Torah Thoughts for Today
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
#18:Judaism and Law: The Greatest Constitution
Judaism and Law: The Greatest Constitution

(Related to the weekly Torah portion of Mishpatim (“Judgments”), read in synagogue. Exodus, Chapter 21, verse 1 – Chapter 24, verse 18. English text and commentary at: http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=2&CHAPTER=21
Dedicated to my parents.)

Most people are not conscious of the fact that they live in a society that is governed by laws that essentially protect them and their human, religious, political, and civil rights. In the United States children are educated about the written Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and a Bill of Rights. They are taught how the system of government is based on “checks and balances” between the three branches of the legislative, judicial, and executive branches. But once out of the classroom, nobody gives a second thought to the legal system that makes all the freedom possible.

The United States’ Declaration of Independence from its mother country of Great Britain was written in 1776, two and a quarter centuries ago, and is considered to be a revolutionary document “ahead of its time” in modern history. It preceded the famous French Revolution of 1789 that in time brought Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity to its citizens. The Russian Revolution that overthrew the Czarist system took place in 1917 was supposed to bring more freedom to the people. It was only after the Second World War (1939 – 1945), after the crushing defeats of Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan, that the rest of the world was able to obtain freedom from the remaining colonial powers, such as Israel and India from Britain in 1948. All of these movements of national liberation and freedom were inspired by the “American Experience” and unfolded in relatively recent times.

The question arises: What was the hidden volatile powerful explosive and dynamic SPARK, the special root source, for the very concept of declarations of freedom, constitutions, bills of rights and balancing governmental powers between an executive leader and counterbalancing powers as in a judiciary and a legislature?

Classical Judaism would say, hey, that’s an easy question, because the greatest of humanity’s laws is rooted in the Torah, because after all, humanity itself is rooted in the Torah, and in fact all of existence and reality, all the knowable and unknowable dimensions are rooted in the Torah. Why is that? Because in classical Judaism, the Torah is so-to-speak in abstract terms GOD’S MIND as it were. Obviously God is unknowable and inscrutable. However, classical Torah sources teach that GOD, THE TORAH and ISRAEL are ONE – “YISRAEL, VE’ORAYTA, VEKUDSHAH BRICH HU CHAD HU”. It is through the Torah that God “reveals” His Mind, Intentions, Goals, Expectations, Demands, and Predictions for us as well as for all humankind! God is the ultimate CONTINUUM in ABSOLUTE TERMS. Then the Torah is a CONTINUUM of teachings, laws, and judgments and the source of all TRUE KNOWLEDGE no matter what kind, be it mathematics, biology, history, philosophy or religion, what have you, nothing in the fields of human knowledge and experience, ideas or phenomena, can “knock down” the Torah’s teachings and narratives.

On the contrary, with the passage of time, it is the Torah’s worldview that has permeated the world, be it through its main HIDDEN conduit of Judaism, or through its “surrogates” such as Christianity and Islam as the famous RAMBAM (with an “M”), Rabbi Moses Maimonides (Spain, North Africa, 1135 – 1204), teaches. (This does NOT mean to say that classical Judaism “endorses” these other alien faiths that it considers to be flawed and false. Just that the founders of the faiths expropriated from the Jewish Bible and so unwittingly also transmitted some core teachings to the pagans of the world who would have otherwise remained completely ignorant to “Biblical” concepts such as Monotheism, the Decalogue and much else.)

Humanity too IS a solid CONTINUUM from Adam and Eve until the time God will see fit to conclude the current cycle of civilization as we know it and Creation will have reached its original purpose. And starting with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the Jewish People are a WONDROUS CONTINUUM all of their own encapsulating and symbolizing the heart of all the other CONTINUUMS. Hence the expression: THE INDESTRUCTIBLE JEWS. Finally, as time will draw to a close with the dawn of the SEVENTH Jewish millennium, the one connected to all the concepts of the SABBATH, a new era will awaken. We cannot know what it will be like, but Judaism does teach about the times of the JEWISH Messiah, a place called “Gan Eden” (Garden of Eden in Hebrew), the END OF DAYS – “ACHARIT HAYAMIM”, and a FUTURE WORLD the “OLAM HABAH”, AND THEY ALL STRESS THAT IT WILL BE AN ERA OF PEACE AND HOLINESS AND THE TORAH WILL BE AS CENTRAL AS EVER ALL THE TIME. Thus, there are no “pit stops” and/or detours to exotic islands of escapes in time, such as the fictions of movies and books create in the minds of the masses, from God, as Jonah tried, or flights of fancy from the TRUTH of the UNIFIED CONTINUUM of world history that is moving in one direction only whether we want it to or not. Just as Pharaoh could not fight the will of God when he saw that nature was nothing but a straw puppet, similarly, the modern Naturalists cannot escape to their ivory towers and gilded TV cages as they note that their beguiling intellects and hidden passions were ensnared by false gods with clay feet.

