah in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws of Sukkot in Exodus 23:16; 34:22; Leviticus 23:33–43; Numbers 29:12–34; and Deuteronomy 16:13–17; 31:10–13. (Mishnah Sukkah 1:1–5:8; Tosefta Sukkah 1:1–4:28; Jerusalem Talmud Sukkah 1a–33b; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 2a–56b.)
Tractate Beitzah in the Mishnah, Tosefta, Jerusalem Talmud, and Babylonian Talmud interpreted the laws common to all of the Festivals in Exodus 12:3–27, 43–49; 13:6–10; 23:16; 34:18–23; Leviticus 16; 23:4–43; Numbers 9:1–14; 28:16–30:1; and Deuteronomy 16:1–17; 31:10–13. (Mishnah Beitzah 1:1–5:7; Tosefta Yom Tov (Beitzah) 1:1–4:11; Jerusalem Talmud Beitzah 1a–; Babylonian Talmud Beitzah 2a–40b.)
The Mishnah taught that a sukkah can be no more than 20 cubits high. Rabbi Judah, however, declared taller sukkot valid. The Mishnah taught that a sukkah must be at least 10 handbreadths high, have three walls, and have more shade than sun. (Mishnah Sukkah 1:1; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 2a.) The House of Shammai declared invalid a sukkah made 30 days or more before the festival, but the House of Hillel pronounced it valid. The Mishnah taught that if one made the sukkah for the purpose of the festival, even at the beginning of the year, it is valid. (Mishnah Sukkah 1:1; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 9a.)
The Mishnah taught that a sukkah under a tree is as invalid as a sukkah within a house. If one sukkah is erected above another, the upper one is valid, but the lower is invalid. Rabbi Judah said that if there are no occupants in the upper one, then the lower one is valid. (Mishnah Sukkah 1:2; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 9b.)
It invalidates a sukkah to spread a sheet over the sukkah because of the sun, or beneath it because of falling leaves, or over the frame of a four-post bed. One may spread a sheet, however, over the frame of a two-post bed. (Mishnah Sukkah 1:3; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 10a.)
It is not valid to train a vine, gourd, or ivy to cover a sukkah and then cover it with sukkah covering (s’chach). If, however, the sukkah-covering exceeds the vine, gourd, or ivy in quantity, or if the vine, gourd, or ivy is detached, it is valid. The general rule is that one may not use for sukkah-covering anything that is susceptible to ritual impurity (tumah) or that does not grow from the soil. But one may use for sukkah-covering anything not susceptible to ritual impurity that grows from the soil. (Mishnah Sukkah 1:4; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 11a.)
Bundles of straw, wood, or brushwood may not serve as sukkah-covering. But any of them, if they are untied, are valid. All materials are valid for the walls. (Mishnah Sukkah 1:5; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 12a.)
Rabbi Judah taught that one may use planks for the sukkah-covering, but Rabbi Meir taught that one may not. The Mishnah taught that it is valid to place a plank four handbreadths wide over the sukkah, provided that one does not sleep under it. (Mishnah Sukkah 1:6; Babylonian Talmud Sukkah 14a.)
The Mishnah deduced from the words “the feast of harvest, the first-fruits of your labors, which you sow in the field” in Exodus 23:16 that first fruits were not to be brought before Shavuot. The Mishnah reported that the men of Mount Zeboim brought their first fruits before Shavuot, but the priests did not accept them, because of what is written in Exodus 23:16. (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:3.)
Tractate Bikkurim in the Mishnah, Tosefta, and Jerusalem Talmud interpreted the laws of the first fruits in Exodus 23:19, Numbers 18:13, and Deuteronomy 12:17–18 and 26:1–11. (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:1–3:12; Tosefta Bikkurim 1:1–2:16; Jerusalem Talmud Bikkurim 1a–26b.) The Mishnah interpreted the words “the first-fruits of your land” in Exodus 23:19 to mean that a person could not bring first fruits unless all the produce came from that person’s land. The Mishnah thus taught that people who planted trees but bent their branches into or over another’s property could not bring first fruits from those trees. And for the same reason, the Mishnah taught that tenants, lessees, occupiers of confiscated property, or robbers could not bring first fruits. (Mishnah Bikkurim 1:1–2.)
Rav Nachman taught that the angel of whom God spoke in Exodus 23:20 was Metatron (מטטרון). Rav Nahman warned that one who is as skilled in refuting heretics as Rav Idit should do so, but others should not. Once a heretic asked Rav Idit why Exodus 24:1 says, “And to Moses He said, ‘Come up to the Lord,’” when surely God should have said, “Come up to Me.” Rav Idit replied that it was the angel Metatron who said that, and that Metatron’s name is similar to that of his Master (and indeed the gematria (numerical value of the Hebrew letters) of Metatron (מטטרון) equals that of Shadai (שַׁדַּי), God’s name in Genesis 17:1 and elsewhere) for Exodus 23:21 says, “for my name is in him.” But if so, the heretic retorted, we should worship Metatron. Rav Idit replied that Exodus 23:21 also says, “Be not rebellious against him,” by which God meant, “Do not exchange Me for him” (as the word for “rebel,” (tamer,תַּמֵּר) derives from the same root as the word “exchange”). The heretic then asked why then Exodus 23:21 says, “he will not pardon your transgression.” Rav Idit answered that indeed Metatron has no authority to forgive sins, and the Israelites would not accept him even as a messenger, for Exodus 33:15 reports that Moses told God, “If Your Presence does not go with me, do not carry us up from here.” (Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 38b.)
