Law and the Road to the Jubilee (speech)

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This one is a bit technical, but well received. So I figured I’d share it here.

In Parshat Yitro (Torah reading of Jethro), the people were told to be ready to ascend the mountain Bimshoch HaYovel.  They were to ascend the mountain when they experienced the transformative entry into the Yovel (Jubilee).

But then the people shook in terror – not fear, but terror. And they were denied the opportunity to ascend the mountain. They were denied the lossless world that is the Yovel. Our terror stood in the way of our ascent. It undermined our trust in Hashem (G-d).

These laws, the laws of Parshat Mishpatim (the Torah reading of Mishpatim), are meant as an antidote to our terror. They are meant to pave the way to a better reality.

The laws start by placing limits on our loss of will. Even when we are slaves, we still have rights.

Notably, when we give up those rights, an awl is driven through our ear. Our connection to Hashem is through our hearing. When we sacrifice our will, we sacrifice that connection.

The laws continue. They place limits on the taking of life. On the damaging of limbs. And on the destruction of property.

With every step the laws move us further from a world of fundamental loss.

Next, we protect the future and our capability to create it. Then we protect our relationship with Hashem, erasing those who sacrifice to other gods.

All these laws limit destruction – of man, of property and of spiritual potential. And all these laws are enforced by man. It is our obligation to protect ourselves. And they form the basis of our relationship to Hashem.

But then there is a shift. We are commanded not to take advantage of the widow and orphan and the poor. We are commanded to respect judges. We are commanded to give our first crops and first born to Hashem; honoring our debt to Him. We are commanded to protect justice, look out for the needs of others and enable all – even animals – to experience the reinvigoration of the Shabbat.

Where the first set of laws was about fighting destruction, these laws are about building up justice and fairness in our society. These laws are not enforced by us. Enforcement can protect us. But only freedom can lift us up.

The laws go on. They urge us to invest in our relationship with the divine. We acknowledge only Him and we celebrate holidays thanking Him for his gifts.

Finally, we protect our relationship with Him. We do not taint the purity of it. The future-giving potential of milk is kept separate from the present loss inherent in meat.

With every step we rise. We protect our society, we build up our values, we invest and then protect our relationship with Hashem. We limit the worst and then we encourage the best. We rise.

And Hashem gives us these laws. They are a lesson to us. A lesson that He wants to lift us up. A lesson that we need not be filled with terror when we stand before Him.

In this parsha, Hashem promises us a world without loss, without hunger and without sickness. He promises us a world in which every woman is granted children. And He promises us we will be given the land without struggle.

Hashem promises us the Yovel that we did not receive at Har Sinai.

At the end of the parsha, the Jewish people listen to the Sefer Habrit (the book of the covenant). And then they sign it with “Naase v’Nishma.” This time our elders do ascend the mountain. And there they see Hashem.

וַיִּרְאוּ, אֵת אֱלֹקי יִשְׂרָאֵל; וְתַחַת רַגְלָיו, כְּמַעֲשֵׂה לִבְנַת הַסַּפִּיר, וּכְעֶצֶם הַשָּׁמַיִם, לָטֹהַר.

They saw the G-d of Israel and under his feet it was like a sapphire brick like the core of heaven in purity.

The work for brick is from boneh. The word for sapphire is from sepher. The G-d of Israel stands on a throne built on a book – a book that is like the heavens in its purity. It is a book without loss or destruction. It is the book of his Laws.

With Hashem before them, the elders eat. They eat and they do not tremble.

They have learned to combine love and fear with trust. They are ready for the Mishkan. And they are ready for the Yovel.

And yet, even today, the Yovel remains beyond us. There is sickness and hunger. There are barren women. And we still must struggle for our land.


If we read the Torah portion again we can see something odd. There are many laws, but there are no enforcers. There are judges, but there is no Mishtara (Police) in Mishpatim.

Perhaps we are meant to be the enforcers.

We live in a world that disdains so many of our laws; just look at how people park. But that is not how it is meant to be. The law is meant to protect us. It is meant to lift us up. And it is meant to be a part of us.

That is the challenge for us… to make this a reality.

Only when the law does these things will we be able to combine our love, our fear and our trust in Hashem.

Only then will we finally ascend the mountain and experience the joy of the Yovel.


Photo by Matt Howard on Unsplash

Joseph Cox Author

Joseph Cox is the author of City on the Heights (, a thriller about creating hope from war.

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