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Some Unsolicited Advice Before You Hit "Post"

02/08/2024 10:37:31 AM


Rabbi Scott Hausman-Weiss

This week’s Torah portion, “Mishpatim,” with its myriad of laws to govern mostly civic and familial dynamics, is often understood as an expansion of the iconic “Ten Commandments,” presented to the Israelites in last week’s parsha, “Yitro.”  That “The Ten” establish a framework, but that life is often not lived in the absolutes, but much more so within the grays.  We are commanded regarding the treatment of slaves (yes, a complicated issue for a people just freed from slavery!), risk management, damages and restitution, and even some animal ownership and husbandry.  Of course, to manage these inevitable but confounding moments of life within a societal framework that values holiness as a clarion but often opaque goal, the Torah recognizes that we need judges to help us in our discernment (for how to act).  And yet, even with this hoped for judicial structure, we will indeed find ourselves, at times, on the short end of the stick, believing something to be unjust and perhaps even inequitable.  And this may lead us to resentments, recriminations, or just a lack of refinement in our behavior.  

Perhaps this is why the Torah, in this parsha, also adjures us with these words:

אלהים לא תקלל ונשיא בעמך לא תאר. (22:27)

Elohim lo tekallel v’nasi b’amcha lo ta-or

“Do not curse the Judge, and do not curse the King of your people.”

If you read the above closely, you may have noticed that the first word in the verse, Elohim, is translated as “Judge,” but as you are probably aware, Elohim is generally translated as one of the names of God.  Yet, it is used here and in quite a few other verses in the Torah to mean “judge.”  But there is another Hebrew word for judge, that is used more often, and that is “Shofet.”  So the fact that the Torah is using a different and quite illustrious word here to warn us against cursing judges and kings is something we should pay closer attention to. 

Why are we being warned against cursing those in our lives who hold power over us?  First, because it isn’t unlikely that they will make a decision we don’t like.  Second, because they will often never live up to the expectations of power that we often project onto them. And third, because of what Hillel taught us, “What is hateful to you, do not do to another.  All the rest is commentary, go and learn it.”  Most of us at different points in our lives will find ourselves in charge of or responsible for others.  Even if its just a matter of choosing a restaurant for someone’s birthday that turns out to be terrible, if we aren’t careful, its so easy to spin a tale about their bad taste, or their selfishness because their brother owns the joint, or that they sat us far away at the end, or, or, or… and before you know it, we have cursed them, as we have created all sorts of fictions that undermine their humanness.  

So we can challenge and disagree, we can organize a protest. We can transparently communicate our concerns, when a leader has made bad decisions.  But the Torah reminds us that we really should try to stay away from cursing, because indeed it obscures the Tzelem Elohim, divine image, in which they, and we are made.  

Just a quick note to be mindful before you hit “Post.”


Mon, February 26 2024 17 Adar I 5784