This week's Torah portion is Mishpatim, and it will take a mishpat team to unlock both the letter and the transformative love in a very statute-esque parasha. Two excellent Torah teachers have collaborated with us to analyze several facets of Mishpatim, which is written as codes of law. Because those codes were written in a historical period so far removed from our own, we'll try to acknowledge its context as well as its transformative power.
You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered. (1 Pe 3:7)
At first glance, Peter's marriage advice is both insulting and inspiring to women. Peter tells believers that if a husband is not holding his wife in honor, then his prayers are not effective; they are "detained," according to the Greek definition. In the Biblical pattern, one's relationship with Adonai is directly reflected by one's relationships on earth. The wording, however, is odd. Why command husbands to respect someone who is "weak"? Nobody respects that which is weak; most cultures respect and honor that which is strong!
Peter's text does not indicate that the weakness is
spiritual, for the husband depends upon her spiritual partnership to help his prayers reach Heaven in a timely manner. Peter is likely alluding to the weaker
physical status of the woman, for her body is designed to nurture children for a set time of her life.
Because we live in a fallen world, women fell in the perception of pagan cultures because they were weaker physically. A fallen world emphasizes physical beauty and strength over spiritual beauty and strength. Economics, which is transacted in acquired money, goods, and
control over money and goods, trumps loving human relationships outside the Garden.
Women fell to the level of goods and services, an economic transaction. They were transferred from the ownership of one male to another, and both cultural and economic systems were set in place to ensure that she had no other options than to be traded, sold, or protected by a male. To live outside of that system wasn't safe. The Torah's economic and cultural system is designed to break down the wickedness of this ancient Babylonian trafficking in "human souls":
...cinnamon, spice, incense, myrrh, frankincense, wine, oil, fine flour, wheat, cattle and sheep, horses and chariots, and
slaves, that is, human souls. (Re 18:13)
The Babylonian merchants of the earth mourn when that commercial system is destroyed and human beings are no longer considered commodities to be traded and acquired. Peter points out that the Torah's legal system runs counter to the world's economic and legal system. The Torah, properly applied, is designed to break down the enslavement of women and other human souls and to eventually dissolve both the practice and the twisted thinking.
Peter's mention of "co-heirs" is the authentic relationship of husbands and wives, and no one should consider smaller biceps a spiritual weakness. In the Kingdom, spiritual strength is to be desired over physical strength. The fallen world always gets it backward. This honor that is due to the spiritually equal "co-heir," yet physically weaker wife, is the Strong's Greek #5099:
tee-may'; from G5099; a value, i.e. money paid, or (concretely and collectively) valuables; by analogy, esteem (especially of the highest degree), or the dignity itself:-honour, precious, price, some
Uh oh! A wife's value is determined by money? Isn't that Babylonian? Stay tuned for some historical context from author Tyler Dawn Rosenquist:
Context for Adults: Sexuality, Social Identity and Kinship Relations in the Bible
by Tyler Dawn Rosenquist
LESSON #32 - Selling Your Daughter as a Slave?
"When a man sells his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out as the male slaves do. If she does not please her master, who has designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He shall have no right to sell her to a foreign people since he has broken faith with her. If he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her as with a daughter. If he takes another wife to himself, he shall not diminish her food, her clothing, or her marital rights. And if he does not do these three things for her, she shall go out for nothing, without payment of money."
At first glance, this is a horrifying passage, but the situation is not exactly how it appears. The word translated here as "slave" is not the clear cut "eved" but instead "amah." Amah is a rather generic word that can mean all sorts of things - servant, concubine, maiden, etc. and so we have to look at the overall context. It is important to note that no Israelite, male or female, could be sold into permanent slavery, but only into debt slavery for six years. I submit that this is not a true case of slavery, but instead the "selling" of an impoverished girl for the purposes of getting her married in such a way that benefits all parties involved. Stay with me here - it isn't as terrible as it sounds.
