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Dvar Torah - Parsha Mishpatim

Updated: Apr 8, 2021

This week we read about the critical need for justice in our communities. We read about the laws which we will use to govern ourselves, and how to resolve disputes as they arrive. Famously, this is a pre-condition for receiving the Torah. Famously, the Torah cannot exist in the absence of justice.

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

The answer lies in the manner of adjudication. These are laws which are given over to the judges of Israel to interpret, and interpret they did. Over thee course of millennia, these sparse verses spawned 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 take pay very close attention to the outcomes of our choices, to attempt to predict them, and to make sure that others won't be hurt by them. 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 hear that masks are a matter for personal autonomy. We hear that vaccines are a purely personal choice and that others should have no voice in our decision to comply, or not. We hear that if I choose to go out and endanger myself, it is my decision alone. Our religion does not support this perspective. We believe in communitarianism. We believe in personal responsibility for the welfare of the collective, of our friends, our colleagues, and those we do not even know. We believe that our actions have an impact, and that impact is important even if it was not intended.

Tomorrow, as we read about borrowing, about animal damages, and about 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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