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26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck, NY 11023 (516) 487-6100                                                              Shabbat Announcements Mishpatim 5782
         result.” (Ex. 21:20) A slave is not mere property. They each  In general, law and narrative are two distinct literary
         have a right to life. Similarly, the law of Shabbat that   genres that have very little overlap. Most books of law do
         states: “Six days do your work, but on the seventh day do   not contain narratives, and most narratives do not contain
         not work, so that your ox and your donkey may rest, and   law. Besides which, as Cover himself notes, even if people
         so that the slave born in your household and the foreigner   in Britain or America today know the history behind a given
         living among you may be refreshed.” (Ex. 23:12) One day   law, there is no canonical text that brings the two together.
         in seven slaves were to breathe the air of freedom. All three  In any case in most societies there are many different
         laws prepared the way for the abolition of slavery, even   ways of telling the story. Besides which, most laws are
         though it would take more than three thousand years.   enacted without a statement of why they came to be, what
                                                              they were intended to achieve, and what historical
         There are two laws that have to do with the Israelites’   experience led to their enactment.
         experience of being an oppressed minority: “Do not
         mistreat or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in   So, the Torah is a unique combination of nomos and
         Egypt.” (Ex. 22:21) and “Do not oppress a stranger; you   narrative, history and law, the formative experiences of a
         yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you   nation and the way that nation sought to live its collective
         were foreigners in Egypt. (Ex. 23:9) And there are laws that  life so as never to forget the lessons it learned along the
         evoke other aspects of the people’s experience in Egypt,   way. It brings together vision and detail in a way that has
         such as, “Do not take advantage of the widow or the   never been surpassed.
         fatherless. If you do and they cry out to me, I will certainly
         hear their cry” (Ex. 22:21-22). This recalls the episode at   That is how we must lead if we want people to come with
         the beginning of the Exodus, “The Israelites groaned in   us, giving of their best. There must be a vision to inspire
         their slavery and cried out, and their cry for help because of   us, telling us why we should do what we are asked to do.
         their slavery went up to God. God heard their groaning, and   There must be a narrative: this is what happened, this is
         He remembered His covenant with Abraham, with Isaac and   who we are, and this is why the vision is so important to
         with Jacob. So, God looked on the Israelites and was   us. Then there must be the law, the code, the fastidious
         concerned about them.” (Ex. 2:23-25)                 attention to detail, that allow us to translate vision into
                                                              reality and turn the pain of the past into the blessings of
         In a famous article written in the 1980s, Yale law professor  the future. That extraordinary combination, to be found in
         Robert Cover wrote about “Nomos and Narrative.” By this   almost no other law code, is what gives Torah its enduring
         he meant that beneath the laws of any given society is a   power. It is a model for all who seek to lead people to
         nomos, that is, a vision of an ideal social order that the law  greatness.
         is intended to create. And behind every nomos is a
         narrative, that is, a story about why the shapers and
         visionaries of that society or group came to have that
         specific vision of the ideal order they sought to build.
         Cover’s examples are largely taken from the Torah, and the
         truth is that his analysis sounds less like a description of
         law as such than a description of that unique phenomenon
         we know as Torah. The word “Torah” is untranslatable
         because it means several different things that only appear
         together in the book that bears that name. Torah means
         “law.” But it also means “teaching, instruction, guidance,”
         or more generally, “direction”. It is also the generic name
         for the five books, from Genesis to Deuteronomy, that
         comprise both narrative and law.

                              Great Neck Synagogue
                     26 Old Mill Road, Great Neck , NY 11023

                         Rabbi Dale Polakoff, Rabbi
                      Rabbi Ian Lichter, Assistant Rabbi
                   Rabbi Yehoshua Lefkowitz, Intern Rabbi
                    Dr. Ephraim Wolf, z”l, Rabbi Emeritus
                           Yitzy Spinner, Cantor
                    Eleazer Schulman, z”l, Cantor Emeritus
          Rabbi Dr. Michael & Zehava Atlas, Youth Rabbi & Youth Director
                      Mark Twersky, Executive Director
                     Dr. James Frisch, Assistant Director
                          Jordan Wolf, President
                     Dov Sassoon, Chairman of the Board
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