RABBI SCHOENBERG'S EREV SHABBAT MESSAGE PARASHAT MISHPATIM
Mishpatim Caring for Vulnerable
This week, we read the laws included in the Torah reading Mishpatim. An outsider, guessing what laws might be important to serve G, might guess at some of the laws included in this portion, about making proper offerings and sacrifices. The stranger might guess that the laws emphasize worship. Instead, our portion emphasizes laws that create a just and righteous society for all its citizens. There are some laws about sacrifices, but more about making sure that the structures of the community ensure that people all treated fairly.
Our Torah Exodus 22:21 pays particular attention to the most vulnerable, the orphan and widow, כָּל־אַלְמָנָ֥ה וְיָת֖וֹם לֹ֥א תְעַנּֽוּן׃ " Do not oppress any widow or orphan."
In this time of COVID, so many of us are vulnerable. We are all missing casual interactions with other human beings. We miss large family gatherings. Weddings, baby namings, bnai mitzvah parties even Superbowl get togethers are all disrupted. Funerals conducted only for immediate family, with unsatisfying Zoom shivas replacing sharing a hug and a quick memory. It is a time when human connections are even more important, and we can help the vulnerable with a simple phone call or email. How can we connect with those stuck inside? Can we reach out to others in our congregation, in our community, who are vulnerable? This week's Torah reading teaches us: when we make that phone call, we do a mitzvah.
Rabbi Jacob Berlin was a successful merchant. He lived in a grand house, with expensive furniture and exquisite antiques that he bought in his business travels abroad. One day, his cleaning woman was not paying attention while she was dusting the glass objects, and she broke an expensive porcelain piece of art. The mistress of the house came roaring up filled with anger, cursing her out.
"You may not yell at her," Rabbi Jacob said to her, "She is an important as you are."
"But, but.." sputtered his wife, "She has caused great damage, a great loss."
"You are permitted to demand compensation for the damage from her, but, you are not permitted to raise your voice against her"
"Well, well, well," she began to yell again, "In that case, I'll just go with her this minute to the Rabbinical judge. She put on her scarf and commanded the cleaning woman to come with her.
Rabbi Jacob got up, put on his hat, and stood ready to go with them.
"You can stay here," his wife said, "I don't need you to stand with me before the rabbi. I can make my complaint myself."
"I'm not coming to make the complaint with you," he answered. "I know that, thank G, I can count on you, that you don't need anyone to help you lodge a complaint. No, I am coming to be a support to our young cleaning woman, since she is troubled, a poor orphan, and will be afraid before the rabbi. She won't know what to say or how to answer."
Rabbi Jacob recognized the vulnerable person in this situation, and lent his support. At this time of COVID, may we all be sources of support for each other.