Shemot Twenty-Two: Interactions Between Men

The rules continue. We learn about punishments for thieves, for the destruction of fields by animals or fire, and what happens if something happens to a man’s property that he has lent to another man. Clearly, the Torah is interested in regulating human interactions that might be viewed as mundane. However, because they’re important enough to be mentioned here, I see it as indicative that there’s something divine in these interactions between men. Does it have to do with honor? Community building? Mutual respect? Regardless of the reason, I love the idea of seemingly innocuous relationships having divine potential within them. This teaches that there’s holiness in everything, if we treat it as such.

“And if a man entices a virgin that is not betrothed, and lies with her, he shall surely pay a dowry for her to be his wife. If her father utterly refuses to give her to him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins (Exodus 22:15-16).” Here, we have an ancient Near Eastern version of women’s rights. While it doesn’t exactly punish the offender, this does show that a man can’t do whatever he wants to a woman with no retribution. There is some responsibility that must be taken in order to ensure the woman’s protection.

“You shall not suffer a sorceress to live. Whoever lies with a beast shall surely be put to death. He that sacrifices to the gods, save to the Lord only, shall be utterly destroyed. And a stranger you shall not wrong, neither shall you oppress him; for your  were strangers in the land of Egypt. You shall not afflict any widow, or fatherlesss child. If you afflict them in any way, for if they cry at all to Me, I will surely hear their cry, My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless (Exodus 22:17-23).”

In these verses, we have some of the most famous and enduring admonitions in the Torah. These are the foundations of the way that the Jewish people treat the fringe members of society. We care for those who on the surface do not contribute to society, because we remember what it was like to be the oppressed minority. These values extend to today, demonstrating the enduring collective memory of our slavery in Egypt.

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