1. Mishpatim and the continuity from Parashat Yitro
Parashat Mishpatim is the continuation of the revelation at Har Sinai which took place in last week’s Parshat Yitro. At the same time, it also marks a break in the narrative of the story, as it stops to tell us about all the laws Bnei Yisrael have to follow.
The continuity with last week’s parsha is seen with the opening words of Mishpatim « and these are the laws » (Shemot 21 :1). As we move to another topic, it should be written « These are the laws » to show the break in the narrative. Though, such is not written. Rashi explains that every time a connecting vav is used, it means that the new topic is actually linked to the one that was discussed before. What kind of connection do we have here ? Firstly, we have a geographic connection, Am Yisrael is still standing on Har Sinai after having received the Aseret HaDibrot. Secondly, we have a topical connection, laws. Fundamental laws were given with the Aseret Hadibrot and here, in Parashat Mishpatim; precise, detailed laws are about to be given, accepted and received.
2. Justice in a society ruled by Torah law
In Sefer Shemot, we are shown the beginning of the establishment of Am Yisrael as an organized and free society after having left Egypt. Parashat Mishpatim details what kind of social contract Am Ysirael can develop to be an ideal society ruled by Torah law, in which Am Yisrael has sovereignity not only on land, but on themselves as a people. It also sets up a consecrated society, a City of G-d, paved with laws. Some point out that it is an odd place to give those mishpatim, namely after ma’amad Sinai and before entering into the Covenant. Wouldn’t it have been more logical to first enter into the Covenant and then to anounce all of the Mishpatim ? One explanation is that the laws given in Mishpatim are the definition of the Covenant itself, which shows the link that exists between Mishpatim and the brit. Other laws will be elucidated during the next forty years but mishpatim, being the core of the Covenant, had to be defined in detail at Har Sinai and not in the desert.
Detailed laws such as the ones given in Mishpatim, which address all areas of living within a society (agricultural law, criminal law and economic and monetary laws to name a few), are necessary and even essential to be able to establish, and more importantly, to maintain a good society. The word mishpatim comes from the root shin – pe – tet which means to rule/to lead (as in Shoftim) and also reflects the capacity to feel and respond positively to Torah values. In opposition to chukim, mishpatim are laws that can be understood rationally and whose relevance can be understood from a human perspective.
In this week’s parasha, law is defined by the Torah as involving our humanity in the law. An example of this is the laws regarding the inclusion of the ger. The reasoning behind this law is that we know what it is to be a stranger within a society, as we were strangers in Egypt (Shemot 23 :9). Parshat Mishpatim provides us the context for holiness in our daily life by expressing law with our moral sensibility.
Still, if the value of mishpat is conformed to human sensitivity and sensibility, why does it have to be taught to us? Why couldn’t we simply grasp it by ourselves and establish our laws, without any intervention of G-d. The reverse is also true. If the value of mishpat is in defining G-d’s law, why do these laws have to conform to human sensitivity and sensibility? The two can’t be separated. There can’t be Torah without mishpat as there can’t be valid mishpat without Torah. Put together, sensibility, sensitivity and Torah are the basis of true Justice.
Parashat Mishpatim is the definition of the Torah’s social contract. We are committed to Torah which grows out of G-d’s commitment to us and is reflected in our common commitment to us and its social contract. The social contract presented by the Torah is one built on mutual concern and respect and not established on self-interest. Moreover, it is stressed in our parasha as a principle that justice applies to everyone one, even those who don’t belong to Am Israel, as there is also an emphasis on the importance of treating the foreigner and the stranger justly.
3. Kabbalat haTorah and the unity of Am Israel
The Aseret hadibrot were delivered in a passive action. G-d revealed Himself to Bnei Yisrael who were passive and were only receiving that which was given to them. However, one has to differenciate between Matan Torah which happened last week in Parashat Yitro, and Kabbalat haTorah which occurs this week at the end of Parashat Mishpatim. A convenant – which is kabbalat haTorah – is like signing of a contract. Both parties commit themselves to do something in the interest of the other party. Therefore it’s something active happening between two parties. When saying « naasse v’nishma » (or as the joke goes, « naasse v’nishmat »), Am Israel, as one single unit standing at Har Sinai, isn’t receiving the Torah passively. Bnei Yisrael aren’t simply receiving what has just been said to them by Moshe, but they are actually committing themselves with full understanding and consciousness, committing to follow the laws and to be faithful to G-d. It’s even more interesting that Am Yisrael doesn’t say « nishma v’naasse » but the reverse, which shows their complete truth and faith in G-d’s words and decrees.
At this exact moment of Kabbalat HaTorah, we have a small sneak peak into the full potential of Am Yisrael as a united people, full of excitement and with a strong will to build a just society following the Mishpatim announced by G-d through Moshe.
May we all be blessed as Parashat Mishpatim is read on Shabbes to experience the same feeling of unity as it was experienced by Am Yisrael at that time and may we be able to keep such a unity among us and use it to build a society following the path of the social contract drawn by the Torah.שיעורים נוספים ניתן למצוא בקטגוריות הבאות: משפטים (פרשת שבוע)
|תאריך העלאה:||כ״ה בשבט ה׳תשע״ו|