Metaphors in the Torah: 'Mishpatim' (Exodus 21:1 – 24:18)


Illustration: The Giving of the Law on Mount Sinai
By Gustave Dor'e


In one of the comments I received via Facebook, somebody wrote that I repeated myself. Actually, what I am trying to do is reinforce my message that everything in the Torah is a metaphor. The problem here is that it must be the same metaphor and the same meaning throughout, because, for example: if water represented: “a” in the Book of Genesis and water represented: “b” in the Book of Numbers and then it represent: “c” in the Book of Deuteronomy, then all these articles would be meaningless and worthless. Therefore, the constant referrals back to other articles or to other chapters is to demonstrate that the metaphor under discussion has the same meaning throughout the Torah and not just in that particular weekly portion.

In Mishpatim one of the subjects under discussion is slavery, but, this subject is also tied into agriculture and the need to provide the land with rest as well. In the story of Noah there are two interesting points to consider which are relevant to the slavery:

  • God placed a curse on the earth, not Adam. It is predicted that Noah shall remove the frustrations of the work of man’s hands, but it doesn’t say how.
  • Noah is seen naked by his son Ham, yet it is Ham’s son, not Ham himself who is cursed and singled out to be the slave of Shem and Japhet.

As far as I can tell, there are four stories in the Tanahk where someone is naked:

  • Adam and Eve
  •  Noah
  • King Saul
  • Bathsheba

5)    (We might assume that Pharaoh’s daughter was naked before she found Moses, but it does not specifically say so…)

The key, I believe, is the story about King Saul because when he is naked the people ask: “Is Saul also a prophet?” Adam and Eve are communicating with God while they are naked. When they are expelled from Eden they have clothes. So, this story seems to reinforce the statement made about Saul.

If this conclusion is correct, then we can say that drinking wine somehow puts us in contact with God, because after drinking wine Noah removes his clothes. Another, less specific, reference comes from the celebrations of Purim where some rabbis say that during the festivities one should get so drunk that they can no longer tell the difference between Mordichai and  Haman (i.e. good and evil). So then, we see that all three stories are tied together with the themes of: drunkenness, communication with God and nakedness.

The next question to consider then is: Of all the punishments in the world, why was Ham’s son Canaan made a slave? In addition, we might also want to think about what exactly it means to: “look upon the nakedness of one’s father” (It should be mentioned here that nowhere in the Torah is it considered a crime to look upon the nakedness of one’s mother).

Obviously, according to the Torah, to be a slave can’t be all that bad, because we see in this week’s torah portion that both Hebrew men and women can be sold into slavery. Also, we saw that Joseph enslaved almost the entire Egyptian population and that later the Hebrews themselves were enslaved.

In short: because the Passover service is described as: “work” and because Moses: the lawgiver is described as: “the servant of God”, in previous articles we came to the conclusion that: “a slave” was: “someone who was forced to accept the religious beliefs of another person”. Thus, if we agree that a naked Noah is somehow in communication with God and that Ham somehow passed judgment or exposed his father’s religious practices to others, then being forced to become a slave to Shem and Japhet makes a little bit of sense.

Shem and Japhet don’t pass judgment and they don't speak to others. Instead they preserve the secrecy, or at least privacy, of Noah's religion. Thus, the slavery of Canaan can be interpreted to mean: “study the ways of your brothers”.

As the reference to slavery in "Mishpatim" itself, what is most unusual is that Hebrew men who are enslaved must be released after six years (i.e. the seventh “Sabbath year” brings freedom). A Hebrew woman, however, is enslaved for her entire life. This then, for me, is just another proof that Judaism passes thru the father. If a Hebrew man is enslaved at age eighteen, he is freed at twenty four and has plenty of time to produce “free” offspring. A woman who is sold as a slave will never have such an opportunity, unless she marries her master, but that is a separate issue.

Another interesting aspect to consider is that the Torah says that if the master causes the slave to lose their eye or a tooth, then the slave is to be freed. But, if the slave is only beaten senseless and recovers after two days then he must continue to be a slave.

Taken literally, it is hard to reconcile all these laws with the concept of: “a just God”, but if we see that slavery is a form of religious education, then we can appreciate that the eye is a metaphor for a means of seeing and understanding. If we also recall all the previous articles where we demonstrated that each foods are a metaphor for a specific type of knowledge, then we also appreciate that a tooth becomes a metaphor for a means to digest information.

Thus, since slavery is a form of schooling, if we damage the “slave's” capacity to learn (i.e. his ability to understand or digest information), then there is no longer any reason for him to remain a student.

How all this is related to land is that the ancient Hebrew word for cultivating a field also meant to enslave the field. This is quite logical because, before being cultivated, the field was free to produce whatever food or plant it wanted. After cultivation, it must produce the food selected by the owner.

The only difference, however, between a field and a slave is that a field represents a school or a teacher (a source of knowledge) and a slave represents a student. Thus, even in modern times, university lecturers with tenure usually are entitled to a Sabbatical every seventh year. In other words: for six years the university teacher must teach what the university requires him to teach, but in the seventh year he is free to study or teach whatever he wishes and wherever he wishes.

One last thing to consider: In a previous article we discussed: "The Land of Milk and Honey" and we showed that the milk represented spiritual teachings that were easy to digest and honey represented sermons:

In the book of Deuteronomy, three other items are mentioned which are to be associated with the Promised Land. The Israelites are told that they will find: “stone cisterns they have not cut”; “olive groves and vineyards” which they did not plant.

Stone is always associated with the word of God and the simplest example of this is the Ten Commandments. Olive oil was used in lamps as a source of light and light has been associated with understanding for thousands of years. Finally, in this article we noted the connection between Noah drinking wine, nakedness and communicating with God.

Hence, all five symbols mentioned in connection with the Promised Land: milk, honey, stone, oil and wine; are also associated with religious knowledge...