July 24, 2024
B”H
B”H

Justice and Righteousness: Understanding the Meaning of Mishpat

Jewish People at a Conference Room

No human is perfect. We’re broken by nature, which is a large reason why the world needs repair (tikkun olam). Jewish beliefs promote justice, fairness, and righteousness as a way to build the world with kindness (olam chesed yibaneh) and for the better. In practice, it’s known as mishpat. 

This article explains its interpretation of justice, how mishpat compares to the meaning of compassion and righteousness, as well as what everyday male and female Jewish philanthropists can do to invite the maxim into their daily lives.

The Meaning of Mishpat

The Hebrew term mishpat directly translates to ‘justice’ in English. Its general definition encompasses fairness, equity, and impartiality. However, mishpat takes on greater significance in Jewish values. Our version of true justice isn’t exclusive to courtrooms. It’s informed by G-d’s ultimate authority and loving-kindness (chesed), then administered by religious leaders, synagogues, and those who operate traditional systems of accountability.  Mishpat is a word as old as Jewish history itself. You can find it throughout religious texts like the Hebrew Old Testament of the Bible, where the term is used over 200 times. Exodus 21:1 mentions a related concept called ‘mishpatim,’ or ‘ordinances’. These are the formal religious laws (halacha) and commandments (mitzvot) that Jews live by every day.  Our rebbes cite Talmudic scholars, Torah commentators, Hasidic masters, Chabad leaders, and famous Jewish philanthropists as examples of living out mishpat. The main source of everyone’s understanding is the Torah itself. In Deuteronomy 16:20, Moses instructs the Israelites to pursue justice above all else, so that they may live and inherit the land G-d has given them. The Talmud expands on this, stating that “The world is sustained by three things: Torah, the service of G-d, and deeds of kindness” (Pirkei Avot 1:2). Mishpat falls under ‘deeds of kindness’.

Mishpat Versus Tzedek

Another key Hebrew term often associated with mishpat is tzedek, or ‘righteousness’. While the two concepts are closely related, there are some important distinctions. Tzedek refers to the innate righteousness and fairness of an act itself. Mishpat, on the other hand, refers to the way in which righteousness is applied and upheld in society through systems, laws, and human actions. In other words, tzedek can be informally understood as a noun rather than a verb, encapsulating the concept of fair governance at large. Jews who engage in the real-world implementation of this standard are practicing mishpat. 

Being a Vessel of Mishpat

Respecting the sanctity of human life, dignity and respect, and mutual responsibility (arvut hadadit) is a relatively straightforward obligation. We can all recognize the good (hakarat hatov) in others and perform philanthropy and charity (tzedakah) when we make a conscious effort to do so. G-d is better positioned to judge the inner workings of a person’s heart. Human logic or notions of fairness can’t be the basis for determining what is right and wrong. Our limited perspective is prone to bias and selfishness. Instead, we must rely on G-d’s infinite wisdom and the Torah’s ethical guidance. Practicing mishpat means:

  • Treating others equally regardless of their social status or identity
  • Giving to organizations that support the poor and needy
  • Standing up for those who are oppressed or marginalized
  • Showing empathy and kindness in difficult situations
  • Pursuing peaceful resolutions to conflicts

When we live out these values, we create a more just world that reflects G-d’s divine attributes. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that a single act of good can tip the scales and create a world built on kindness. The Eight Degrees of Giving also establish numerous levels of compassionate giving, with each being more powerful than the last. 

Other Terms and Forms of Jewish Tradition That Relate to Mishpat

Mishpat and tzedek are far from the only examples of humility (anavah), empathy, and compassion (kiddush hashem) manifested in Jewish principles. Communal responsibility is at the crux of the global diaspora, and it’s what makes peace in our homes possible amidst oppression and persecution. All Israelis look out for one another because we know that support networks for families save souls across generations – we all reap psychological benefits by giving and sharing resources, hospitality (hachnasat orchim), and love.

How Jewish Tradition Promotes Mishpat and Loving-Kindness Year-Round

Work and service (avodah) for others is encouraged every day of the Jewish calendar year, but especially on charitable holidays. Passover’s meaning is closely related to the idea of giving over the soul (mesirus nefesh) in support of one’s community. Philanthropic traditions like money for wheat (maos chitim) serve as an opportunity to give back in monetary form. We can also save souls on a daily basis by reciting prayers and blessings, tithing (ma’aser kesafim) income, protecting the poor, and visiting the sick (bikur cholim).

Embracing Mishpat In Modern Times

While the world has changed significantly since mishpat was first conceptualized, the importance of community, justice, and charity are the same. Beautiful religious rituals of the past can evolve to provide meaningful charity in times of crisis and general need – pe’ah (corners) is just one example. This practice originated from leaving the corners of one’s field unharvested so the poor could gather the remaining crops.  Today, we can apply the spirit of pe’ah by donating a portion of our income to community food organizations. Online giving platforms empower everyone to make a difference through contributions to non-profit healthcare initiatives, children’s education programs, orphans’ charities, and more with just a few clicks.

How Colel Chabad Promotes Justice and Righteousness in the Jewish Community

As the most recognizable name among Israel’s oldest Jewish charities, Colel Chabad maintains an extensive history of serving justice and fairness to the greater community. Prominent religious figures founded our organization upon the principles of the Chabad movement over 200 years ago. Today, we operate on a massive scale that spans the entire diaspora and give support through many causes. 

Home Heating

Colel Chabad’s home heating program is a source of critical assistance to families facing heating insecurity. With increased access to resources, services, and support, vulnerable households in Israel’s most remote communities are equipped to survive the cold season.

Baby Formula Program

There is no greater injustice than a child going hungry. Our Baby Formula program provides essential nutrition to infants in need, ensuring they receive the nourishment required for healthy development. No baby should suffer from malnutrition simply because their family cannot afford formula.

Meals-on-Wheels

For the elderly and homebound, accessing food can be a daily struggle. Colel Chabad’s Meals-on-Wheels program delivers hot, nourishing meals directly to the homes of those who are unable to shop or cook for themselves.

Help Today Those Who Need It The Most

One-time donations at community art fundraisers and contributions to charity on Chanukah are certainly valuable and appreciated – they help meet immediate needs during key times of the Jewish calendar year. But the truth is, the challenges our community faces are not limited to a single season or special occasion. Hunger doesn’t take a holiday. Poverty doesn’t pause for celebrations. Widows groups, orphans, and the support systems for the elderly are relied on every single day. That’s why consistent and reliable support is so crucial. When you become a monthly donor to Colel Chabad, you provide a steady lifeline that our community can count on. Recurring tzedakah contributions of every amount allow us to plan, knowing we have the resources to sustain our vital programs without interruption. Everyone wants to see their donations go far. Colel Chabad is the best non-profit to help Israel through these challenging times. Get involved with our work by signing up to volunteer or committing to online donations today.
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