Thus we are not just looking at some ancient “religious code” of laws when we look at the “dry facts of the law” in this week’s Torah portion. The comprehensive CIVIL LAWS with over FIFTY (out of the “613”) applicable Commandments – “MITZVOT” are all part of a greater human and spiritual CONTINUUM of the “TORAT CHAIM” – TORAH OF LIFE of an “ELOKIM CHAIM” – A LIVING GOD, as observed by the “AM YISREAL CHAI” – THE LIVING NATION OF ISRAEL:

Freedom for the slaves; Punishing a murderer; Penalties for injuries and damages; Dealing with the thief and robber; Damaged property; Judging between a plaintiff and a defendant; Laws of guardianship; Cases of borrowers and lenders; Eliminating seduction; Lending money to the poor; Prohibition of “loan sharking”; Not charging interest; Not to curse the judges or rulers; Paying tithes from crops on time; Ignoring false rumors; Do not follow a wicked majority; Judges need to be learned and clear; Following a majority in good Torah laws; Impartiality in court; Relieving the burden of another; Rejecting circumstantial evidence in capital cases; No bribery; Observing a Sabbatical year. And then follow a few more laws concerning the Sabbath, not swearing by an idol’s name, sacrificial offerings, first fruits, not eating meat and milk together, dealing with enemies in Israel, removing evil gentile influences from Israel. These are the great laws in this week’s Torah portion, going well beyond what we can deal with comprehensively.

These are all revolutionary milestones in the establishment of a world order based on the revealed Torah Law that emanated from Mount Sinai. Judaism believes that it was because these laws were Divine in origin, that they were rooted in the MOST POWERFUL FORCES OF ALL, that are in fact an expression of God’s Will in this world that the laws of the Torah have continued to be trailblazing pathways that have carved out the roads and highways for all subsequent MORAL, JUST, and HUMANE legal systems that respect the fact that there is a God in the Universe and that He is in fact the final Judge! As Abraham pleaded with God to show mercy to even the wicked people of Sodom: “…SHALL THE WHOLE WORLD’S JUDGE NOT ACT JUSTLY?” (Genesis, Chapter 18, verse 25). http://bible.ort.org/books/pentd2.asp?ACTION=displaypage&BOOK=1&CHAPTER=18

Indeed, Judaism celebrates its HOLIEST DAYS OF THE YEAR the Ten Day Period from the JEWISH NEW YEAR – “ROSH HASHANAH” to the DAY OF ATONEMENT – “YOM KIPPUR” as a process of God sitting in Judgment over each individual and nation. It is the time when people and events are JUDGED by God as to WHO WILL LIVE AND WHO WILL DIE in the coming year. So Judaism views the entire cosmos as being enveloped within God’s Judicial system with the Torah being its Constitution and the Ten Commandments being its core heart and soul. It applied then, it applies now, and it will always apply, no matter what the Social Sciences may teach about the nebulous functions of “Social Systems” and the “rise and fall” of personalities, psychologies, tastes, trends, fashions, institutions, societies, civilizations and universes.

(Remember any of these?: The “theory” that “meteor showers” killed out the bumbling dinosaurs billions of years ago as they foraged for food in swamps that sucked them under forever? The destructiveness of the “Social Darwinism” “philosophy” that has been linked to the rise of Fascism? The actual fact that the “moon rocks” were no different to your own garden variety of stones? Walt Disney’s animated “Jiminy Cricket” regaling you with the song “You ARE A ‘Human ANIMAL’” in biology class? Putting time capsules in the ground with everyday items in them so that a million years from now (then) people, very “evolved” by then no doubt, will know what we ate and did for fun? Famous musicians took on names of “beetles” and “stones”? And why the relentless drive wasting trillions of dollars in the unsuccessful push to find even one measly under-nourished itsy-bitsy amoeba in space someplace that is obviously MIA in space and “out to lunch” down here on earth in everyone’s kitchen sink??? Such is the magnificent scientific and sociological trivia search we live with as we have evolved to the stage of TV “reality shows” where people eat garbage under the hot sun, and couples go on national television for an “intimate” date. Our society shows no signs of letting up on its own determination to make itself outlandish and out of the ball park, scientifically, sociologically and psychologically speaking.)

