Weekly Torah Commentary – Mishpatim Feb. 5, 2016

Exodus 21-24

This week’s Torah reading opens with this verse:

Now these are the ordinances which you shall place before them [the Children of Israel].  21:1

The word ‘ordinance’ is defined as ‘an authoritative decree’; an edict, an injunction, a command, rule or mandate.  This Torah portion goes on to outline a series of rules that are to govern interpersonal relationships among His people.


Let’s face it – human beings generally don’t like ‘rules’.  We don’t like being told what to do, how to do it, when to do it and with whom to do it! We seem to have this innate resistance to ‘authority’ in whatever form it happens to ‘encroach’ on what we perceive as our ‘freedom.’  This attitude is so prevalent in modern times that it’s difficult to have a calm and non-emotional discussion about it at times.

That should not be among God’s people.

Recently a friend of mine was on a plane sitting opposite a mother with her young son who was perhaps about seven or eight.  As soon as they were belted into their seats, the boy began playing on an IPad.  When it was time for take-off, the flight attendant instructed the boy to turn off the IPad.  He kept playing. And Mom said nothing.  A second time the flight attendant passed by, told him to shut it down and give it to his mother until he could resume later.  The boy paid no attention.  And Mom said nothing.  The boy continued to play on the IPad all through take-off and afterward.  And Mom said nothing.  My friend commented later, “She is training him to ignore authority. Where will he be ten years from now?”

Sound too harsh?  What about the killing of 13 year old Andy Lopez in Santa Rosa, California, by police who thought he was about to shoot them with an assault rifle. It turned out to be a toy gun. Two times, the police told the boy to drop the gun. Instead he turned it on them. They fired.  Did he not hear what they told him or was he in the habit of not responding to direct commands? We may not know for sure but we know one thing.  It cost him his life.  Parents, take heed!

The word ‘obedience’ today seems to have fallen into the dictionary of political incorrectness.  Just ask any school teacher what it’s like in today’s classroom compared to twenty years ago.

Among God’s people, it should not be.  Obedience is necessary in private life, social life and in every other sphere of life where one is expected to do his duty or earn his livelihood. An individual must obey his elders or superiors. Children must obey their parents. Students must obey their teachers. Obedience is the rule of life and without it life will sooner or later lead to misery.

Does obedience ‘ruin’ your ‘freedom’?  Absolutely not – in fact, it enhances your freedom.  The thief serving his eight year sentence in prison for breaking the law is hardly ‘free’.  The person who was tempted to steal but didn’t is going on with his life outside prison bars. Get the point?

Freedom is not doing whatever you want, whenever you want, with whomever you want.

The Bible says quite a bit about freedom, despite any impressions people have about it being filled with restrictive rules. In reality, if we are willing to consider it, the Bible teaches us how to distinguish between what it means to be free from something and to be free to do or be something. Freedom from and freedom to are two sides of the freedom coin.

Suppose ‘John’ has a real problem with gluttony and is consequently terribly overweight.  (NOTE: I am not referring to people with a genuine medical problem and/or who suffer uncomfortable weight gain as a side effect of certain medicines for other issues in their body!)  Let’s just focus on the person who can’t seem to resist the quart of chocolate ice cream or the whole package of chocolate chip cookies just before bed every night, etc.  So ‘John’ goes to a doctor for help.  He’s put on a rigorous diet and over a period of six to twelve months, John drops 100 lbs.  The doctor is pleased, John is pleased, his wife is pleased. Fast forward to three years later, John has gained back all the weight and then some. Why?

Because his heart, his inner person didn’t change.  For a short period he was “Free From” excess weight but he didn’t make the leap to be “Free T0” maintain his achievement. The external symptoms were treated but there was no change to the root cause of his problem.

God’s commandments are designed to lead us into true freedom; to be “Free To” become holy, righteous, kind, compassionate and generous individuals, reflecting in our own lives the character of our Father in Heaven who commands us “Be holy as I am holy.” Lev. 19:2

In Tune with Torah this week = before getting past the first verse of this week’s reading, examine your own attitude toward obedience in general and God’s Word in particular.  Is your focus more on being ‘free from’ or have you made the leap to be ‘free to’ become what He created you to be?

Shabbat Shalom


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Want to know more about the Psalms?  Check out our current study on Psalm 119 at Coffee and Commentary