The Midrash Tanhuma taught that the words “the place which I have prepared” in Exodus 23:20 indicate that the Temple in Jerusalem is directly opposite the Temple in Heaven. (Midrash Tanhuma Mishpatim 18.)
In Genesis 28:18, Jacob took the stone on which he had slept, set it up as a pillar (מַצֵּבָה, matzeivah), and poured oil on the top of it. Exodus 23:24 would later direct the Israelites to break in pieces the Canaanites' pillars (מַצֵּבֹתֵיהֶם, matzeivoteihem). Leviticus 26:1 would direct the Israelites not to rear up a pillar (מַצֵּבָה, matzeivah). And Deuteronomy 16:22 would prohibit them to set up a pillar (מַצֵּבָה, matzeivah), “which the Lord your God hates.”
The Gemara interpreted the words of Moses, “I am 120 years old this day,” in Deuteronomy 31:2 to signify that Moses spoke on his birthday, and that he thus died on his birthday. Citing the words “the number of your days I will fulfill” in Exodus 23:26, the Gemara concluded that God completes the years of the righteous to the day, concluding their lives on their birthdays. (Babylonian Talmud Rosh Hashanah 11a; Babylonian Talmud Kiddushin 38a; see also Babylonian Talmud Sotah 13b.)
The Gemara reported a dispute over the meaning of Exodus 23:26. Raba taught that King Manasseh of Judah tried and executed Isaiah, charging Isaiah with false prophesy based, among other things, on a contradiction between Exodus 23:26 and Isaiah’s teachings. Manasseh argued that when (as reported in Exodus 23:26) Moses quoted God saying, “The number of your days I will fulfill,” God meant that God would allow people to live out their appointed lifespan, but not add to it. But Manasseh noted that Isaiah told Manasseh’s father Hezekiah (as reported in 2 Kings 20:5–6) that God promised Hezekiah, “I will add on to your days fifteen years.” According to Raba, Isaiah did not dispute Manasseh’s charges, knowing that Manasseh would not accept Isaiah’s argument, no matter how truthful, and Manasseh had Isaiah killed. The Gemara reported that the Tannaim disagreed about the interpretation of the words “the number of your days I will fulfill” in Exodus 23:26. A Baraita taught that “the number of your days I will fulfill” refers to the lifespan that God allots to every human being at birth. Rabbi Akiba taught that if one is worthy, God allows one to complete the full period; if unworthy, God reduces the number of years. The Sages, however, taught that if one is worthy, God adds years to one's life; if one is unworthy, God reduces the years. The Sages argued to Rabbi Akiba that Isaiah’s prophesy to Hezekiah in 2 Kings 20:5–6, “And I will add to your days fifteen years,” supports the Sages’ interpretation. Rabbi Akiba replied that God made the addition to Hezekiah’s lifespan from years that God had originally intended for Hezekiah that Hezekiah had previously lost due to sin. Rabbi Akiba cited in support of his position the words of the prophet in the days of Jeroboam, before the birth of Hezekiah, who prophesied (as reported in 1 Kings 13:2), “a son shall be born to the house of David, Josiah by name.” Rabbi Akiba argued that since the prophet prophesied the birth of Manasseh’s son Josiah before the birth of Manasseh’s father Hezekiah, it must be that at Hezekiah’s birth God had allotted to Hezekiah enough years to extend beyond the time of Hezekiah’s illness (when Isaiah prophesied in 2 Kings 20:5–6) so as to include the year of Manasseh’s birth. Consequently, Rabbi Akiba argued, at the time of Hezekiah’s illness, God must have reduced the original number of years allotted to Hezekiah, and upon Hezekiah’s recovery, God must have added back only that which God had previously reduced. The Rabbis, however, argued back that the prophet in the days of Jeroboam who prophesied in 1 Kings 13:2 did not prophesy that Josiah would necessarily descend from Hezekiah. The prophet prophesied in 1 Kings 13:2 that Josiah would be born “to the house of David.” Thus Josiah might have descended either from Hezekiah or from some other person in the Davidic line. (Babylonian Talmud Yevamot 49b–50a.)
A Baraita taught that the words, “I will send My terror before you, and will discomfort all the people to whom you shall come, and I will make all your enemies turn their backs to you,” in Exodus 23:27, and the words, “Terror and dread fall upon them,” in Exodus 15:16 show that no creature was able to withstand the Israelites as they entered into the Promised Land in the days of Joshua, and those who stood against them were immediately panic-stricken and lost control of their bowels. And the words, “till Your people pass over, O Lord,” in Exodus 15:16 allude to the first advance of the Israelites into the Promised Land in the days of Joshua. And the words, “till the people pass over whom You have gotten,” in Exodus 15:16 allude to the second advance of the Israelites into the Promised Land in the days of Ezra. The Baraita thus concluded that the Israelites were worthy that God should perform a miracle on their behalf during the second advance as in the first advance, but that did not happen because the Israelites’ sin caused God to withhold the miracle. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 36a.)