In this week’s portion the Torah makes a huge quantum leap when it introduces a flood of “MISHPATIM” which means JUDGMENTS / STATUTES / LAWS / RULINGS /. A “SHOFET” is a JUDGE, a “MISHPAT” is a RULING /ADJUDICATION / LAW / JUDGMENT. A “BEIT MISHPAT” is a COURT. And of the four Codified Sections of the Jewish Code of Law – “HALACHAH”, the “SHULCHAN ARUCH’, one Sections is called the “CHOSHEN MISHPAT” – Which deals mainly with matters of Civil Law: Laws and guidelines relating to appointment of Judges; Laws of Testimony and Witnesses; Business Law of Lending and Borrowing; Monetary Claims and Adjudication of Financial Disputes; Guarantors and Underwriting; Property Disputes; Partnerships; Representatives; Sales and Purchases; Wrongful Purchase; Gifts; Lost and Found; Theft and Robbery; Monetary Damages; Personal Injury and Claims of Compensation. These laws are discussed and analyzed in great depth in Talmudic Tractates – “MASECHTOT” such as Baba Kamma, Baba Metzia, Babba Kama, Sanhedrin and others way beyond the scope of this essay. What they all have in common is that everything in Jewish Law is derived from the verses and statements in the Torah such as we learn in this week’s Torah portion. And these are not “college courses”, they have been the staples of classical Torah and ‘yeshiva’ (Torah and Talmudical school) education for thousands of years. The Talmud itself begins as a mature system over two thousand years ago.

Secular Legal scholars share the confusion of secular scientists and of the Social Science and Humanities scholars, when they just cannot get past the historical smoke screen of modernity’s cultural propaganda that blinds them to an understanding of the origins of Law as it is understood in the Western world. They follow dead ends and dark alleys rather than take a look at what is in front of their noses. Some start with the Middle Ages, and others look at English Common Law and Roman Law or fiddle with some obscure illegible cracked codex scribbled on clay deemed to be the starting points of the great legal heritage. The Nazis invoked Nordic and ancient Persian myths to buttress their racist “laws” made for their new cruel race of “supermen” - “ubermentschen”. Murderous Jihads, justified by some Moslems as based on a law that seems to have its origins in hallucinations in the over-heated Arabian deserts still fires up fanatics to kill innocent men, women and children without any recourse to minimal humane legal due process. The Czars of Russia were just a “law unto themselves” from Ivan the Terrible To Nicholas the Last. In France, the Kings were absolute monarchs who believed like Louis XIV that “I am the State”.

In the Oral Law teachings of the Ethics of the Fathers – “Pirkei Avot” the Talmud’s own source of JURISPRUDENCE, the very first teaching deals with the REVELATION OF THE LAW AND ITS TRANSMISSION: “ Moses received the Torah from [Mount] Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua; Joshua to the elders; the Elders to the Prophets; and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great assembly. They [the Men of the Great Assembly] said three things: BE DELIBERATE IN JUDGMENT; DEVELOP MANY DISCIPLES; AND MAKE A FENCE FOR THE TORAH.” (Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1, Mishna 1) [1] We see from this the centrality of the concept that the LAW of the Torah, in its ENTIRETY was handed down by Moses through the generations and in fact they were encouraged to protect it with making additional “laws”, i.e. “FENCES”, to protect the original body of laws. The first bit of GREAT legal advice that is stated unequivocally here is to “BE DELIBERATE IN JUDGMENT”, this means: “Do not give hasty decisions, but analyze each question in depth. Rendering a fair judgment is one of the highest forms of Torah study (Rashi, Rambam, Rabbeinu Yonah –[Three classical Torah commentators]).” [2] The first chapter concludes with the following famous statement: “RABBAN SHIMON BEN GAMLIEL SAYS: THE WORLD ENDURES ON THREE THINGS – JUSTICE, TRUTH, AND PEACE, AS IT IS SAID: ‘TRUTH AND THE VERDICT OF PEACE ARE TO ADJUDICATE IN YOUR GATES’ (Zechariah, Chapter 8, verse 16)” (Ethics of the Fathers, Chapter 1, Mishna 1) [3]. Justice is “DIN” in Hebrew and it is related to the Name for God that Jews use for God: “ADONAI” meaning “My Lord”, the One Who applies “DIN” to me, hence also being consistent with the English language origins of the word “law” in the name “Lord”.


