The Torah portion, or parasha, this week is Mishpatim (“laws”) and is found in Exodus 21:1-24:18. This parasha is also called Sefer HaBrit, the Book of the Covenant, for it begins the presentation of the mitzvot, the particulars that define the relationship between God and the Jewish people. In fact, Mishpatim contains 53 of the 613 mitzvot found in the Torah. The laws of Mishpatim deal with master and slave, capital offenses, personal injury, negligence, theft, and property. There also are laws prohibiting the mistreatment of the weak and powerless – strangers, widows, orphans, and the poor. We also read about Shabbat, the sabbatical year, and major festivals.
In this parasha, we see spelled out a number of laws, or principles, that help us govern our relationships with others and with God. Many of the mitzvot, or “obligations” which we are commanded to do, are those which help us act justly in a variety of situations, while mitigating justice with mercy. This balance of compassion with equity and fairness prevents us from crossing the line from justice to revenge, and it prompts us to engage in future actions to make the world a more compassionate place so the world will be more equitable. May we be sensitive this week to the needs for justice and equality and reach out with compassion to others.