A Baraita taught that the hornet that had aided the Israelites on the eastern side of the Jordan River during the time of Moses did not pass over the Jordan with them. Interpreting the words, “And I will send the hornet before you, which shall drive out the Hivite, the Canaanite, and the Hittite, from before you,” in Exodus 23:28, Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish taught that the hornet stood by the bank of the Jordan and injected a virus into the Canaanites that blinded their eyes above and sterilized them below, as Amos 2:9 says, “Yet destroyed I the Amorite before them, whose height was like the height of the cedars, and he was strong as the oaks; yet I destroyed his fruit from above and his roots from beneath.” Alternatively, Rav Papa taught that there were two hornets — one in the time of Moses and the other in the time of Joshua. The hornet in the time of Moses did not cross the Jordan, but the one in the time of Joshua did, and Exodus 23:28 refers to this later hornet. (Babylonian Talmud Sotah 36a.)
Exodus chapter 24
Reading Exodus 24:3, Rabbi Simlai taught that when the Israelites gave precedence to “we will do” over “we will hear,” 600,000 ministering angels came and set two crowns on each Israelite man, one as a reward for “we will do” and the other as a reward for “we will hearken.” But as soon as the Israelites committed the sin of the golden calf, 1.2 million destroying angels descended and removed the crowns, as it is said in Exodus 33:6, “And the children of Israel stripped themselves of their ornaments from mount Horeb.” (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88a.)
Rabbi Eleazar taught that when the Israelites gave precedence to “we will do” over “we will hear,” a Heavenly Voice called out that this was a secret employed by the Ministering Angels, as Psalm 103:20 says, “Bless the Lord, you angels of His. You mighty in strength, who fulfill His word, who hear the voice of His word” — first they fulfill, then they hear. (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88a.)
Rabbi Hama son of Rabbi Haninah taught that Song of Songs 2:3 compared the Israelites to an apple tree with the words, “As the apple tree among the trees of the wood, so is my beloved among the sons.” Rabbi Hama explained that this teaches that just as the fruit of the apple tree precedes its leaves, so did the Israelites give precedence to “we will do” over “we will hear.” (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88a.)
When a certain Sadducee saw Raba so engrossed in his studies with his fingers under his feet that Raba ground his fingers so that they bled, the Sadducee exclaimed that Jews were a rash people who in Exodus 24:3 had given precedence to their mouth over their ears, and who persist in their rashness. First, the Sadducee explained, the Israelites should have listened, and then they should have accepted the law only if obeying the commandments was within their powers, but if it was not within their powers, they should not have accepted. Raba replied that the Israelites walked in integrity, for Proverbs 11:3 speaks of the Jews when it says, “The integrity of the upright shall guide them.” But of others, who walked in perversity, Proverbs 11:3 says, “but the perverseness of the treacherous shall destroy them.” (Babylonian Talmud Shabbat 88a–b.)
Rabbi Azariah in the name of Rabbi Judah ben Rabbi Simon taught that once the Israelites said (as reported in Exodus 24:7), “All that the Lord has spoken will we do, and obey,” they left the infancy of Israel’s nationhood. Rabbi Azariah in the name of Rabbi Judah ben Rabbi Simon explained in a parable. A mortal king had a daughter whom he loved exceedingly. So long as his daughter was small, he would speak with her in public or in the courtyard. When she grew up and reached puberty, the king determined that it no longer befit his daughter's dignity for him to converse with her in public. So he directed that a pavilion be made for her so that he could speak with his daughter inside the pavilion. In the same way, when God saw the Israelites in Egypt, they were in the childhood of their nationhood, as Hosea 11:1 says, “When Israel was a child, then I loved him, and out of Egypt I called My son.” When God saw the Israelites at Sinai, God spoke with them as Deuteronomy 5:4 says, “The Lord spoke with you face to face.” As soon as they received the Torah, became God’s nation, and said (as reported in Exodus 24:7), “All that the Lord has spoken will we do, and obey,” God observed that it was no longer in keeping with the dignity of God’s children that God should converse with them in the open. So God instructed the Israelites to make a Tabernacle, and when God needed to communicate with the Israelites, God did so from the Tabernacle. And thus Numbers 7:89 bears this out when it says, “And when Moses went into the tent of meeting that He might speak with him.” (Numbers Rabbah 12:4; see also Pesikta de-Rav Kahana 1:2, attributing the parable to Rabbi Judah bar Ilai.)
Rabbi Simeon ben Yohai taught that because the generation of the Flood transgressed the Torah that God gave humanity after Moses had stayed on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights (as reported in Exodus 24:18 and 34:28 and Deuteronomy 9:9–11, 18, 25, and 10:10), God announced in Genesis 7:4 that God would “cause it to rain upon the earth 40 days and 40 nights.” (Genesis Rabbah 32:5.)
- To purchase a Hebrew slave in accordance with the prescribed laws (Exodus 21:2.)
- To betroth the Jewish maidservant (Exodus 21:8.)
- To redeem Jewish maidservants (Exodus 21:8.)
- The master must not sell his Jewish maidservant. (Exodus 21:8.)
- Not to withhold food, clothing, or sexual relations from one's wife (Exodus 21:10.)
- The courts must execute by strangulation those who deserve it. (Exodus 21:12.)
- Not to strike one's father or mother (Exodus 21:15.)
