Parashat Mishpatim (Judgments) Exodus 21:1-24:18
Maftir: Exodus 30:11-16 Haftarah: 2 Kings 11:17-12:17
In this week’s Torah portion, there is a wide variety of laws given. These commandments are for the purpose of regulating a community and insuring that justice is maintained. In the midst of these laws, one reads,
“Do not lift up a vain report…” Exodus 23:1
Nearly all English translations render the word שווא as “false” instead of as I have done with the word “vain“. There is evidence for rendering this word as “false” (The Even Shoshan Dictionary does supply the words כזב או שקר as definitions for this word). However, Even Shoshan also provides the words, “vain“, “empty“, “without any benefit“, and “without any need“, as additional meanings for this word. The point I want to make is that the report does not necessarily have to be false to meet the classification of report which one should not receive. A definition such as “a report which does not have any edifying purpose” actually better captures the intent of the verse.
A great passage that speaks to the message of the text from Exodus 23 is found in the book of Ephesians,
“Every bad word out of your mouth should not go forth; but rather what is good for the edification of that which is necessary; in order to give grace to the ones listening.” Ephesians 4:29
Unfortunately, people frequently say things which do not serve any edifying purpose. As believers, we cannot stop what people say; however, we ought not take such things to heart or repeat them to other people. The next time someone makes a statement that is unnecessary about another, that is, one that serves no real purpose nor does not bring any edification to whoever is listening or to the one to which the statement is being said, you should interrupt the speaker and kindly respond that you prefer not to hear such reports.
It is significant that the verse from Exodus states “Do not lift up a vain report….” The word (one word in Hebrew) lift up teaches the reader two things. First, do not give any credence to such a report and secondly, do not pass this report to another individual. Remember that this report is one which is “vain“, “empty“, and “without any benefit or purpose“. All too often we spend time, effort, and give thought to things which do not edify rather than focusing on those things related to building one another up in the faith.
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