The end of last week’s parsha deals with laws regarding the altar which G-d wishes us to use in His service. The beginning of next week’s parsha is about the building of the Mishkan, or Tabernacle, which was the focal point of Jewish service of G-d for hundreds of years, and which the Altar was part of. The Tabernacle was replaced by the Holy Temple in Jerusalem which stood on the Temple Mount beyond the Western Wall.
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin notes the seemingly unnecessary insertion of this week’s parsha in between last week’s and next week’s parshios. Mishpatim (the name of this week’s parsha) means “laws”. Many laws, primarily civil in nature, are discussed in Parshas Mishpatim. It is logical that it follows the portion of Torah in which the Torah was given to the Jewish People. Observance of its laws are its core. Many laws in Mishpatim deal with possession of property, and rights of individuals. Rabbi Sorotzkin remarks that this portion is deliberately placed here to convey the following directive. Whatever a person dedicates to the service of G-d, he must be sure to dedicate through honesty and integrity. Ill-gotten gains are not laundered by offering them to charity. They are despised and unwanted by G-d. This parsha is not an interruption between the description of the altar and the building of the Tabernacle. It is a stipulation that whatever we give – it must be from that which is gained with G-d’s blessing and approval.
What is Torah?
While we are on the topic of Torah, it is worth while to delineate what Torah is. The source of the 248 positive commandments (do’s), and the 365 negative commandments (don’t’s), is the Pentateuch as it is commonly known. They are known as the Torah in written form (as opposed to oral teachings). The subsequent books of the Scriptures consist of the books of the Prophets, and the Writings. We only derive Torah Commandments from the Pentateuch. The subsequent books are sometimes used as sources which reveal to us how Torah laws were observed, and sources for customs as well, but we don’t derive laws from them. There are many other ethical lessons which we derive from the subsequent scriptures. Most importantly, the subsequent scriptures do not come to change or contradict anything which is stated in the Pentateuch. The books which are called “The New Testament” are not part of the Jewish Scriptures, and contradict Jewish tradition.
In addition to the “Written Torah,” is a large body of legal and anecdotal writings know as the Talmud. The Talmud is known as the Oral or Memorized Law. The reason is that it was studied and transmitted orally for over a thousand years until Roman oppression forced the Sages to record it lest it be forgotten. This was initially recorded as the Six Orders of Mishnah. Much of the body of Oral Law was still transmitted orally in the form of explanations of the Mishnah. However, in the subsequent 300 years even the explanations were recorded in the Talmud. Even though Roman oppression made life for the Jews unpredictable and full of suffering, scholarship in Torah study continued. Nevertheless, the difficulties the Jews lived through left their impressions in the form of many interpretational disputes between the students of Torah, as the Romans took away the prerequisite stability which would enable them to transmit and receive the teachings as they had in more peaceful generations.
The chain of the transmission of Torah has never been broken since the time of Moses. In Yeshivahs spanning the globe students study the texts which have representation from The Scriptures, Post-Biblical scholars, Medieval scholars, and continuing and flourishing until this very day. The codification of the Talmud took place throughout medieval times. The Shulchan Oruch, the work of Rabbi Yosef Karo (16th cent.) deals with laws of everyday life from the blessings we make each day, to the detailed laws of ownership, family purity, and thousands of others. Each generation is blessed with people who continue to become experts in the challenging application of Torah Law in the ever-changing milieu of the generations in which they live. Torah study and publication in all languages is growing by leaps and bounds, and is more and more available to all who wish to take part. It is truly a miracle in the context of the events of this century, and indeed, the events of the diaspora we have found ourselves in for the past 2,000 years.
We’ll end with the words of the prayer which we say at the end of the silent meditation. “May it be Your will (G-d) that the Holy Temple be rebuilt speedily in our days, and give our portion in Your Torah.” We all have a portion in Torah learning. May we all relate to and find satisfaction in Torah!