After the Bnei Yisrael are finally out of Egypt, they find out that life is not going to be easy. There are laws to follow, and rules to live by.
א וְאֵלֶּה, הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים, לִפְנֵיהֶם.
|1 Now these are the ordinances which thou shalt set before them|
Did you think this is it? You left Egypt and now can play?
I took you out to be My people.
These are My Laws. You better follow My word!
As little kids, they listen in awe to the statues laid out before them. Having lived in Egypt, a strong and magnificent, but cruel civilization, they have to learn how to be compassionate, kind, and behave better than surrounding peoples.
ז וְכִי-יִמְכֹּר אִישׁ אֶת-בִּתּוֹ, לְאָמָה–לֹא תֵצֵא, כְּצֵאת הָעֲבָדִים.
|7 And if a man sell his daughter to be a maid-servant, she shall not go out as the men-servants do.|
|8 If she please not her master, who hath espoused her to himself, then shall he let her be redeemed; to sell her unto a foreign people he shall have no power, seeing he hath dealt deceitfully with her.|
|9 And if he espouse her unto his son, he shall deal with her after the manner of daughters.|
|10 If he take him another wife, her food, her raiment, and her conjugal rights, shall he not diminish.|
|11 And if he do not these three unto her, then shall she go out for nothing, without money.|
We can talk about the harshness of previous verses all day, but the fact is that no nation dealt with a female slave the Jews were now commanded to do. Slavery is bad, there is no news in that. However, at the time it existed all over the world. And the Jewish Law was adamant to protect the victim from abuse.
I remember taking a class at Gratz College with a great professor Joseph Davis. I did some work on the discoveries from Elephantine Island, where a Jewish Temple existed at a time of the Temple in Jerusalem (!). Among the documents from the genizah, there was a ketubah clearly stating that either party had the right to ask for the divorce, and what money the wife would take with her in case she initiated the separation. “Although the Elephantine woman may not have had the right to witness documents, the many documents in which she appears are ample witness of the extensive rights she enjoyed five hundred years before the common era.” This is around 500 BCE!
טו וּמַכֵּה אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ, מוֹת יוּמָת.
|15 And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.|
This one is very clear to me. It goes hand in hand with commandment number 5: “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee” (Exodus 20:11). What kind of honor can we talk about if a person can strike the one that gave birth to him?
טו וְכִי-יְפַתֶּה אִישׁ, בְּתוּלָה אֲשֶׁר לֹא-אֹרָשָׂה–וְשָׁכַב עִמָּהּ: מָהֹר יִמְהָרֶנָּה לּוֹ, לְאִשָּׁה.
|15 And if a man entice a virgin that is not betrothed, and lie with her, he shall surely pay a dowry for her to be his wife.|
|16 If her father utterly refuse to give her unto him, he shall pay money according to the dowry of virgins.|
You grabbed my daughter? You wanted her?
I hope you want her now and every day.
Marry her now, make her happy, too!
כא כָּל-אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם, לֹא תְעַנּוּן.
|21 Ye shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.|
|22 If thou afflict them in any wise–for if they cry at all unto Me, I will surely hear their cry–|
|23 My wrath shall wax hot, and I will kill you with the sword; and your wives shall be widows, and your children fatherless.|
This one still rings very painfully for me. Many times I have quoted this pasuk to my Rabbi asking “how come this is not observed?” Many times I heard something like – I wish all laws were strictly observed today. I grew pretty strong during my long years of widowhood, but I wish no woman in that position ever has to ask this question again. Let us all remember the most vulnerable among us.