• Gabbai

Mishpatim – People, People, People

Walk into any ward in the Wellington regional hospital, or any medical center for that matter, and you will see posters listing the rights of every patient. It informs people of their entitlement to dignified care and to be notified in detail of of their prognosis and treatment plans among other things.

The Parsha this week opens – “These are the laws that you [Moses] shall place before them [Israel]. When you purchase an indentured servant he will shall work for six years, and in the seventh he will go out free…”

There is a striking contrast between the poster on the hospital walls and the Mitzvah expressed here in the Torah. In the former the rights of the patient are delineated while the latter focuses instead on the obligations of the master of an indentured slave, what his requirements toward his worker is. If the Torah would include specifications of hospital etiquette it would have written a set of rules expressing the obligations of the doctor rather than the entitlements of the patient.

The result will be the same, whether or not the doctor fulfills his duties because it is his obligation or he does it because those are the entitlements of the patient. However, the attitude is entirely different. The patient similarly will have a different attitude if it isn’t merely an entitlement.

We have grown accustomed to a world which is all about rights. Everyone is entitled to certain basic rights. We have rights of various freedoms, rights of privacy, rights as employees and rights as citizens. When those rights are denied us there is a violation of human rights. Various governments are held to be in violation of their citizens’ rights in some form or another. We become upset when we are not treated well because our rights have been trampled upon.

This discrepancy between modern human perception and the obligations framed in the Torah has been pointed out by numerous commentators of recent times. Nowhere is it more apparent than in the opening of this week’s Torah reading. Mishpatim is the name of the reading. Law