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Parashat Mishpatim - 5774

My friends,

Last week we read about that great event - "the Revelation at Sinai". This week's Parasha begins with the words "V'eileh Hamishpatim" - "These are the laws". Rashi explains that the "V'" (and) indicates that, just like the Ten Commandments were given on Mount Sinai, so were all the laws discussing the details of those principal laws.

This Parasha contains 54 different laws. That is a huge number to be included just in one Parasha!! I would like to concentrate on those laws that teach us how to deal with the most vulnerable individuals of a society - the stranger, the orphan and the widow.

"Do not wrong a stranger, neither shall you oppress him, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict a widow or an orphan. If you afflict them in any way, I will surely hear their cry. I will be angry, and I will kill you with the sword, and your wives shall be widows and your children orphans." - Exodus, Chapter 22, v. 20-23

It would seem that the Children of Israel, who have suffered hundreds of years of oppression and slavery, should know better than to oppress the vulnerable among them, and therefore are commanded to treat them with compassion and kindness. Our sages tell us that there are 36 - and some even say 46 - references in the Torah, urging us to be kind to strangers and not take advantage of them because of their status.

This situation has been in the news recently, regarding Israel's treatment of illegal immigrants, refugees or undocumented individuals - mostly Africans - who have flooded Israel, entering illegally through the Sinai and the Negev. It was easy when the numbers were small, but now as more people flee Eritrea and Sudan, there are hundreds of thousands in Israel, seeking work and refuge. Israel had erected a fence in the Negev, and made it a crime to enter illegally.

Some critics expect Israel, given the history of our people as refugees in many lands, to open its doors and welcome these refugees. Others are concerned that, if the trend continues, Israel will lose its Jewish identity and, thus, the only Jewish State.

It is a very difficult situation and both sides have legitimate concerns. Do you have a solution?

Shabbat Shalom,