Marriage was a contract in those days - the father of the bride was paid a bride price and he, in turn, provided the girl with a dowry for her protection should she become divorced or widowed. Fathers could not always afford a dowry, however, and if they were in severe financial straits, they might agree to "sell" their young daughter to another family, as a legal daughter, for perhaps half of the typical bride price. This gave him the money to pay off debts, perhaps keeping the entire family from being sold into debt slavery, or from starvation, and gave her new family one of two options:
(1) The new family could obtain a less expensive marriage, later on, for their son (or the father if he was a widower), without having to pay the full bride price (because she was now legally family), OR
(2) The new family could arrange another marriage for her as though she was their biological daughter while charging the full bride price from her prospective husband's family, thus turning a profit, OR
(3) The woman would become a concubine if an existing marriage wasn't producing children. This was an honorable function in a family in ancient times - Bilhah and Zilpah are still mentioned positively, after all, and their offspring became four of the tribes of Israel.
So, she was "sold," but not with the intent of her becoming a literal slave - it was for the purpose of getting her married off honorably or placing her in the home as a concubine. You might think of it as comparable to a wealthy family having a ward, an orphan whom they took responsibility for. She would still have a different status than Hagar, who was a literal slave. A poor unmarried girl was in danger of oppression in ancient times, and it was incumbent upon the father to see her provided for and in a secure situation before his death. A poor unmarried girl who was orphaned was likely to end up in prostitution.
Now you see the reason why, in verse 7, she "shall not go out the way that male slaves do." It isn't the same situation at all. If she displeased her new master "who has designated her to himself," then he had to allow her father or a close relative to purchase her back. He couldn't sell her away to foreigners as a slave or a wife because he had backed out on their engagement or arrangement and so had dishonored her. In verse 9, we see that if he had engaged her to his son, he must continue to treat her as though she was his own daughter. If another woman was taken later (which in those days was done in the case of
), he still had all the legal obligations that he would owe to any wife. The husband still must feed her, protect her, clothe and house her and he must continue to try to give her children - those were the absolute rights of a wife in that culture.
If he failed to provide her with what she deserved, then she was free to return to her father's house, and her "master" was out a lot of money. This makes her different than Zilpah and Bilhah, who were actual servants, not Israelites under covenant, and could be given to whomever Laban desired. This also sets her apart from Hagar, who, according to the laws of the nations before the Sinai Covenant, could be sent away along with her son. The Law sets down very definite standards for how believers should treat each other, no matter their financial circumstances.
The purpose of this law is specific - when a girl was sold and bought in this way, she had to be protected under the law. She couldn't simply be sent away at the end of six years like a man because there was sex involved. In God's Kingdom, a man still has an obligation to a woman with whom he has had sexual relations - she cannot simply be sent away and shamed.
Family in an Ancient Near Eastern Context
by Mariela Perez-Rosas and Hollisa
In a recent Torah study, I mentioned an anomaly in Numbers 11:15. Moses addresses YHVH with a feminine pronoun for "you",
at, instead of the masculine
atah because the people's whining burdened him like a nursing mother. The pronoun itself is confusing to beginning Hebrew students, for the typical feminine ending,
heh, is affixed to the masculine form
atah, whereas the shorter form
at is the feminine.
Torah teacher Mariela Perez-Rosas, who translates teaches Creation Gospel to Spanish students and translates BEKY Books into Spanish writes:
I was studying and researching the commentaries on the passage in Numbers 11:15, and find out that there is also another episode were Adonai himself speak in the feminine, Devarim 5:27 in the Hebrew Bible:
וְאַתָּה, פֹּה עֲמֹד עִמָּדִי,
I have been studying the Scriptures with the Ancient Middle East mindset and find out that the feminine imagery for God may reflect the rhetoric of kingship in the ancient Near East, in which kings are compared to mothers:
There are a number of ancient Near Eastern royal inscriptions that state that a given king was like a mother. The earliest example of this known to me is a Sumerian inscription of Lugal-zage-si, dated to the 24th century BC. The list of royal epithets in this inscription includes the following: 'the king of Umma..., born for the office of shepherd, the hero, the counseling mother of Enki, the beloved friend of Sataran.'
