Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom 4: Mishpatim

mishpatim(Exodus 21-24)

First of all, an apology. I want to make it clear that in last week’s column when I said that the editor was a bare-faced liar I in no way meant he was a bare-faced liar. He’s not. He’s a very wise and judicious young man, the King Solomon of weekly Anglo-Jewish publications, who I’m sure will remember what the sages said: that one good word is worth a thousand poisonous ones. What are a thousand letters of complaints, a handful of libel actions and a threatened boycott by most if not all sections of the Jewish community compared to one letter of approval when that letter comes from no less a figure than Nelson Mandela?

Who’d have thought that a man of his status would say that when he gets a bit down thinking about his days on Robben Island it’s Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom that lifts him back up again. What a letter! And the word “Nelson” is the numerical equivalent of emes, truth, so it must be true, even if I did spell Mandela wrong.

But let’s focus on the parsha. After all that’s why I’m here (see! I can listen to feedback!). This week’s sets out in detail the laws the children of Israel are to follow. And it’s interesting that this intricate legalistic section comes straight after the ultimate holiness of Moses’s face-to-face encounter on Mount Sinai, as if to say that laws are needed to instigate holiness.

Imagine a man without protection from the law. Maybe he alienated his lawyer through no fault of his own by naming and shaming him in a sermon about driving to shul on shabbes. How was he to know this lawyer had not just one disabled child in a wheelchair but two? Or that he wouldn’t be amused by his joke that to have one child in a wheelchair is unfortunate, to have two is, quite frankly, downright suspicious.

Abandoned by his lawyer (the law), this man goes round to what is technically still his house to try and eTORAH PORTION: MISHPATIM (Exodus 21-24) First of all, an apology. I want to make it clear that in last week’s column when I said that the editor was a bare-faced liar I in no way meant he was a bare-faced liar. He’s not. He’s a very wise and judicious young man, the King Solomon of weekly Anglo-Jewish publications, who I’m sure will remember what the sages said: that one good word is worth a thousand poisonous ones. What are a thousand letters of complaints, a handful of libel actions and a threatened boycott by most if not all sections of the Jewish community compared to one letter of approval when that letter comes from no less a figure than Nelson Mandela? Who’d have thought that a man of his status would say that when he gets a bit down thinking about his days on Robben Island it’s Rabbi David Schneider’s Weekly Words of Wisdom that lifts him back up again. What a letter! And the word “Nelson” is the numerical equivalent of emes, truth, so it must be true, even if I did spell Mandela wrong.

But let’s focus on the parsha. After all that’s why I’m here (see! I can listen to feedback!). This week’s sets out in detail the laws the children of Israel are to follow. And it’s interesting that this intricate legalistic section comes straight after the ultimate holiness of Moses’s face-to-face encounter on Mount Sinai, as if to say that laws are needed to instigate holiness.

Imagine a man without protection from the law. Maybe he alienated his lawyer through no fault of his own by naming and shaming him in a sermon about driving to shul on shabbes. How was he to know this lawyer had not just one disabled child in a wheelchair but two? Or that he wouldn’t be amused by his joke that to have one child in a wheelchair is unfortunate, to have two is, quite frankly, downright suspicious.

Abandoned by his lawyer (the law), this man goes round to what is technically still his house to try and effect a reconciliation with his wife who, he’s been told, is regretting the unusual lifestyle choice for a Rabbi’s wife of taking a tattooed female builder as a lover. Imagine his surprise on getting to the house and seeing that, far from regretting this choice, her lover the builder who’s a woman has actually moved in, along with her two young children, Space and Apache (heaven knows what their Hebrew names might be). It’s easy under these conditions to understand how that man could get into an argument with his wife about ownership of the house.

It’s easy to understand how this could soon degenerate into name-calling, the D-word (divorce, not dreidel or Deuteronomy) and a lot of mud-slinging about conjugal rites which thanks to a pump and a series of injections were actually respected actually. And it’s easy to see how from there things slide inevitably into him sitting opposite his wife arm-wrestling her for the rights to the house. What’s harder to understand is how a woman who basically has the physique of a lokshn can be so incredibly strong? Just as it’s hard to understand why she’d refuse to do best-of-three which is obviously fair. Of course he invoked the Talmudic concept of bli neder, where vows we make in the heat of the moment can be instantly annulled, but her lover the builder who’s a woman came back at him with the Talmudic concept of I’ll break your arm off, ram it down your throat and use it to play Three Blind Mice on your internal organs, which she clearly feels trump the arguments of Rabbi Joseph Caro and Maimonides. Still, if she’d bothered to read this week’s parsha she’d know that he who obeys the Divine Law (i.e. me) is promised victory. Yes, she may be good at propping up load-bearing walls and repointing brickwork but when it comes to Biblical interpretation, you’re out of her depth, my girl! It’s only a matter of time before, lehavdil, forgive the image, Rabbi David brings home the bacon. (Please don’t take away my column) ffect a reconciliation with his wife who, he’s been told, is regretting the unusual lifestyle choice for a Rabbi’s wife of taking a tattooed female builder as a lover. Imagine his surprise on getting to the house and seeing that, far from regretting this choice, her lover the builder who’s a woman has actually moved in, along with her two young children, Space and Apache (heaven knows what their Hebrew names might be). It’s easy under these conditions to understand how that man could get into an argument with his wife about ownership of the house. It’s easy to understand how this could soon degenerate into name-calling, the D-word (divorce, not dreidel or Deuteronomy) and a lot of mud-slinging about conjugal rites which thanks to a pump and a series of injections were actually respected actually. And it’s easy to see how from there things slide inevitably into him sitting opposite his wife arm-wrestling her for the rights to the house. What’s harder to understand is how a woman who basically has the physique of a lokshn can be so incredibly strong? Just as it’s hard to understand why she’d refuse to do best-of-three which is obviously fair.

Of course he invoked the Talmudic concept of bli neder, where vows we make in the heat of the moment can be instantly annulled, but her lover the builder who’s a woman came back at him with the Talmudic concept of I’ll break your arm off, ram it down your throat and use it to play Three Blind Mice on your internal organs, which she clearly feels trump the arguments of Rabbi Joseph Caro and Maimonides. Still, if she’d bothered to read this week’s parsha she’d know that he who obeys the Divine Law (i.e. me) is promised victory. Yes, she may be good at propping up load-bearing walls and repointing brickwork but when it comes to Biblical interpretation, you’re out of her depth, my girl! It’s only a matter of time before, lehavdil, forgive the image, Rabbi David brings home the bacon.

(Please don’t take away my column)

This article first appeared in The Jewish Chronicle

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