- The court must implement laws against the one who assaults another or damages another's property. (Exodus 21:18–19.)
- The court must carry out the death penalty of the sword. (Exodus 21:20.)
- The court must judge the damages incurred by a goring ox. (Exodus 21:28.)
- Not to benefit from an ox condemned to be stoned (Exodus 21:28.)
- The court must judge the damages incurred by a pit. (Exodus 21:33.)
- The court must implement punitive measures against the thief. (Exodus 21:37.)
- The court must judge the damages incurred by an animal eating. (Exodus 22:4.)
- The court must judge the damages incurred by fire. (Exodus 22:5.)
- The courts must carry out the laws of an unpaid guard. (Exodus 22:6.)
- The courts must carry out the laws of the plaintiff, admitter, or denier. (Exodus 22:8.)
- The courts must carry out the laws of a hired worker and hired guard. (Exodus 22:9.)
- The courts must carry out the laws of a borrower. (Exodus 22:13.)
- The court must fine one who seduces a maiden. (Exodus 22:15–16.)
- The court must not let the sorcerer live. (Exodus 22:17.)
- Not to insult or harm a sincere convert with words (Exodus 22:20.)
- Not to cheat a sincere convert monetarily (Exodus 22:20.)
- Not to afflict any orphan or widow (Exodus 22:21.)
- To lend to the poor and destitute (Exodus 22:24.)
- Not to press them for payment if you know they don't have it (Exodus 22:24.)
- Not to intermediate in an interest loan, guarantee, witness, or write the promissory note (Exodus 22:24.)
- Not to curse judges (Exodus 22:27.)
- Not to blaspheme (Exodus 22:27.)
- Not to curse the head of state or leader of the Sanhedrin (Exodus 22:27.)
- Not to preface one tithe to the next, but separate them in their proper order (Exodus 22:28.)
- Not to eat meat of an animal that was mortally wounded (Exodus 22:30.)
- Judges must not accept testimony unless both parties are present. (Exodus 23:1.)
- Transgressors must not testify. (Exodus 23:1.)
- The court must not execute through a majority of one; at least a majority of two is required. (Exodus 23:2.)
- A judge who presented an acquittal plea must not present an argument for conviction in capital cases. (Exodus 23:2.)
- To decide by majority in case of disagreement (Exodus 23:2.)
- Not to pity a poor man in judgment (Exodus 23:3.)
- To help another remove the load from a beast which can no longer carry it (Exodus 23:5.)
- A judge must not decide unjustly the case of the habitual transgressor. (Exodus 23:6.)
- The court must not kill anybody on circumstantial evidence. (Exodus 23:7.)
- Judges must not accept bribes. (Exodus 23:8.)
- To leave free all produce that grew in the Sabbatical year (Exodus 23:11.)
- To rest on the seventh day (Exodus 23:12.)
- Not to swear in the name of an idol (Exodus 23:13.)
- Not to turn Israelites to idolatry (Exodus 23:13.)
- To celebrate on the three Festivals of Passover, Shavuot, and Sukkot (Exodus 23:14.)
- Not to slaughter the Passover lamb while in possession of leaven (Exodus 23:18.)
- Not to leave the fat overnight (Exodus 23:18.)
- To set aside the first fruits and bring them to the Temple (Exodus 23:19.)
- Not to eat meat and milk cooked together (Exodus 23:19.)
- Not to make any treaty with the seven nations to be extirpated, or with any idol worshiper (Exodus 23:32.)
- Not to let them dwell in our land (Exodus 23:33.)
(Sefer HaHinnuch: The Book of [Mitzvah] Education. Translated by Charles Wengrov, vol. 1, 197–355. Jerusalem: Feldheim Pub., 1991. ISBN 0-87306-179-9.)
The word of the Lord came to Jeremiah after King Zedekiah made a covenant with the people of Jerusalem to proclaim liberty, that all should let their Hebrew slaves — both men and women — go free, and that none should make bondmen of them. (Jeremiah 34:8–9.) All the princes and people listened and let their Hebrew slaves go free, but afterwards they turned and caused their servants whom they had freed to return to subjugation. (Jeremiah 34:10–11.)
Therefore, the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah, saying that God had made a covenant with the Israelites’ forefathers when God brought them out of the land of Egypt and out of the house of bondage that in the seventh year they must let every Hebrew slave go free, but their forefathers did not listen. (Jeremiah 34:12–14.) The people had turned and done what is right in God’s eyes, proclaiming liberty to their neighbors, making a covenant before God in the Temple. (Jeremiah 34:15.) But the people turned again and profaned God’s name, causing their servants whom they had freed to return to subjugation as servants once again. (Jeremiah 34:16.) Therefore, God said that as the people had not listened to God to proclaim liberty to their neighbors, God would proclaim for the people liberty to the sword, pestilence, and famine, and would make them a horror to all the kingdoms of the earth. (Jeremiah 34:17.) God would give over to their enemies the princes of Judah, the princes of Jerusalem, the officers, the priests, and all the people of the land who had transgressed God’s covenant, who had sealed the covenenant by cutting a calf in half and passing between the two parts of the calf, and their dead bodies would be food for scavengers. (Jeremiah 34:18–20.) And God would give Zedekiah and his princes into the hand of the king of Babylon, who would return to burn Jerusalem and lay desolate the cities of Judah. (Jeremiah 34:21–22.)