Although the translation "the counseling mother" has been disputed, it fits both the Sumerian original and the other examples of king-as-mother in the ancient Near East:
'I am Azitawadda, the blessed of Baal l, the servant of Baal l, whom Awariku made powerful, king of the Danunites. Baal made me a father and a mother to the Danunites.' The second inscription is written in Samalian, a dialect of Old Aramaic, and is an autobiographical account of Kilamuwa of Sam'al, also dated to the ninth century BC. In the middle of the inscription we find the words: 'to some I was a father. To some I was a mother. To some I was a brother.' A few lines later he writes of his subjects as follows: 'They were disposed (toward me) as an orphan is to his mother.'
For me this was an eye opening, now I can understand one of the Names for Elohim, El Shaddai is not the Almighty, but the Supreme King, which is like a nursing mother to his children bringing them to his breast, giving sustenance and security." (https://www.ibr-bbr.org/files/bbr/BBR_1998_13_Wolters_CrossGender.pdf)
Marriage and Slavery
Mrs. Perez-Rosas' example is an excellent demonstration of the hermeneutical principle on which scholars agree: no verse of Scripture can yield a complete picture without taking into account its historical context (history, geography, culture, religion, politics, etc.). Ms. Rosenquist points out this vital component even in the title of her book,
Context for Adults..., and that vital principle is:
CONTEXT is everything!
Context gives understanding to an anomaly in the text. Rather than blame the strange occurrences of feminine pronoun and verb on scribal error, the "mistake" helps the reader to see two things: Adonai wrote to His people in the cultural reality of their day, and He may be emphasizing a Spiritual principle that we'd only notice with the textual irregularity. A Spiritual principle properly applied will bring Spiritual transformation to the heart. A wise teacher will present the principle, but then she will ask, "How does this insight transform you? How does it make you a better disciple of Yeshua? Does it make you more merciful, compassionate, pure, or gentle?" These are the traits of Wisdom from above as recorded in the letter of James.
In this example of applying Ancient Near Eastern context, a student would consider the relationship of Adonai to His People Israel. We could see in human beings the image of Elohim in the best traits and relationships of a father, mother, brother, sister, child, or orphan. We can appreciate those family roles just as the husband is reminded to honor his wife in her vital role. In that case, the transformation of relationships is what can result in studying the ANE sources.
Let's look at an example of how an Ancient Near Eastern cultural understanding might contrast with a text within the Torah. Just as the Holy One can tap into a contemporary understanding to transform the heart, He can use it for contrast between His covenant life with His People Israel and those earth-bound cultures that impose a different cultural expectation.
Take, for example, this week's Torah portion Mishpatim. The portion begins with details of slavery! Yikes! How un-politically, un-socially, and un-ethically correct is that? If those verses are to be spiritually transformative, then deep study is in order. Years of close textual and Hebrew study yield an understanding of the differences between Hebrew and foreign slaves, terms of service (and the prescribed termination of that service), the social and economic differences in the labor pool at the time the verses were written, marriage agreements, and you guessed it...how the Torah's practices compare or contrast with ANE customs and covenants.
Mishpatim is not for the faint-of-social-welfare-heart, and it is with relief that modern readers find the key that unlocks the heart of Adonai toward slavery:
"You shall not give back to his master the slave who has escaped from his master to you" (Dt 23:15). The Torah acknowledges and regulates the practice, but when all its regulations are applied and the spiritual transformation occurs, no one would send a slave back to a master. Slavery would cease except for voluntary, compensated labor, which today we call being an employee.
One passage in Mishpatim demonstrates how Adonai contrasts His covenant with the cultures' around Israel. Jewish law concerning marriage covenants through the centuries is based in Exodus 21:10:
"If he marries another, he must not withhold from this one her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights."
