Parshat Mishpatim (Laws)

The Torah portion is Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1-24:18. In synagogues using the Triennial system, 5783 is year 1 and the Torah reading is Exodus 21:1-22:3.

Mishpatim means ordinances or rules, and this week's parshah begins to lay out the detailed rules that flow from the Ten "Commandments" that were laid out at the end of last week's reading. Many of these rules seem cruel to modern eyes, but they are far ahead of the Code of Hammurabi that they are often compared to, and many of them are the basis for modern civil law. Most famous is "an eye for an eye" (Ex. 21:24), which is often trivialized by saying "an eye for an eye leaves everyone blind," but the rabbis always understood that this did not mean taking out another person's eye, but only compensation of the value of the eye, rather than the up to 30-fold retribution that the Code of Hammurabi required when the victim outranked the perpetrator.

There is a special maftir portion (the final piece of the Torah reading) for Shabbat Sheqalim: Exodus 30:11-16. This passage tells about the collection of a half-sheqel tax used to count a census and maintain the Tent of Meeting.

The haftarah is for Shabbat Sheqalim, II Kings 12:1-17. This passage speaks of using money from the people (like the money from the census) to repair the Temple.

In synagogues using the Sephardic tradition, the Haftarah is II Kings 11:17-12:17.