Now that the Jews have received the Ten Commandments at Mount Sinai (in last week's parshah [Yitro]) and accepted the Torah, G‑d teaches them the laws that are part of this Torah. In this parshah, we learn about 53 mitzvot (out of a total of 613) that G‑d commands the Jews, so this parshah is basically a list of things you gotta do and can't do. Here goes:

Servants

The Torah gives very exact instructions about how one should treat his servant. First, how does a Jew become a servant? If someone steals and then doesn't have money to repay what he stole, the court sells him in order to pay it. Now that he's a servant, can his master do with him as he wishes, ordering him around and telling him to sleep in the barn? Not exactly. The Torah says that he must treat the servant like the others in his household—the same good food, clean bed, etc. The master must also support and provide these things for the servant's wife and children. Finally, a servant is only a servant for six years. At the end of that, he goes free.

Crimes Against Others

The punishment for murder, kidnapping, and hitting or cursing one's parents is the death penalty. If somebody hits somebody else and he gets hurt, he must pay damages that include: the value of the limb which was lost, all his doctor bills, his pain, the money he would have made from work that he missed, and any embarrassment the injury causes him.

Someone who accidentally kills somebody else must go to a special city called an Ir Miklat or City of Refuge, and he is exiled there.

Misbehaving Animals

What happens if somebody's ox goes wild and kills somebody — is the owner responsible? Not usually, but if the animal has done this before, then the owner should have known that he has to do something about this animal, and in that case he's responsible. If someone digs a pit and forgets to cover it up and an animal falls into it and dies, the person who dug the pit must pay the owner the full value of the animal.

If someone steals someone else's animal and kills or sells it, he has to pay back five times the amount he stole, or four times for a stolen sheep. If he steals something and still has it, he has to repay double.

Taking Care of Someone Else's Stuff

If someone else's property is in our possession, we have to do everything we can to take care of it, and if we are irresponsible and something happens to it, we must pay for it. However, depending on what type of guardian we are, we might be more or less responsible if something happens and it's not really our fault.

An unpaid guardian is doing the guy a favor and watching his thing for him, so he's not responsible if something happens to it. A paid guardian is responsible if it gets lost or stolen, but not if it's stolen in an armed robbery. A borrower is responsible no matter what happens to it, except if the owner is with him when the object gets stolen or broken. The last type of guardian is a renter.

Different Ways We Must Be Nice

The Torah demands that we be extra nice to strangers, widows, and orphans. These defenseless people especially deserve our kindness.

When we lend money to somebody, we are not allowed to charge interest. Jews are only allowed to give interest-free loans! Also, if you take something from the borrower to make sure he repays the loan, you have to give that thing back before the day is over—because what if he needs it for the night?

We are not allowed to curse a judge or a prince. A newly-born animal may not be brought as a korbon until it is at least eight days old. We are not allowed to eat the flesh of a mortally wounded animal.

Laws for Courts and Judging

Never testify falsely against somebody, and don't accept a false testimony from somebody else. Now here's something interesting: Even if someone is very poor, you're not allowed to rule in his favor just because you feel bad for him. Justice is justice no matter what our feelings are. Don't accept bribery.

Shemitah and the Holidays

For six years we can work on the land—prepare the land, plant seeds, take care of the plants, and harvest the fruits and vegetables. But the seventh year, called shemittah, we must give the land a break and not do any work on it.

Six days of the week we can do work, but on the seventh day, Shabbat, we must rest.

There are three important festivals throughout the year: Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot.

Meat and Milk

Finally, the last mitzvah given in this parshah is that we keep meat and milk separate. Now we know why kosher kitchens have two sets of everything, dishes, sinks, counters—one for meat and one for milk!

Conclusion

G‑d promises the land of Israel to the Jews and Moses goes up the mountain to get the Tablets from G‑d. He remains there for forty days and forty nights.