Parshat Mishpatim: ‘You shall be holy people to Me’

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Rabbi Ilan Glazer
Rabbi Ilan Glazer (Courtesy of Glazer)

By Rabbi Ilan Glazer

After the Ten Commandments, we might think God and our ancestors would bask in the glow of their new connection. Alas, like our ancestors, moments of holiness pass quickly, and we too must grapple with how to find meaning each day. It’s not enough to have a peak experience. How do we bring it into our everyday life? How can we find moments of bliss in the to-do list of our lives?


Mishpatim contains many instructions for how we are to live. A few stand out to me:

If you injure someone, you must pay compensation for their injuries, medical bills and sick time (21:18-19). If your ox gores another living being, and your ox had gored before, you are responsible for the damage they inflict (21:28-29). If you dig a pit, you are responsible for what happens if something falls in (21: 33-34). Charging interest when you are lending money isn’t kosher (22:24). If you see your enemy’s donkey struggling to get up, you must help the donkey, even if you don’t want to (23:5). You may not bring death upon those who are innocent (23:7).


When I read these, I wonder:

How often do we injure someone else’s pride?

When do our own impulses, behaviors and addictions harm others?

Sometimes we dig holes in the fabric of our lives. Others may be injured. (On the flip side, sometimes only by jumping into the pit with others can we find a way out).

If someone asks us a favor, do we give willingly, and will they “owe” us for it?

When and why do we ignore the pain and suffering of others? Why do we justify allowing suffering and pain just because someone is connected to the other side?

When do our actions give life, and when do they cause harm and injury?

If we want to be holy, it is our actions that will guide the way. What we do in the world matters. Our actions can lift people out of the deepest despair and uplift them into their greatest potential. It’s hard sometimes to think that our actions matter to the world. It’s one thing to understand that we can cause injury to others. It’s quite another to think that we can positively change their lives (and our own).

Rabbi Abraham Twerski, of blessed memory, wrote: “If we took the effort to realize, what we really are, the strength and the capacity that we have, the wonderful traits that we have, and develop them to the fullest, then we will be happy.”

“You shall be holy to Me.” God wants us to live lives of purpose, of meaning, to know that who we are and what we do matters. Will we accept the mission of holy living?

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Ilan Glazer is a freelance life and recovery coach and the founder of Our Jewish Recovery, a new movement dedicated to supporting everyone impacted by the disease of addiction in the Jewish community.

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