The Haftarah concludes by returning to Jeremiah 33:25–26: God said that as surely as God had decreed the ordinances of heaven and earth, God would not cast away the descendants of Jacob and David, but God would make from among them rulers of the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; for God would have compassion on them and end their captivity. (Jeremiah 33:25–26.)
Connection to the Parshah
Both the parshah and the haftarah address the law requiring the release of Hebrew slaves. Both the parshah and the haftarah use the words “Hebrew” (ivri) (Exodus 21:2; Jeremiah 34:9,14), “slave” or “servant” (eved) (Exodus 21:2,5,7; Jeremiah 34:9–11), “free” (chofshi) (Exodus 21:2,5; Jeremiah 34:9–11,14), and “covenant” (brit) (Exodus 24:7; Jeremiah 34:13.) The haftarah literally quotes the parshah. (Jeremiah 34:14; Exodus 21:2.) And the haftarah recites the setting of the parshah (described in the previous parshah), the time at which God brought the Israelites “out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage.” (Jeremiah 34:13; Exodus 20:2.)
On Shabbat Shekalim
When the parshah coincides with the special Sabbath Shabbat Shekalim (as it does in 2012, 2013, 2015, 2017, and 2018), the haftarah is 2 Kings 12:1–17.
In the liturgy
The laws of the servant in Exodus 21:1–11 provide an application of the tenth of the Thirteen Rules for interpreting the Torah in the Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael that many Jews read as part of the readings before the Pesukei d’Zimrah prayer service. The tenth rule provides that an item included in a generalization that is then singled out to discuss something of a kind different from the generalization is singled out to be more lenient and more stringent. Exodus 21:1–6 describes the laws of the Jewish indentured servant, who goes free after six years. Then Exodus 21:7–11 turns to the female Jewish indentured servant, who one might have thought was included in the generalization about Jewish indentured servants. Instead, Exodus 21:7 says that her avenues to freedom are not as those of her male counterpart. Rather, the Torah applies a more lenient rule to the female Jewish indentured servant, as she may go free before six years have passed — upon the onset of puberty or the death of her master. And Exodus 21:7–11 also applies a more stringent rule to the female Jewish indentured servant, as she may be betrothed against her will to the master or his son. (Menachem Davis. The Schottenstein Edition Siddur for the Sabbath and Festivals with an Interlinear Translation, 245. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57819-697-3.)
And the laws of trespass in Exodus 22:8 provide an example of the sixth of the Thirteen Rules for interpreting the Torah in the Baraita of Rabbi Ishmael. The sixth rule provides that when a generalization is followed by a specification followed by another generalization, one may not infer anything except that which is like the specification. One might read the generalizations to teach that all things are included, but the specification implies that only the specific items are included. The rule resolves the apparent contradiction by inferring that everything is included, provided it is similar to the items specified. Thus, Exodus 22:8 begins by referring to “every matter of trespass” and concludes by referring to “any manner of lost thing” — two generalizations. But between the two generalizations, Exodus 22:8 refers to a number of specific items — “for ox, for donkey, for sheep, for garment.” Applying the sixth rule teaches that the fine applies to movable things with intrinsic value — like an ox, donkey, sheep, or garment — but not to immovable real estate and not to contracts, which have no intrinsic value. (Davis, Siddur for the Sabbath and Festivals, at 244.)
Some Jews recite Exodus 23:20 three times as part of the Wayfarer’s Prayer (Tefilat HaDerech), said on setting out on a journey. (Menachem Davis. The Schottenstein Edition Siddur for Weekdays with an Interlinear Translation, 311–13. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2002. ISBN 1-57819-686-8.)
Some Jews recite the words “we will do, and we will obey” in Exodus 24:7 as part of the song (zemer) Yom Shabbaton sung at the Sabbath day meal. (Davis, Siddur for the Sabbath and Festivals, at 469.)
The Weekly Maqam
In the Weekly Maqam, Sephardic Jews each week base the songs of the services on the content of that week's parshah. For Parshah Mishpatim, Sephardic Jews apply Maqam Saba, the maqam that symbolizes the covenant between man and God. By performing mitzvot and following commandments, one obeys God's covenant, and therefore in this parshah, with its multitude of mitzvot and commandments, it is appropriate to apply Maqam Saba.
The parshah has parallels or is discussed in these sources:
- Laws of Eshnunna 53–55. Sumer, circa 2100 BCE. Reprinted in, e.g., Reuven Yaron. The Laws of Eshnunna. Brill Academic Publishers, 1997. ISBN 9004085343. (ox that gores).
- Code of Hammurabi 194–214, 250–51. Babylonia, Circa 1780 BCE. Reprinted in, e.g., James B. Pritchard. Ancient Near Eastern Texts Relating to the Old Testament, 175, 178. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1969. ISBN 0691035032. (lex talionis, ox that gores).
- Genesis 31:39 (domestic animals lost to wild animals).
- Exodus 12:3–27, 43–49 (Passover); 13:6–10 (Passover); 34:22–26 (three pilgrim festivals).
- Leviticus 23:4–43 (three pilgrim festivals); 25:8–10, 39–55.
