Parsha Mishpatim: The judgments of civic responsibility and service

This week, we are pleased to present a d’var Torah by Seth Walter, Eagle Scout and Cubmaster of Pack 527 in Wilmington, DE and chairman of the Del-Mar-Va Council Jewish Committee on Scouting.

Dear Scouts:

This week’s parsha introduces many of the Torah’s civil and criminal laws.

Mishpatim (“judgments”) includes such infamous injunctions  as “Suffer not a witch to live” and “An eye for an eye”, along with many obscure guidelines for responsibility and  compensation. It teaches us something about the Torah’s organization and how it relates to Scouting.

Last week’s parasha, Yitro, dealt with the Ten Commandments. Now we leave the awe and emotion of the Shofar blast and thunder on high. Here, the Torah is pointing out a fundamental duality of Jewish life – civic responsibility and service of God.

The Temple in Jerusalem was a model that showed Jews the way to make a temple within themselves. Indeed, the wording for the commandment to make a Tabernacle indicates this: “And they shall make for me a Tabernacle and I will dwell within them”. (Exodus 25:8) The Sages taught this means that the Sanhedrin, the supreme Jewish court of law, had to convene near the Altar. The courts of justice and the Altar were next to each other, indicating their equal importance.  In the same way, we should make justice and our relationship with God equal components of the temples we build within us.   We must have both service to God and civic responsibility to develop our full Jewish potential.

Scouting does this: We have the three Citizenship merit badges, the religious emblems program, and service projects for advancement.  Justice in Hebrew is tzedakah, which is often translated as “charity”. In order to be just, we have to be fair to those in need. Every Scout can perform the mitzvahs of tzedakah (justice/charity) and Tikkun Olam (“repairing the world”) through service projects, from those that can be performed by our youngest Cub Scouts, such as donating canned goods, to those organized by our Eagle candidates, benefiting the larger community.

Shabbat shalom,

Seth