As we enter the dramatic revelation of the commandments to Israel, we see a pattern. The first thing said at Sinai is who Israel’s God is; that the source and essence of being itself is Israel’s one and only God, and it was none other than the ultimate source and essence of being that saved Israel from slavery, and it is to that spiritual fount of life that we owe our allegiance, love, awe. When we look at the Aseret Hadibrot, the ‘ten sayings’ commonly called the “Ten Commandments,” there are four commandments which are God-centered, and six which govern our relationships with each other. It would seem that the bulk of our Torah should be civil laws and laws of interpersonal ethics.

It is surprising, then, that so little of the Written Torah concentrates on interpersonal morality, the mitzvot bein adam lechavero; commandments between a person and one’s fellow human being. The rest of Sefer Shemot (The Book of Exodus) concentrates on instructions for the building of the Mishkan, the portable Temple used until King Solomon built the more permanent Temple in Jerusalem, and on all the other tools of Temple service; the altars, the menorah, the showbread table, the priests’ vestments, etc. Most of the mitzvot bein adam lechavero are crammed into two parshiot: Mishpatim, this week’s reading, and Kedoshim, in the middle of Vayikra (Leviticus), read this year in May.

Even in those two readings, we see some commandments which are bein adam lemakom, between a human being and God. In this week’s reading, we see the commandment not to eat neveilah or treyfah;  literally, meat from dead animal carcasses, or animals mauled by carnivores, and interpreted by the Rabbis to mean any meat other than that which came from kosher slaughter. The commandments to bring our sanctified produce to the priests on time, to give our first-born male animals, and to redeem our first-born sons from the priests, are also given, with an exhortation to be a holy people. After these commandments are given, the Torah returns to interpersonal mitzvot, starting with a discussion of lying witnesses.

In Kedoshim, there seems to be a relatively even balance between those commandments which govern ethical and interpersonal behavior, and those which govern our actions towards God. But there, all the commandments taught are taught in the spirit of our needing to be a holy people, as they are in this week’s parashah.

To be awakened to spirituality is to be inspired to awe, to love, and to reverence of the created world, its beauty, its inherent holiness, and that of every living being in it. No one who is devoted to spirituality can be dismissive or callous towards another living being. They naturally see the holiness, the beauty, the value, of their fellow being. Parshiot Mishpatim and Kedoshim come as an antidote to spiritual narcissism, to the hypocrisy of passionate prayer and Torah learning without care for one’s fellow human being.

Shabbat Shalom!

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