PARSHAT MISHPATIM 5784
וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּשִׂ֖ים לִפְנֵיהֶֽם׃
These are the rules that you shall set before them:
This week’s Torah portion is called Mishpatim. “Mishpatim” is the Hebrew word that refers to legal provisions, regulations, or laws.
Covering various subjects such as civil, ethical, and ceremonial matters, these laws are a significant part of the Jewish legal system
The parasha begint with the term Ve’eilah (and these). Whenever the Torah uses the term Ve’eilah (And These), it adds to what went before (Bereishit Rabbah 30:3), so the parasha links directly to the previous parasha, Parasha Yitro. Parasha Yitro focused on the reception of the Torah on Mount Sinai (Exodus 19:20), and it follows the passage about the Altar. This juxtaposition teaches that the judges (the Sanhedrin) must sit next to the Altar [in the Temple] (Rashi).
While receiving the Torah, including the Ten Commandments, on Mount Sinai might lead to the misconception that the commandments are sacred while the statutes and rules (Mishpatim) are less holy, this is not the case. They form an inseparable unity, as emphasized in Psalm 147:19:
19He tells His words to Jacob, His statutes and His judgments to Israel.
|יטמַגִּ֣יד דְּבָרָ֣יו (כתיב דְּבָרָ֣ו) לְיַֽעֲקֹ֑ב חֻקָּ֖יו וּמִשְׁפָּטָ֣יו לְיִשְׂרָאֵֽל:
This unity is also highlighted by the structure of Parasha Yitro and Mishpatim together. In Yitro, the Ten Commandments are given (Exodus 20:1), and in Mishpatim, the judgments. Additionally, this parasha concludes with the reception of the Torah (Exodus 24:10). Mishpatim is metaphorically enclosed within the Ten Commandments.
“Not only are the Ten Commandments the Word of G-d, but also everyday laws. The combination and adherence to G-d’s commandments and everyday laws by people make the world a suitable dwelling place for G-d. This is not achieved by observing the laws of the nations, which, although they may contain many good elements, can easily change because they are based on logic and not on G-d’s Word. This, among other things, we learned last week in Parasha Yitro and Amalek.”
As mentioned earlier, the Sanhedrin, the judges, sit close to the Altar, illustrating the sanctity of Mishpatim and the elevated position of judges. Judges are considered partners of G-d in passing judgment on the world. It is not without reason that judges are sometimes referred to as “elohim,” as seen in our parasha in Exodus 21:6:
6his master shall bring him to the judges, and he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever.
|ווְהִגִּישׁ֤וֹ אֲדֹנָיו֙ אֶל־הָ֣אֱלֹהִ֔ים וְהִגִּישׁוֹ֙ אֶל־הַדֶּ֔לֶת א֖וֹ אֶל־הַמְּזוּזָ֑ה וְרָצַ֨ע אֲדֹנָ֤יו אֶת־אָזְנוֹ֙ בַּמַּרְצֵ֔עַ וַֽעֲבָד֖וֹ לְעֹלָֽם:
However, earthly judges are not always perceived as just. Yet, with faith (emunah) in Hashem, we understand that nothing happens outside His will. Even when a judge renders a seemingly unjust verdict, it is a righteous judgment.
The Baal Shem Tov provides an example of such a judgment. In summary, a man sought judgment from a rabbi regarding a fine he had to pay. The rabbi ruled that the man must pay the fine. The man acknowledged the truth of the Torah and the righteousness of the judgment but insisted he had not committed the accused act. The rabbi explained that the man had not committed the act in this life but in his previous life, owed the sum to the claimant. His reincarnation was an opportunity to rectify this.
We may not always understand why things happen to us, but everything comes from His hand and is ultimately for the good. This includes the judgments rendered by judges.
Joseph also recognized this. His brothers essentially held a trial against him, passing judgment on his behavior as detrimental to the family’s well-being. Their verdict led to Joseph being sold to caravan traders and ending up in Egypt. Later, Joseph emphatically states that everything that happened to him was by G-d’s hand and for the good (Genesis 45:5).
While we may not often encounter lawsuits and judges in our lives, we will likely face fines for various reasons, sometimes justly and sometimes perceived as unjust. In such instances, we must direct our Emunah towards G-d, knowing that we are rectifying something that needed correction.
- Unity of G-d’s Word: The text emphasizes the unity between the Ten Commandments and everyday laws, highlighting that both are integral aspects of G-d’s guidance for human behavior.
- Human Role in Creating a Divine Dwelling: It underscores the significance of human actions—combining and adhering to G-d’s commandments and everyday laws—as a means to create an environment suitable for G-d’s presence on Earth.
- Caution against Reliance on Human Logic Alone: The text warns against solely relying on the legal systems of other nations, pointing out that while these systems may have commendable elements, they are subject to change based on human logic rather than being rooted in G-d’s eternal Word.
By Angelique Sijbolts
With thanks to B. Yaniger for the inspiration and feedback
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further.