Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim, Shabbat Shekalim, Shabbat Mevarekhim HaChodesh – From Slave to Liberator

Dear Friends,

I have always been disturbed by the sudden drop from the heights of redemption and of the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai in last week’s Torah portion to the mundane laws about slavery that we learn about in this week’s Torah portion.  What a let down!  What a disappointment!

However, this week I read a commentary acknowledging this very sense of let down, and this new commentary changed my entire perspective….  It is not that we are being told that slavery is okay (as long as it isn’t our own slavery).  No!  What the Torah is telling us in this week’s Torah portion is that we, who have experienced slavery as a people, need to learn how to liberate any slaves that we may hold!  We are being shown how to break the cycle of slavery!  We are being told that a slave is not our property in perpetuity.  We are being shown how to let go of our power over other human beings in such a way as to enable them to stand on their own two feet as free people.  We are being told to help the downtrodden people transition into positions of independence.

Up until now in our Torah’s narrative, it was God who was the liberator.  It was God who took us out of Egypt.   It was God who opposed Pharaoh.  Now, after the Exodus and after we received the Torah on Mount Sinai, we are being told how we too can become liberators of those people who are still enslaved!

Now, instead of being let down by our Torah portion, I am uplifted.  I am hopeful.  I am determined to pay attention to the human condition around me.  I am given tools to figure out how to help lift up those who are “invisible” in our society.

Especially on this Shabbat, when we read the special maftir of Shabbat Shekalim, the first of four special Shabbatot leading up to Passover, I am uplifted as I realize that in Biblical times each one of us was to give a half shekel to be counted in the Biblical census.  The giving of the half shekel symbolizes the fact that each one of us can do something, so that together we can be of significant help to those who are still in bondage.

This Shabbat we will also recite the special prayer for the new Jewish month of Adar.  Rosh Chodesh Adar will be on Monday night, Tuesday and Wednesday of this coming week!

May this Shabbat, and all the days ahead, open our eyes and our hearts to the needs of the oppressed and to our own human potential to follow God’s lead and to make our world a better place for all.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror