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Mishpatim. Set the Table!

In last week’s parasha, God revealed His presence from the heavens as He uttered the Ten Commandments. This week, in Parashat Mishpatim, we see a different side of God: “And these are the laws that you shall place before them” – a litany of detailed and complicated laws. Rashi, quoting Rabbi Akiva, imagines that the laws are placed before Israel like a smorgasbord, like a set table. He says:

“You shall set before them,” - like a table, set with food [Shulkan Arukh!] - ready to eat.

This is an interesting metaphor but what might it mean?

The Ten Commandments say: “Do not murder” – a categorical, moral imperative. This week we hear the details.

12 He who fatally strikes a man shall be put to death.

13 If he did not do it by design, but it came about by an act of God, I will assign you a place to which he can flee.

…18 When men quarrel, and one strikes the other with stone or fist, and he does not die but is bedridden — 19 if he then gets up and walks outdoors upon his staff, the assailant shall go unpunished, except that he must pay for his idleness and his cure.

20 When a man strikes his slave, male or female, with a rod, and he dies there and then, he must be avenged… (21:12-20)