Essentially what I am asking is how do you reconcile two contradictory philosophies of life and living? A study of the Law in America will lead you to its roots in Biblical Moral Spiritual Divine Law, with its belief in One God and the foundations of Humanity’s Godliness and Holiness. Life assumed along the lines of the popularly held views of Evolutionary Theory, and the fact that so many scientists are “devoted” to Atheism and Agnosticism, influences society’s and people’s self-image as connected to vegetables and animals, and derived from Neanderthals and now related and perhaps even resembling Orangutans.

I am NOT saying that the laws of the United States of America were derived “directly” from the Ten Commandments or from this or that aspect or detail of Biblical laws. The Ten Commandments are Moral Laws that apply to human society as originally “legislated” by God according to classical Judaism. I am talking about the notion of “law” to begin with. What are its origins in its present common forms? One may say that the ancient societies of the Pharaohs or the Babylonians had “codes”, but those ancient archaic blood-thirsty kingdoms slave and feudal systems were geared for the benefit of an oligarchy, a few powerful people who ruled as god-kings and ruthless absolute monarchs brooking no dissent and usually deposed violently. We are certainly not referring to the “laws of the jungle” or of “might makes right” either. The ancient Persians, Greeks and Romans, and even the English kings, developed a modicum of democracy and representation for their inner circles, whereas the American Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are SWEEPING DOCUMENTS that herald a new modern era of “equality before the law”, democratic republican government, and a host of promises still coming into full force for hundreds of millions of people. This has put America into a breathtaking leadership position in democratization and freedom. Fascinatingly, the Oxford dictionary says that the origin of the word “law” is from the Old English “lag” meaning “laid down” or “fixed”, it also says it is a variant of “lo” or “lor`” for “Lord”. It may be said that this was a sign of the rest of the world taking over THIRTY THREE HUNDRED YEARS to catch up with what the Torah had intended all along and which Jews had actually benefited from internally, before the events of modern times preached the most ancient demand by God of Pharaoh: Let My People Go So That They May Serve Me! Celebrated by Jews as Passover – The Festival of FREEDOM from bondage!

We do NOT agree with the following lengthy quote, but let’s give the “other side” their chance to speak, since we are talking of “justice” and “judgments” after all. You may choose whichever opinions you feel best represent your views, obviously, but remember, honestly ask yourself is it what Judaism represents or expects?

So here goes: We will turn our attention to the famous controversial naturalist and anthropologist Charles Darwin (Britain, 1809 – 1882), a very complex scholar with deep set eyes and a long majestic white beard, who at one time studied for the Christian ministry, but instead was recruited for an around the world voyage of nature research by the British Royal Navy {THEY are the REAL “culprits” `: - } . The few years he spent at sea, looking at all sorts of life forms, gave him the time to rethink life and formulate and organize “theories” that would reshape the way modern men of science viewed life. He had plenty of time to read as well, and was also influenced by the thinking of one Thomas Malthus (Britain, 1766 – 1834) of the “Malthusian” philosophy alarmed by population explosions and advocating “birth control” for the working classes.