- Numbers 9:1–14 (Passover); 28:16–31 (Passover, Shavuot); 29:12–34 (Sukkot).
- Deuteronomy 15:12–18 (Hebrew servant); 16:1–17 (three pilgrim festivals); 20:10–14; 21:10–14; 23:16–17 (Passover); 31:10–13 (Sukkot).
- Joshua 5:10–11 (Passover).
- Judges 21:19 (Sukkot).
- 1 Kings 8:1–66 (Sukkot); 12:32 (northern feast like Sukkot).
- 2 Kings 4:1–7.
- Jeremiah 34:8–22.
- Ezekiel 45:25 (Sukkot).
- Amos 2:6.
- Zechariah 14:16–19 (Sukkot).
- Ezra 3:4 (Sukkot).
- Nehemiah 5:1–13 (Hebrew slaves); 8:14–18 (Sukkot).
- 2 Chronicles 5:3–14 (Sukkot); 7:8 (Sukkot); 8:12–13 (three Pilgrim festivals).
- Mishnah: Peah 8:9; Sheviit 1:1–10:9; Terumot 3:6–7; Challah 4:10; Bikkurim 1:1–3:12; Pesachim 1:1–10:9; Sukkah 1:1–5:8; Beitzah 1:1–5:7; Rosh Hashanah 2:9; Chagigah 1:1–3; Ketubot 3:2, 5:6; Sotah 3:8; Kiddushin 1:2–3; Bava Kamma 1:1–10:10; Bava Metzia 2:10, 3:12, 4:10, 5:11, 7:8–8:3; Sanhedrin 1:1, 4, 6, 7:6, 8:6, 9:1, 11:1; Avot 5:9; Zevachim 14:2; Chullin 8:4; Bekhorot 1:7, 8:7; Arakhin 3:1, 3–4; Zavim 2:3. Land of Israel, circa 200 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., The Mishnah: A New Translation. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 36, 68–93, 99, 158, 166–75, 229–51, 279–99, 303, 328–29, 383, 388–89, 453, 487–88, 503–28, 533, 537, 540, 544, 548–51, 583–85, 598, 601–02, 607, 687, 730, 781, 790, 806, 812–13, 1111. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1988. ISBN 0-300-05022-4.
- Tosefta: Berakhot 4:15; 6:1; Sheviit 1:1–8:11; Terumot 7:8; Bikkurim 1:1–2:16; Shabbat 15:17; Pisha (Pesachim) 1:1–10:13; Shekalim 3:24; Sukkah 1:1–4:28; Yom Tov (Beitzah) 2:12; Chagigah 1:1; Ketubot 3:7; 12:2; Nedarim 2:6; Sotah 8:7; 11:6; Bava Kamma 1:1–11:18; Bava Metzia 2:25–26; 4:2; 7:9–8:1; 8:20–21; Sanhedrin 3:2, 7; 11:5, 9; 12:3; Makkot 2:1–3:10; Shevuot 3:8; 5:2; 6:1, 3; Eduyot 1:15; Avodah Zarah 6:11; Zevachim 8:26; Chullin 8:11; Arakhin 2:10; 3:2; 5:9. Land of Israel, circa 300 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., The Tosefta: Translated from the Hebrew, with a New Introduction. Translated by Jacob Neusner, 1:25, 37, 178, 203–49, 345–53, 418, 471–522, 538, 567–84, 594, 663, 752, 778, 789, 870, 879; 2:951–1022, 1033, 1044, 1063–66, 1071–72, 1150, 1153–54, 1183–85, 1202–08, 1233–34, 1236, 1240–41, 1250, 1285, 1347, 1397, 1499, 1501, 1514. Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Pub., 2002. ISBN 1-56563-642-2.
- Jerusalem Talmud: Berakhot 39a, 60a, 72b, 88a; Peah 3a, 6b, 41b, 47b, 49a, 57b, 73a; Demai 28a; Sheviit 1a–87b; Terumot 29b, 31a, 61a, 75b, 101b; Maaser Sheni 38a; Challah 47b, 48b; Orlah 33b–34b; Bikkurim 1a–26b; Pesachim 1a–; Sukkah 1a–33b; Beitzah 1a–49b. Land of Israel, circa 400 CE. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Yerushalmi. Edited by Chaim Malinowitz, Yisroel Simcha Schorr, and Mordechai Marcus, vols. 1–4, 6b–8, 10–12, 22–23. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2005–2010.
- Mekhilta According to Rabbi Ishmael 58:1–80:2. Land of Israel, late 4th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Mekhilta According to Rabbi Ishmael. Translated by Jacob Neusner, vol. 2, 105–250. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1988. ISBN 1-55540-237-2.
