Thursday, February 19, 2009

Parashat Mishpatim:Every Jew a King

Last week I attended a fabulous lecture at Machon Pardes (where I work) by Rabbi Dr. Joshua Berman. He has published an interesting book (link) and one of the points that he made is a perfect chiddush for this week's parsha.

He spoke about Vassal Treaties (more here). what is a Vassal Treaty? It is quite simple. Nowadays, international agreements are genrally contracted assuming that each Nation-State or party has autonomous equal standing. In the ancient world, that was not the case. Most agreements were contracts between stronger and weaker States. A king or nation who were in distress (war, famine and the like) would appeal for assistance to a more powerful king. They would then make an agreement which involves recognision of the supremacy of the "protector" king.

Now, as Joshua Berman pointed out (and I am not interested in elaborating here) many features of the Covenant at Har Sinai mirror these ancient treaties. It is like God was using the cultural language of the times in order to make His treaty with Bnei Yisrael. Of course God is the supreme King and we are the lower "protected" nation, but the good news is that we have a contracted association with God.

So now, let me add a second detail. These contracts or treaties are between kings. They are never between the citizens of different states.

Joshua Berman then moved on to one of the details or features of these Vassal Treaties. They frequently contain a clause obligating the lower King to visit or "see the face" of the protector king on an annual basis. Here is an example:

“Sunashshura (the vassal king here) must come before his Majesty and look upon the face of His Majesty."

Now this very interestingly reflects a passuk in Parashat Mishpatim. In respect to the law of Aliyah LaRegel, the Torah says:

"...three times a year, all of your males shall be seen by the face of the Lord" (Shemot/Exodus 23:17)

Now, we must realise the deepest and most phenomenal observation. What God is telling us here, is that he wants each of us to see His face. In other words, EVERY JEW IS A KING! Every Jew has a contract with God. Every Jew must appear before God 3 times a year to express the treaty, the relationship, the fact that God protects us (and we need protection and support) and we, in turn, serve Him.

Hence, Aliya LaRegel takes on a new meaning. It is a deep expression of the fact that every Jew matters. We don't have a king, priest or prophet who mediate our relationship with Hashem. Each one of us has a direct link, a personal contract and audience with God.

Shabbat Shalom!