I came across the following by Peter Landry at http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Science/Darwin.htm#fn8
which seems pretty representative. Again, I do NOT agree with this information, but I cite it in order to “round out the picture”:
“DARWIN, directly on account of his early adventures (with his evidence and his conclusions: zoological, botanical, geological and paleontological), COULD NO LONGER SUBSCRIBE TO THE TEACHINGS OF GENESIS, viz., that every species had been created whole and have come through the ages unchanged. Of course, Darwin's theory, at first blush, is at odds with the whole notion that there exists a Supreme Being, which brought into existence all things. As to the Primary Cause and more generally the existence of a God: ‘I [Darwin] cannot pretend to throw the least light on such abstruse problems. The mystery of the beginning of all things is insoluble by us; and I FOR ONE MUST BE CONTENT TO REMAIN AN AGNOSTIC.’ All the evidence supports (and none exists that disproves) the proposition that life on earth has evolved; life started out slow and small, and our current state of existence is as a result of some process working upon natural materials throughout a period that consists of millions and millions of years…In 1859, Darwin's shattering work, The Origin of the Species, came out (‘a sell out in one day’); it is now recognized as a leading work in natural philosophy and in the history of mankind. Simply stated, Darwin's theory is that things, and, in particular, life, evolves by a process which Darwin called ‘natural selection.’…(H. Alfvén, professor of Plasma Physics at the University of Stockholm Atom, Man, and the Universe) states: ‘We are beginning to see that the awesome wonder of the EVOLUTION FROM AMOEBA TO MAN - for it is without a doubt an awesome wonder - was not the result of a mighty word from a creator, but of a combination of small, apparently insignificant processes. The structural change occurring in a molecule within a chromosome, the result of a struggle over food between two animals, the reproduction and feeding of young - such are the simple elements that together, in the course of MILLIONS OF YEARS, created the great wonder. This is nothing separate from ordinary life. The wonder is in our everyday world, if only we have the ability to see it.’ … We will let Julian Huxley (Britain, 1887 - 1975) (Humanist, ATHEIST and science popularizer, a Professor of Zoology, brother of Aldous Huxley and grandson of Thomas H. Huxley) sum up Darwin's place in the history of science: ‘DARWIN’S WORK…PUT THE WORLD OF LIFE INTO THE DOMAIN OF NATURAL LAW…Man is not a finished product incapable of further progress. He has a long history behind him, and it is a history not of a fall, but of an ascent. And he has THE POSSIBILITY OF FURTHER PROGRESSIVE EVOLUTION BEFORE HIM. Further, in the light of evolution we learn to be more patient. The few thousand years of recorded history are nothing compared to the million years during which man has been on earth, and the thousand million years of life's progress. And WE CAN AFFORD TO BE PATIENT WHEN THE ASTRONOMERS ASSURE US OF AT LEAST ANOTHER THOUSAND MILLION YEARS AHEAD OF US IN WHICH TO CARRY EVOLUTION ONWARDS TO NEW HEIGHTS’…Julian Huxley was the grandson of Thomas H. Huxley (1825 - 1895) an English biologist, teacher, and a defender of Darwin. Darwin was not a conversationalist and he only very rarely appeared in public to defend his theories himself; he was fully represented by Thomas H. Huxley, ‘Darwin's Bulldog.’ It is interesting to note what Thomas H. Huxley said about his topic when confronted with the opposition in the form of Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford. Both Huxley and Bishop Wilberforce were on the same stage when during a conference which had as its theme, Darwinism. The Bishop, in a sarcastic manner called out: ‘I would like to ask Professor Huxley whether it was on his grandfather's or his grandmother's side that the ape ancestry comes in.’ (Darwin) after whispering to his dinner companion, ‘The lord hath delivered him into my hands,’ took the podium:‘A MAN HAS NO REASON TO BE ASHAMED OF HAVING AN APE FOR HIS GRANDFATHER. If there were an ancestor whom I should feel shame in recalling, it would be a man of restless and versatile intellect, who, not content with success in his own sphere of activity, plunges into scientific questions with which he has no real acquaintance, only to obscure them by an aimless rhetoric, and distract the attention of his hearers from the point at issue by eloquent digressions and skilled appeals to religious prejudice’.” [4]

End of the long above citation. Here is MY partial reaction to some of it, and the conclusion to this essay:

