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Torah Commentary
Mishpatim (February 14, 2015)

Benjamin J. Zeidman, Assistant Rabbi


In the case of a slave who wishes to remain within his master’s home, “his master shall take him before God.” Twice, actually, in our parashah we read about a person coming before ha-Elohim.

Medieval Torah commentators struggled with this. What does it mean to come before ha-Elohim, literally THE God or even the gods? Rashi, of 11th century France, suggests that elohim actually means a panel of judges. Rasag, ibn Ezra, Ramban and Rashbam — all the greats — agree with him. Ibn Ezra and Ramban help us to understand that the judges are called elohim because they are responsible for establishing God’s laws on earth.

This is amazing, to call human beings by one of the names of God! On the face of it, this is near-sacrilege. But in the context of a Torah portion all about societal laws, we are reminded always to think deeper. Even this text, seemingly just a law code, contains heavy theological meaning.

While in the midst of considering the realities of humanity — people lie, cheat, steal, take bribes, destroy the lives of others to pursue personal gain, and more — the use of ha-Elohim as a reference for judges reminds us that humanity has potential for holiness.

When we take part in making our world safer and more righteous, when we emphasize the ethical will of the Divine, we are acting from that part within us that is God. Made in the divine image, we can be ha-Elohim; we can be the eyes, ears and hands of God when we work to create a society of justice and peace.

As we look around our world and ask, “Where is God?” let us remember to look inside ourselves and ask the same question. May the answer, when looking within, be much easier to find than the challenge of looking for God without. And may it so inspire us to lead lives of strength and determination knowing that this world, as difficult as it may seem, can be made near-perfect. If only each and every one of us behaves as ha-Elohim.

One day may our world be filled with actions that express the will of the heavens.

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