This parashah gives us many of the civil laws we are to follow, starting with laws regarding slaves/bondsmen. It is interesting to note that there is only one Hebrew word for both slave and bondsman, indicating that the system of slavery we think of (that within the Roman, Greek and American/European cultures) is not what slavery was to God, or for the Children of Israel. The system of slavery we know is based on the premise that the slave is property and can be treated (or mistreated) in any manner to which the owner wants to act. A Hebrew slave was a human being with rights, and the Hebrew who was purchased as a slave by another Hebrew was to be treated with respect and compassion. As with the other rules regarding the Shemitah year (the 7th year), a Hebrew who had been purchased as a slave was to be set free.
The other ordinances in this parashah create the basic penal system for the Israelites: it deals with restitution for theft, mistreatment of other’s property, marriage and dowry regulations, punishment for murder and punishment for manslaughter, restitution for accidental injury, kidnapping, matricide/patricide, witchcraft and moral offences.
We also hear from God how we are to act in accordance with testimony in court, the dispensing of justice, and finally, as is done throughout the Tanakh, an exhortation to remember and obey these laws. If we remember to do as God tells us, and we do so in accordance with His commandments, God will bless us and protect us. If we fail to obey, well….not so good for us.
This parashah ends with Moses going up the mountain to meet with God and receive the Ten Commandments from God.
What can we say about the laws and regulations of the Torah that hasn’t been said already? How many times do we need to reflect on how the Torah established a system of laws and commandments that honored God and people, with truth, justice and (no, not the American Way)… reverence?
Yet, despite how we are told we must treat each other with respect and honor, we fail to do so. I guess that is because what looks good on paper doesn’t always translate as well into reality. The sinful nature of people, the lure of the worldly pleasures, and the influence of the enemy of God surround us: they are in the advertisements we see in all the media, the lies we are told by those we trust in positions of authority, and even in the relationships we form with family and friends.
I heard someone once say that humanity is a wonderful thing- it’s the people that screw it up. How true.
Yeshua said that the most important commandments of all are to love the Lord your God and to love each other. On these two laws pivot the Prophets and all the other writings in the Torah. This parashah is part of “all the other writings” that Yeshua referred to. When we think about it, the “Golden Rule” is all we really need to obey in order to follow the ordinances found in this parashah (for your edification, the Golden Rule is not from the New Covenant writings but is only referred to there- it is found in Leviticus 19:18.) If we love God we will want to do as He says out of love, not out of fear. We should treat others out of love, also: if we can’t do so because of our love for people then we should do so because of our love for God.
Personally, I really don’t like people. I do ministry, I teach others the Word of God, I am a member of the leadership where I worship, but I really don’t like people.
That doesn’t stop me from doing my very best to treat all people with respect and compassion because I want to honor and worship God (another item on my list of “To Be’s” – compassionate. Having compassion for others is hard for me to do.) My love of God forces me to love people. Begrudgingly, I confess, but God sees the heart and values what is in our heart as much, or more, than what we do. My heart needs work, and I think we all could confess to that one. So, I do what God wants me to do because God wants me to do it. One day, perhaps, the Ruach (Spirit) will so fill me that I will truly want to be loving to all people, as God wants us all to be. Maybe.
Until then, I will do as God says to the best of my abilities, and constantly try to make my “best” better. These laws and commandments are all part of the Torah that establishes a nation. The Torah is more than a book of history and commandments: it is a national constitution, a penal system, a Ketubah (marriage certificate) between God and His people. And the people God marries are not just the Jews- it is anyone who chooses to worship Him.
If you choose to worship God, and you accept His Messiah as your Messiah, then these laws are for you. The Torah is your constitution, it is your User Manual for how to worship God, directly and indirectly.
Remember what Yeshua told us in Mattitayu 25:40-45: whatever we do to others, we do to Him. David said in Psalm 51 that when he sinned against others he sinned first and foremost against God- in fact, his sin was against God, and God alone. If there is any message that we need to learn from this parashah, it might be this:
What we do unto others, we do unto God.
That one needs to sink in because it is really important to remember.