From the foregoing we see that Darwin remains one of the world’s most important and accepted “philosophers” as many millions of people “believe” in his school of thought and “theories” even though the majority have no clue how he “invented” them. Darwin’s views and attitudes and his own life’s history are very typical of the “modern scientific” man: Rejecting Biblical Teachings of the Creation of the Universe by God during the Six Days of Creation; Accepting the notion that life evolved over “millions” of years from amoebas; Defining the origins of life by new “scientific” slogans of “Natural Selection” and “Evolution”; A false notion that somehow to “believe” that people are “evolving” is a “progressive” idea because to believe that God created the complete Adam and Eve means that they cannot “progress” (the word “progress” may be relative, of course); Equating humanity with the “animal kingdom” especially the apes; Celebrating that “finally” an alternative “explanation” could be provided for life’s development on Earth; Traditional views of God could not be accepted so it is acceptable to be an Agnostic and an Atheist; The world exists primarily within the parameters of Natural Law; An amazing display of arrogance – “CHUTZPAH” by the newly-minted “Evolutionists”, who defend their views with ideological ferociousness, as they refuse to accept even simple LOGICAL questions, critiques or criticism as if their ideas were the “holy” words of a new civil “secular scientific religion” that must not be questioned but just accepted as “facts”, and they will of course decide for the rest of the world which facts are “politically correct” and which are not; Since the Bible is now relegated to secondary place (at best, or to the incinerator most likely) behind the new “bibles” of biology and zoology tomes, there is no longer a role for that type of morality associated with the same beliefs that gave you Creation and God in the first place in Biblical books; An amazing hold on the popular imagination with the academic world and the media and entertainment industries reinforcing Evolutionary philosophy, continuing to enshrine and worship Darwin as a modern day “saint, prophet and law-giver”.

It is therefore remarkable to remember that Judaism already had a “Declaration of Independence” from Natural Law in ancient Egypt when nature specifically was shattered by Ten Plagues recorded in the Torah and recited at Passover in the Haggadah, and a “Bill of Rights” as embodied in the Ten Commandments (“The Decalogue”), and a comprehensive “Constitution” of the Torah (“The Bible”) with a complete, sophisticated and trustworthy system of government that protected the rights and status of both its adherents and those who lived within their society beginning with the REVELATION and the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai in the Hebrew year 2448 (1312 B.C.E.) more than 3,300 years ago!

Our Torah portion is way AHEAD of mere human-centered Natural Law theories. It’s called “MISHPATIM” which means laws, judgments, and ordinances taken from the first verse of the portion: “And these are the laws that you must set before them [the Israelites]” (Exodus 21, verse 1), in a real world, of real time with real flesh and blood human beings demanding JUSTICE – “TZEDEK”.
The classical Torah scholars zero in on the very first words of this verse which in the Hebrew are actually combined into one: “AND THESE” – “VE-EILEH”. The famous rabbinical commentator RASHI, Rabbi Shlomoh ben Yitzchaki (France, 1040 – 1105) teaches: “Wherever ‘these are’ - ‘eileh’ is used it cuts off the preceding section from that which it introduces; where, however, ‘VE-eileh’ - ‘AND these’ is used it adds something to the former subject (i.e. forms a continuation of it). So also here: ‘AND these are the judgments (i.e. these, ALSO)’: what is the case with the former commandments (THE TEN COMMANDMENTS)? THEY WERE GIVEN AT SINAI ! SO THESE, TOO, WERE GIVEN AT SINAI ! If this be so, why is this section dealing with the ‘civil laws’ placed immediately after the commanding the making of the ALTAR? To tell you that you should seat (i.e. provide quarters for) the SANHEDRIN in the vicinity of the TEMPLE (or near the ‘mizbeach’ - ‘altar’) in one of the chambers in the Temple court (i.e. the ‘lishkat hagazit’ - ‘chamber of stone’).” RASHI cites his sources for this as the Oral Law’s Mechilta, Midrash Rabbah, and Tanchuma, all classical texts of reliable scholarship. [5]

Dr. Russell Jay Hendel (creator of the extensive site devoted to studying Rashi at http://www.rashiyomi.com/ ) notes on the above Rashi comments that: “Again Rashi by way of pun notes that the Parliament (Sanhedrin) sat IN the temple and ‘therefore the altar is mentioned near the Judicial code (judgments)’ But Rashi is not connecting JUST two chapters but rather Rashi is connecting a whole sequence of chapters dealing with laws that enable us to live a just and good life…Some highlights are as follows: While Exodus, Chapter 23 deals with the laws for HOLIDAYS and the 7th YEAR (Sabbatical) nevertheless the emphasis in Exodus, Chapter 23 is on letting the STRANGER and POOR have a respite (e.g. Exodus, Chapter 23, verse 9; Exodus, Chapter 23, verse 12). FURTHERMORE THE ALTAR WAS AN INTRINSIC PART OF THE JUDICIAL CODE – FOR ALL LAW IS BASED ON THE BACKUP OF COURT PROCEDURES WHICH IN TURN IS BASED ON THE OATH. IF A PERSON TOOK AN OATH FALSELY HE HAD TO BRING A SACRIFICE (Leviticus, Chapter 5).