Intensive word study into the three conditions reveals that they are not the "normal" words used for food, clothing, and conjugal rights (see
Creation Gospel Workbook Three: the Spirit-filled Family). Each of the three terms denotes and connotes a deep, intimate, and sacrificial application. A marriage is a transformational relationship, not an order-fulfillment warehouse.
The Hebrew word for "conjugal rights" is
onah, which can generally mean "time." Added to the deep, spiritual definitions of food (inner flesh) and clothing (covering one's self), the intimacy of husband and wife requires time to develop. Properly applied, this mishpat, like slavery, eliminates the possibility of taking that second wife. There's no way to fulfill the whole meaning of the mishpat without denying a first wife her three irreducible entitlements under Torah law (except in the levirate, which also required mutual agreement according to Jewish law).
The very mishpat that permits polygamy makes it impossible IF a husband's heart is transformed.
Etz Haim translation of the Torah describes it thus in a footnote:
All the ancient translations of the Torah understood the word translated by this phrase (
onah) as referring to a woman's conjugal right, an interpretation that is also found in Rabbinic sources. If correct, this would be the only instance in the laws of the ancient Near East that stipulates that a wife is entitled to sexual gratification. Other commentators render onah as "dwelling, shelter," and still others as "oil, ointment." In man ancient Near Eastern texts, there are clauses that make provision for a wife's "food, clothing, and ointment." (Etz Hayim, 2001, JPS, p. 459)
The Torah uses the same structure as an ANE document, but it makes a remarkably different application...a transformative application. The spiritual life of the couple can be transformed by how they engage in the physical application, just like Israel's relationship to the Torah covenant. A marriage will benefit spiritually, emotionally, and physically when the couple spends meaningful time together. It is to be preferred over ointment. In fact, a healthy marriage should preclude the need for "ointment" to heal it or cover up stinky behavior!
How do we know the Jewish sages correctly interpreted the mishpat as related to marital intimacy? Consider these marital counseling verses from the
The husband must fulfill his duty to his wife, and likewise also the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but the wife does.
Stop depriving one another, except by agreement for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer, and come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. (I Co 7:3-6:)
Paul goes on to say that this instruction is not by command (G2003: epitagē), but by "permission." Perhaps as a "Chief Rabbi" to Corinth, he is interpreting the Spirit of the commandment to the Corinthians. In another example of his contrast of the word "command" to "permission," Paul writes,
I am not speaking this as a command, but as
proving through the earnestness of others the sincerity of your love also... (2 Co. 8:8).
Paul reiterates that commandments are only transformative when one's love for Yeshua and people part and parcel of that obedience. Love fills the empty spaces around the letters of the Torah, and although "invisible," love for Adonai and His People holds all the letters and words together. A transformed heart holds the commandments together in the "sincerity of love," not just in a marriage, but in Israel's covenant relationship with the Father and His family.
As Rabbi David Fohrman pointed out on this Torah portion, the special service of the female servant was to introduce her into a more economically viable family for marriage. Her father could do his best to select an honorable family to raise her prospects for a healthy, happy, secure, and honorable life. She had to be honored and treated as one's own daughter, not a servant. The slavery that we thought was sanctioned in the first read through the mishpat is dissolved in deeper study into the context. Instead of a slave, we have an honorable woman. Thank you, Moses, thank you, Peter, and thank You, Father.
When it comes to Mishpatim, it takes a team to understand, sacrifice, and enact the judgments with the love of Yeshua, the Spirit surrounding the letter.
I am greatly indebted to several articles in Matthews
Gender and Law in the Hebrew Bible
and the Ancient Near East. Sheffield Academic Press (1998), specifically
Wives and Daughters, Bond and Free
by Carolyn Pressler
The Holy Bible: English Standard Version
. (2016). (Ex 21:7-11). Wheaton: Standard Bible Society