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Dvar Torah - Mishpatim Shekalim

This week we read about the critical need for justice in our communities. We read about the laws we will use to govern ourselves and how to resolve disputes as they arrive. These laws are so important that they precede the giving of the Torah (in the second half of our Parsha). The Torah could not be given to an unjust society. A society without a strong foundation in law could not act as a vehicle for divine revelation.

In our days, many of these laws seem less relevant. We, thank G-d, no longer enslave people, and the entire world acknowledges indentured servitude's terrible injustice. In addition, in Australia, we do not have a Jewish court empowered to adjudicate disputes based on our laws. And, in any case, we are urged to obey the laws of the land in the Talmud. So what does the litany we encounter in this week's parsha teach us in our time?

The answer lies in the manner of adjudication. G-d gave these laws to the judges of Israel to interpret, and they did. Over the course of millennia, these sparse verses gave birth to a sea of law which, in the aggregate, said that we are responsible for the outcomes of our actions, and we must care about them and their effects on others. We are commanded to pay close attention to the consequences of our choices, attempt to predict them, and ensure that they won't hurt others. This overwhelming emphasis on personal responsibility for the safety, prosperity, and happiness of others is the Jewish ethic, and it has never been more timely.

In our society, in our times, we increasingly hear that we need not worry about others. We live in an individualistic society. People who worry about others are extolled, but those who are selfish are rarely condemned. Our religion does not support this perspective. We believe in communitarianism. We believe in personal responsibility for the welfare of the collective, our friends, our colleagues, and those we do not know. Our actions have a significant impact, even if it was not intended.

This week, as we read about borrowing, animal damages, and accidental bodily harm, let's remember that we are very much our brother's keeper and that we aren't allowed to say that he shouldn't care what we do.

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