- Babylonian Talmud: Berakhot 5a, 17a, 21b, 36b, 48b, 56b, 58a, 60a; Shabbat 18a, 86b, 88a, 93b; Eruvin 51a, 54b, 65a; Pesachim 2a–121b; Yoma 2b, 3b–4b, 15b, 50a, 52b, 59a, 65a, 75a, 76a, 79a, 85a; Sukkah 2a–56b; Beitzah 2a–40b; Rosh Hashanah 11a, 13a, 25a; Taanit 28b; Megillah 15b, 31a; Moed Katan 2a–3a, 5a, 8a, 23b; Chagigah 2a, 3a, 4a–b, 6a–7a, 11a, 18a, 25a; Yevamot 4a, 5b, 7a, 22b–23a, 25a, 35a, 46b, 48b, 49b, 60a, 66b, 69b–70a, 72b, 78a, 100b–01a, 103a, 104a; Ketubot 10a, 15b, 17a, 29a–30a, 32a–34b, 36b–38b, 39b–41a, 42a–b, 44b, 46a–48a, 56a, 61b, 63a, 79b, 97b, 105a–b, 112a; Nedarim 7a, 15b, 31b–32a, 76a; Nazir 35a, 37a; Sotah 8a, 13b, 17a, 23a–b, 36a, 42b; Gittin 7a, 12b, 18a, 42a–b, 45a, 48b–49b, 51b, 65a, 77a, 88b; Kiddushin 3b–4a, 6a, 9b, 11b, 14b–15a, 16a–20a, 21b–22b, 24a–b, 30b, 34a–35a, 38a, 40a, 42b–43a, 46a, 49a, 56b, 57b–58a, 68b; Bava Kamma 2a–119b; Bava Metzia 5a–b, 10b–11a, 27a, 31a–33b, 38b–39a, 41a, 43b, 48b, 54a, 56a–b, 57b, 58b, 59b, 62a, 71a, 75b, 83a, 93a–99b, 107b, 113b, 114b; Bava Batra 4a, 23b, 28a–b, 43b, 50a, 70a, 81a, 93a, 94b, 107a, 108b, 126b, 159a; Sanhedrin 2a–b, 3b–4b, 7b, 9b, 15a–b, 17a, 18b–19a, 24b–25b, 27a, 28b, 32a, 33b, 35b–36b, 38b, 40b–41a, 43a, 47a, 52b–53a, 54b, 56a–b, 60a–b, 63a–b, 66a, 67a–b, 69a, 72a–b, 74a, 78a–79a, 80a, 83a, 84b–86a, 87b, 94a, 109a, 110b, 111b; Makkot 2b, 5a–b, 7a–13a, 18a–b, 19b, 21b, 23a; Shevuot 30b–31a, 33a, 35b, 36b, 39b, 40b, 42a–43a, 45a–b, 47a, 49a; Avodah Zarah 34b, 51a, 74a; Horayot 4b; Zevachim 24b, 38b, 66a, 69a, 70b, 97b, 82b, 115b–16a, 117a; Menachot 5b, 10a, 43b, 45a, 71a, 78b, 83b, 84b, 101b; Chullin 11a–b, 26b, 30a, 37a, 39b, 42a, 47b, 68a–b, 73b, 75a, 77a, 81a–b, 82b, 89a, 98b, 101a, 102b, 103b, 108b, 113a, 114a, 115b–16a, 120b, 131a, 134a, 137a; Bekhorot 2b, 10a, 11a, 13a, 26b, 34a, 49b, 50b–51b, 55b, 57a; Arakhin 2b, 6b–7a, 13b, 14b, 18b, 19b, 25b, 29a, 30b, 33a; Temurah 3b–4a, 25b, 30a–b; Keritot 4a, 8b–9a; Meilah 13a; Niddah 8a, 40a, 47b–48a. Babylonia, 6th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Talmud Bavli. Edited by Yisroel Simcha Schorr, Chaim Malinowitz, and Mordechai Marcus, 72 vols. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 2006.
- Exodus Rabbah 30:1–32:9. 10th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Midrash Rabbah: Exodus. Translated by S. M. Lehrman, vol. 3: 346–413. London: Soncino Press, 1939. ISBN 0-900689-38-2.
- Rashi on Exodus 21–24. Troyes, France, late 11th century. Reprinted in, e.g., Yisrael Isser Zvi Herczeg. Rashi: The Torah: With Rashi’s Commentary Translated, Annotated, and Elucidated, vol. 2, 247–317. Brooklyn: Mesorah Publications, 1994. ISBN 0-89906-027-7.
- Judah Halevi. Kuzari. 2:14; 3:1, 35, 47; 4:3, 11. Toledo, Spain, 1130–1140. Reprinted in, e.g., Jehuda Halevi. Kuzari: An Argument for the Faith of Israel. Intro. by Henry Slonimsky, 90, 135, 168, 175, 204, 217. New York: Schocken, 1964. ISBN 0-8052-0075-4.
- Maimonides. Mishneh Torah, Intro.:1. Cairo, Egypt, 1170–1180.
- Zohar 2:94a–126a. Spain, late 13th century. Reprinted in, e.g., The Zohar. Translated by Harry Sperling and Maurice Simon. 5 vols. London: Soncino Press, 1934.
- Isaac Abrabanel. Principles of Faith. Chs. 3, 5, 12, 17, 19. Naples, Italy, 1494. Reprinted in, e.g., Isaac Abravanel. Principles of Faith (Rosh Amanah). Translated by Menachem Marc Kellner, 66, 76, 116, 118, 154, 171. Rutherford, N.J.: Fairleigh Dickinson Univ. Press, 1982. ISBN 0-8386-3080-4.
- Thomas Hobbes. Leviathan, 3:40. England, 1651. Reprint edited by C. B. Macpherson, 503. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Classics, 1982. ISBN 0140431950.
