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BUSINESS AS USUAL

by Benyamin Cohen    
Torah from Dixie Editor  

The placement of this week's Torah portion seems quite odd. In the previous weeks, we have read of the ten plagues and the Jewish people's miraculous escape from the grasps of Egypt culminating last week with the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai.

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The placement of this week's Torah portion seems quite odd. In the previous weeks, we have read of the ten plagues and the Jewish people's miraculous escape from the grasps of Egypt culminating last week with the giving of the Ten Commandments at Mt. Sinai. The Torah now shifts gear from the Biblical narrative and begins discussing intricate civil laws dealing with a wide range of topics from proper business ethics to liability of damages. Then, next week, the story of the Jewish people picks up again with the laws concerning the construction of the Mishkan, the portable Tabernacle. What is the significance of juxtaposing this section of civil laws smack in the middle of the narrative?

The placement of these intricate civil laws here is teaching us a very critical fundamental lesson of Judaism. Many of us attend synagogue services, hear a rabbi's lecture, say kiddush on Friday night, and think that this is the stuff our Jewish faith is made of. As soon as we enter our businesses, schools, and grocery stores, we often forget that our Judaism belongs there too. This week's Torah portion dedicates verse after verse after verse to the laws of damaging other people's property, someone who steals, someone who borrows money, etc. The list, literally, goes on and on. Last week Hashem gave the Jewish people the Ten Commandments - the spiritual DNA that makes up who we are as a nation. However, the Torah immediately delves into the laws of business dealings and the like to remind us that Torah is not solely in the realm of the spiritual, but also pertains to our "mundane" lives as well. The way we conduct ourselves with the people we work with is all governed by the Torah.

For example, volumes upon volumes of literature have been devoted to just the topic of money lending. In this week's Torah portion alone, the Torah deals with cases concerning a pet who damages a neighbor's lawn, someone who is watching over an item for a friend who is away on vacation and during that time the item gets lost, stolen, or damaged. It sounds like a case for Judge Wopner, not the Torah.

When first viewed, these laws might seem trivial and mundane. On the contrary - they come on the heels of the miraculous splitting of the Red Sea and the subsequent revelation at Mt. Sinai to show us just how important they really are. Unfortunately, when we go to work everyday, we tend to leave our Judaism at the door. These laws of proper business ethics are of primary importance, and are a part of the exact same Torah as the mitzvot of kashrut, Shabbat, and honoring one's parents. The Torah is all-encompassing. The question is: Are we encompassing it?

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Benyamin Cohen, a native Atlantan and alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is editor of Torah from Dixie.

You are invited to read more Parshat Mishpatim articles.

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