Thus Rashi’s words prove the concept of the TOTALITY and UNITY of all aspects of Jewish Law: The necessity of faith in God and rejection of other false gods as set out in the first of the Ten Commandments are connected to its moral and humanistic teachings governing human relationships and behavior, which is connected to the spiritual days and observances like the Sabbath and Holidays. They are all connected to a system of worship and rituals with sacrificial offerings that would become part of the Jewish Temple worship. Of course this all takes place within the Torah’s original framework of Creation and the flow of world history, and ultimately even prophecies of doom that would befall the Children of Israel should they falter and renege on their covenant with God. These prophecies also include optimistic predictions about Jewish survival, return and redemption as there is always the note of future affirmation, validation and triumph of the Jews and the Torah that binds them to God.

Here is what is written in the Artscroll commentary, explaining the connections:
“The juxtaposition of this ‘Sidra’ [Portion in Hebrew] (dealing primarily with CIVIL and TORT LAW) with the Ten Commandments and the laws of the Altar provide a STARTLING INSIGHT INTO JUDAISM. To God, there is no realm of ‘religion’ in the colloquial sense of the word. Most people think of religion as a matter of ritual and spirituality. Western man differentiates between Church and State. The Torah knows NO SUCH DISTINCTION. To the contrary, all areas of life are intertwined and holiness derives from ‘halachically’ (Jewish Torah Law) CORRECT BUSINESS DEALINGS no less than from piety in matters of ritual. The sages teach that one who wishes to be a ‘chassid’, or a devoutly pious person, should be scrupulous in matters of civil and tort law [‘mili denizikin’, Talmud Bava Kamma, 30a] for in Judaism the concept of ‘temple’ is in the courtroom as well as in the synagogue. This is the significance of the (Torah’s) juxtaposition of chapters. From this proximity, the Sages derive that the seat of the Sanhedrin, the seventy-one member court that is the supreme authority on ‘halachic’ (legal) matters, should be on the Temple Mount, near the Temple itself, for both the Temple and the Sanhedrin are expressions of holiness and worship of God. A judge who rules correctly is considered a partner in Creation, and one who rules corruptly is a destroyer of God’s world. It is quite natural, therefore, that immediately after carrying us through the recognition of God’s power, through the miracles of the Splitting of the Sea, and the Revelation at Sinai, the Torah commences with laws that SEEM almost mundane. THEY ARE AS MUCH EXPRESSIONS OF GOD’S GREATNESS AS THE FIRST COMMANDMENT, WHICH PROCLAIMS GOD’S EXISTENCE AND SOVEREIGNTY…[Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (Spain, North Africa, Israel, 1194 – 1270), known as the] RAMBAN (with and ‘N’) comments that the CIVIL LAW IS AN EXTENSION OF THE TENTH COMMANDMENT, WHICH FORBIDS COVETOUSNESS. In order to know what he may NOT covet, ONE MUST KNOW THE RIGHTS AND PROPERTY OF OTHERS. Elaborating on this concept, [Rabbi Obadiah ben Jacob (Italy, 1470 – 1550) known as the] SFORNO comments that the above commandment states that one may not covet anything that belongs to his FELLOW; so the Torah now goes on to begin defining what it is that belongs to others.” [7]

What is YOUR opinion? Please let me know!
Best wishes and have a wonderful Shabbat!

[1] Ethics of the Fathers in the Artscroll Prayer book, English translation, p. 544.
[2] Pirkei Avos, The Wisdom of the Fathers, English translation and commentary, Rabbi A. Davis, p. 7.
[3] Ethics of the Fathers, Ibid, p. 548.
[4] http://www.blupete.com/Literature/Biographies/Science/Darwin.htm#fn8 , by Peter Landry.
[5] Pentateuch with Rashi’s commentary, Exodus, English translation, M. Rosenbaum and M. Silberman, p. 107.
[6] http://www.rashiyomi.com/nu20-01z.htm , Dr. Russell Jay Hendel.
[7] The Torah - The Chumash, The Artscroll Stone Edition, English translation and commentary, p. 416.

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