- Thomas Mann. Joseph and His Brothers. Translated by John E. Woods, 305, 535–36. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2005. ISBN 1-4000-4001-9. Originally published as Joseph und seine Brüder. Stockholm: Bermann-Fischer Verlag, 1943.
- Abraham Joshua Heschel. Man's Quest for God: Studies in Prayer and Symbolism, 18. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1954.
- Morris Adler. The World of the Talmud, 30, 42. B’nai B’rith Hillel Foundations, 1958. Reprinted Kessinger Publishing, 2007. ISBN 0548080003.
- Jacob Milgrom. “First fruits, OT.” In The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible. Supp. vol., 336–37. Nashville, Tenn.: Abingdon, 1976. ISBN 0-687-19269-2.
- Jacob Milgrom. “‘You Shall Not Boil a Kid in Its Mother’s Milk’: An archaeological myth destroyed.” Bible Review. 1 (3) (Fall 1985): 48–55.
- David Kader. “Torts and Torah.” (1986). Journal of Law & Religion. 4 (1986): 161, 164–167.
- Ben Zion Bergman. “A Question of Great Interest: May a Synagogue Issue Interest-Bearing Bonds?” New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1988. YD 167:1.1988a. Reprinted in Responsa: 1980–1990: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Edited by David J. Fine, 319–23. New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2005. ISBN 0-916219-27-5.
- Avram Israel Reisner. “Dissent: A Matter of Great Interest” New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 1988. YD 167:1.1988b. Reprinted in Responsa: 1980–1990: The Committee on Jewish Law and Standards of the Conservative Movement. Edited by David J. Fine, 324–28. New York: Rabbinical Assembly, 2005. ISBN 0-916219-27-5.
- Aaron Wildavsky. Assimilation versus Separation: Joseph the Administrator and the Politics of Religion in Biblical Israel, 3–4. New Brunswick, N.J.: Transaction Publishers, 1993. ISBN 1-56000-081-3.
- Jacob Milgrom. “‘The Alien in Your Midst’: Every nation has its ger: the permanent resident. The Torah commands us, first, not to oppress the ger, and then to befriend and love him.” Bible Review. 11 (6) (Dec. 1995).
- Marc Gellman. “The Commandments on Moses’ Sleeves.” In God’s Mailbox: More Stories About Stories in the Bible, 60–67. New York: Morrow Junior Books, 1996. ISBN 0-688-13169-7.
- Jacob Milgrom. “Lex Talionis and the Rabbis: The Talmud reflects an uneasy rabbinic conscience toward the ancient law of talion, ‘eye for eye, tooth for tooth.’” Bible Review. 12 (2) (Apr. 1996).
- Baruch J. Schwartz. “What Really Happened at Mount Sinai? Four biblical answers to one question.” Bible Review. 13 (5) (Oct. 1997).
- Jack M. Sasson. “Should Cheeseburgers Be Kosher? A Different Interpretation of Five Hebrew Words.” Bible Review 19 (6) (Dec. 2003): 40–43, 50–51.
- Joseph Telushkin. The Ten Commandments of Character: Essential Advice for Living an Honorable, Ethical, Honest Life, 218–20, 275–78. New York: Bell Tower, 2003. ISBN 1-4000-4509-6.
- Lawrence Kushner. Kabbalah: A Love Story, 8. New York: Morgan Road Books, 2006. ISBN 0-7679-2412-6.
- Suzanne A. Brody. “Watcher of the World.” In Dancing in the White Spaces: The Yearly Torah Cycle and More Poems, 80. Shelbyville, Kentucky: Wasteland Press, 2007. ISBN 1-60047-112-9.
- Esther Jungreis. Life Is a Test, 254. Brooklyn: Shaar Press, 2007. ISBN 1-4226-0609-0.
- Gloria London. “Why Milk and Meat Don’t Mix: A New Explanation for a Puzzling Kosher Law.” Biblical Archaeology Review. 34 (6) (Nov./Dec. 2008): 66–69.
- James A. Diamond. “Nachmanides and Rashi on the One Flesh of Conjugal Union: Lovemaking vs. Duty.” Harvard Theological Review. 102 (2) (Apr. 2009): 193–224.
- Joseph Telushkin. Hillel: If Not Now, When? 47–52. New York: Nextbook, Schocken, 2010. ISBN 978-0-8052-4281-2. (prozbol).
- U.S. Department of State. Trafficking in Persons Report: June 2010.
- Academy for Jewish Religion, California
- Academy for Jewish Religion, New York
- American Jewish University
- Anshe Emes Synagogue, Los Angeles
- Bar-Ilan University
- Jewish Agency for Israel
- Jewish Theological Seminary
- Miriam Aflalo
- Ohr Sameach
- Orthodox Union
- OzTorah, Torah from Australia
- Pardes from Jerusalem
- Parsha Parts
- Rabbi Shlomo Riskin
- Rabbi Shmuel Herzfeld
- Reconstructionist Judaism
- Sephardic Institute
- 613.org Jewish Torah Audio
- Tanach Study Center
- Teach613.org, Torah Education at Cherry Hill
- Torah from Dixie
- Union for Reform Judaism
- United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth
- United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism
- What’s Bothering Rashi?
Weekly Torah Portions Genesis Exodus Leviticus Numbers Deuteronomy
Wikimedia Foundation. 2010.