Rabbi Ari Enkin

By Rabbi Ari Enkin, Rabbinic Director, United with Israel

Judaism is much more than yarmulkes, matzah and Chanukah menorahs! Civil and monetary law actually makes up more than 25% of Jewish law.

This week’s Torah portion is “Mishpatim” (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18), which can be translated as “laws”, “judgments” or “statutes”. As you might have guessed it, this week’s portion is full of mitzvot, commandments, that form the basis of a civil society. Indeed, Judaism is much more than yarmulkes, matzah and Chanukah menorahs! Civil and monetary law actually makes up more than 25% of Jewish law.

Here’s a sampling of some of the laws found in this week’s Torah portion: Proper treatment of one’s employees, protection of children, assault, other torts, damages, compensation, sexual morality, kidnapping, idol worship, responsibility for one’s property, charity, and much much more – over 50 different commandments!

The precepts and mitzvahs of Judaism are essentially divided up into two different categories: mitzvot that apply between man and God, and mitzvot that apply between man and man. A person who dresses in a religious manner, prays in the synagogue, and studies much Torah, but is dishonest in business and unpleasant in his dealings with others is not a religious Jew. A religious Jew is someone who personifies BOTH categories of mitzvot.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter was a rabbi who was famous for his careful attention to all mitzvot. In addition to his observance and piety, he was exceptionally kind to others. One of the stories told about him is that he would always perform the ritual hand washings with the bare minimum amount of water. When he was asked why this was so, as one would think that one should use an abundance of water when performing the mitzvah of the hand washings, he answered that he did not want to force his maid to have to haul more water than truly necessary. He cared so much about the workload of his maid that he compromised on the manner in which he performed the ritual hand washing.

Back to building a civil society. Based on the Torah, the Jewish people know what it means to build a just and fair society. We know what it means to help others and to perform acts of charity. The State of Israel probably has more of a sense of humanitarian awareness and responsibility than any other country.

For example, Israel was the first country to respond to the 2010 Haiti disaster. Israel sent 200 soldiers, doctors, and other aid workers who built field hospitals and saved countless lives. Israel was among the first to arrive in Japan following the 2011 earthquake and Israel’s search and rescue teams are second to none in saving lives following natural disasters. This includes countries with no formal relations with the Jewish state. And much much more.

It’s not enough to eat chicken soup and gefilte fish. A Jew has to recognize his role in building a functioning and fair society. Caring about the needs of others is Mitzva #1.

Shabbat Shalom from Israel!

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