Parashat Mishpatim - "Mother Torah"

Parashat Mishpatim is a collection of many different mitzvot on a variety of topics that can be seemingly unconnected. Shemot Rabbah (Section 30:5) on our portion expresses the beauty of the breadth and depth of these mitzvot. Below is an abbreviated translation followed by the full text in Hebrew with the translated portions highlighted:

Observe how excellent this portion is! How many sections it contains, how many injunctions God has given to Israel in this portion! “If you buy a Hebrew servant six years he shall serve; and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.” (Shemot 21:2); “And if a man sells his daughter to be a maid-servant she shall not go out as the men-servants do” (Shemot 21:7); “And he that smites his father or mother shall be surely put to death.”.” (Shemot 21:15). What is the connection between these passages? ……. You are commanded not to enslave your brother longer than six years, for I created the world in six days, and for this reason have I allowed you six years in which you are permitted to enslave a Hebrew servant.  “And if a man sell his daughter to be a maid-servant”: [God said]: “I had one daughter [The Torah] and sold her to you, therefore do not take her [the Torah] unless she is confined in an ark.” “She shall not go out as the men-servants do.” (Shemot. 21:7). Treat her respectfully because you have captured her from Me . . . When Israel disregards the commandments, it is as if they curse their parents, for God is our father, as it says, “But now, O Lord, You are our father” (Isaiah 64:7), and the Torah is our mother, for it says, “And forsake not the teaching of your mother” (Mishleh 1:8). She reared us at Sinai, as it says, “I have taught you in the way of wisdom” (Mishleh 11:3)

שמות רבה ל:ה
בא וראה כמה משובחת פרשה זו כמה פרשיות בה וכמה אזהרות הזהיר הקב"ה לישראל בפרשה זו. "כִּי תִקְנֶה עֶבֶד עִבְרִי" "כִי יִמְכֹּר אִישׁ אֶת בִּתּוֹ לְאָמָה" "וּמַכֵּה אָבִיו" ומה ענין אלו לאלו אמר להם הקב"ה לישראל אני קניתי אתכם במצרים בעשר מכות שהראיתי שנאמר ( תהלים קלט, יד) נפלאים מעשיך ונפשי יודעת מאד כשם שאתם מצווים לא תעבוד באחיך יותר מו' שנים שלא בראתי את העולם אלא לו' ימים לפיכך נתתי לך ו' שנים שתהא רשאי לעבוד בעבד עברי. "כִי יִמְכֹּר אִישׁ אֶת בִּתּוֹ לְאָמָה" בת אחת היתה לי ומכרתיה לכם שאין אתם מוציאין אותה אלא חבושה בארון "לֹא תֵצֵא כְּצֵאת הָעֲבָדִים" נהגו בה כבוד ששביתם אותה מאצלי שנאמר (שם סח, יט) עלית למרום שבית שבי. וכן דוד משבח (שם קמז, א) הללויה כי טוב זמרה אלהינו כי נעים. ר' שמואל אומר הזהיר הקב"ה קל בחמור שהרבה אזהרות יש כאן כגון מכה אביו ואמו. אמר הקב"ה חם אבי כנען לא הכה אלא ראה בלבד עכשיו הוא ובניו עבדים לעולם המקלל והמכה עאכ"ו ומי היו אלו עשרת השבטים שלא רצו ליתן עליהם עולו של הקב"ה ובא סנחריב עליהם והגלם. משל למלך שהיו לו עשרה בנים ומרדו בו ובטלו עשר דיוטגמאות שלו. אמר להם כשם שבטלתם שלי כך אני משלח לזבוב ויפרע מכם. כך עשרת השבטים מרדו בהקב"ה ובטלו את התורה שנאמר (ירמיה ה, יב) כחשו בה' ויאמרו לא הוא הביא עליהם הזבוב שנאמר (ישעיה ז, יח) ישרוק ה' לזבוב זה סנחריב הוי אם בטלו ישראל את המצות כאילו מקללין אב ואם ואין אב אלא הקב"ה שנאמר (שם סד, ז) ועתה ה' אבינו אתה. וְאֵם זו התורה שנאמר (משלי א, ח) ואל תטוש תורת אמך והיא מגודלת בסיני שנאמר (שם ד, יא) בדרך חכמה הוריתיך:

I have prepared the translated portions for you below in chart form. Basically, this midrash asks the question "What do all of the laws in our parasha have to do with one another?" Three mitzvot that are seemingly unconnected--the law not to enslave a fellow Israelite for more than six years, the law not to allow a female slave to "go out" like men go out, and the law that a man that smites one of his parents should receive the death penalty-- are brought together by the midrash. The midrash says they are all connected in the sense that they are all examples of how we should respect others based on modeling G-d's behavior.

How G-d relates to us
How we should relate to others
I created the world in six days, therefore----------->
You are commanded not to enslave your brother longer than six years,
I had one daughter (the Torah) and sold her to you, therefore do not take her unless she is confined in an ark.  Therefore ---------------------------------->
“And if a man sell his daughter to be a maid-servant she shall not go out as the men-servants do.”  (Shemot 21:7).
God is our father, Torah is our mother,  She reared us at Sinai; When Israel disregard the Commandments, it is as if they curse their parents.
Therefore ----------------------------->
“And he that smites his father or mother shall be surely put to death.” (Shemot 21:15)

In this midrash, we see the Torah being compared to G-d’s daughter who G-d gives/ sells to B’nai Yisrael as a wife (so that B’nai Yisrael is now married to the Torah). Later, in the same midrash, we see the idea of the Torah being a mother to B’nai Yisrael. So which is it???!!!! We see the idea of B’nai Yisrael being married to the Torah quite frequently in the midrash, but the idea of Torah as mother is much less common. As a matter of fact, it turns the entire metaphor on its head.

In one triangle, the Torah is G-d’s daughter:

                  G-d (father)  
B'nai Israel (son-in-law) Torah (daughter)  

in the 2nd, the Torah is G-d’s wife.  
G-d (father) Torah (mother)  
B'nai Israel (child)

The idea of the Torah providing nurture is anthropomorphism. The metaphor suggests that Torah actually formed us, gave birth to us, and nurtures us, together with G-d, as G-d’s partner. That is not to suggest this is a feminist text; there is a clear hierarchy of male over female in this midrash together with segregated gender roles. Only a few lines earlier we learned that since the Torah is G-d’s precious daughter she should be kept inside an ark- not allowed to venture out without being covered up. The value of modesty in women is well documented in Jewish literature. In both ancient times and in some modern traditional communities there are customs that prohibit women from “going out,” into the world like men do.

Given this traditional view of women in rabbinic literature, it is refreshing to see the treatment of a female entity (here the Torah) being a partner in the creation of humankind with G-d, together, as an almost equal. What does it mean for us to be born of Torah? It means that our very genetic make-up, the very blueprint of our soul—is the Torah. We have learned elsewhere that G-d looked into the Torah and used the Torah as a blueprint for all of creation—that the Torah existed prior to the creation of the world. Here we see the idea of Torah as the blueprint for each individual soul. Better yet- that blueprint is both male and female for each one of us- each one of us being born of a fusion of Father G-d and Mother Torah (wisdom).