Thursday, February 12, 2015

Sh'mot / Exodus 21:1 - 24:18 / specifically 23:6 - 19

Mishpatim – judgements / rulings
Sh’mot / Exodus 21:1 – 24:18
Focus: Sh’mot 23:6 - 19 (reading from day #5)

            Is HaShem just or is He merciful?  Is He conservative or liberal?  As I see it, the answer to both these questions is a resounding, “Yes, ” and I believe that this portion demonstrates that response to some small extent.  Therefore, let us briefly touch upon the guidelines that are presented this short portion.
            Denying justice is a no no, whether the complainant is poor, fraud is involved, or if death would be brought upon the innocent or righteous.  The Hebrew word for death in verse six is “hereg” ,pronounced “hay rag” which the TWotOT promotes as “(u)sually harag is used of violent killing of men by other men – sometimes with justification, often, alas not!”  Fraud is to be avoided as is bribery.  It seems obvious that fraud and bribery can each pervert justice in their own way.
            Oppression of foreigners is not acceptable.  Why?  Well, we were once foreigners and we should remember how it felt.
            Fallow fields on the sabbatical year is what is brought forth next next.  The land needs its rest.  Why does it need its rest?  Beyond what we could put forth as an agricultural argument, verse eleven indicates that it is so that the poor will have something to eat, and when they have consumed their fill it will be for the wild animals to eat.  As with the field so also with the vineyard and olive grove.
            Since there has been mention of a seventh year rest for the fields, Moses is being instructed by the Almighty to relay to the people the guidelines for the seventh day rest – Shabbat.  Not only are the Hebrews to rest, but so are their animals, servants, and the foreigners.
            Additionally, the names of other gods are not to be brought to mind, nor are they to be spoken of.  I find that one tough when doing a study, but perhaps it is an issue that I need to be more cognizant of.
            By this point the reader should be at verse fourteen, and for the most part, this is where I wish to concentrate my comments.
            From verse fourteen through seventeen specifically, Moshe is to remind the people of the three pilgrimage feasts – Pesach / Passover, First fruits, and Sukkot / Tabernacles.  What struck me as I read this portion was that all three of these feasts are festivals of harvest.  First fruits and Sukkot are pretty obvious regarding that thought, but I had not really considered that Yisra’el had been harvested, plucked from the land of Egypt.
            No matter what has been harvested, be it people or crops, it is the Lord of the harvest Who is to be praised, honored, and glorified.  For the worship to be acceptable, there must be a presence of the males at the Mishkan / Tabernacle or the Temple, depending upon which venue is in vogue at the time.  
            Each crop has its own season of growth, from the sowing of the seed until it reaches full maturity.  Usually that time period is a matter of months – few for some crops and more for others.  The maturation of a people may take four hundred years from having been “sown” until the sickle is applied for its “harvest”.
            Our parashah closes with two more directives.  The first states that when the blood of the sacrifice is offered, it is not to be presented with leavened bread, nor is the fat of the sacrifice to remain until the morning.  This compound directive has the participants directly copying what had been done at the first Pesach, and it would continue to be a memorial of that day whenever it was properly presented.  This , I believe, reflects directly back on verse nine where we had been told that we are not to oppress the foreigner, for we had once been foreigners ourselves.  This is not just the heritage of the Jew, but of all believers.
            Lastly, we come to that quandary of a verse telling us not to boil a young animal (CJB) / kid (TWotOT - #314b) in its mother’s milk.  This prohibition is also mentioned in Exodus 34:26 and Deuteronomy 14:21.  I will close with a quote from the TWotOT regarding a likely reason why this prohibition is for young goats and not just for any young kosher animal.
            “Until recently the reason for this prohibition was enigmatic. 
            This law is the basis for the Jewish Kashrut  prohibition
            against preparing or consuming any food in which meat or
            milk or certain derivatives of the two are mixed.

            “Kids could be used for sacrifice as Num 15:11ff indicates. 
            But they could not be boiled in milk.  The answer comes for
            the Canaanite Ugaritic texts, especially the story now popu-
            larly known as ‘The Birth of the Gods’ or ‘The Story of Shahar
            (“dawn”) and Shalim (“dusk”), ,’ in Gordon UT, 19; 19: no 52. 
            Lines 15, 16 of this story are:

                        …15: over the fire seven times the sacrificers
                        cook a kid in milk, a lamb/mint (?) in butter.
            “The context indicates that a kid is cooked in milk at certain
            pagan sacrifices, possibly of first fruits, as part of a sacrificial
            meal to ensure good crops for the ensuing years.  The Bible
            will repudiate this orientation to fertility cult practices.  The
            blessing or fertile soil is from God, not magic.”

Amen to that, bless the name of HaShem!

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