Parsha Mishpatim –
Mishpatim literally means “judgments”. As our Creator, Hashem knew we would have problems getting along with each other from time to time. And He was right! We humans do not always play well in the sandbox together! That is why Hashem gave us laws, decrees and judgments. They were given as the basis for the survival of human civilization.
The absence of law is chaos!
We have all, I’m sure, seen or experienced “injustices” done in the name of “justice”. Life, it often appears, is just not fair, and true justice does not appear to exist in our world. But that is because we aren’t as smart as we think we are, and we are incapable of creating a truly “just” society by our own devices. Man-made laws are only as “just”as the men who create and enforce them. Men are flawed creatures, and therefore, their form of justice can only be a flawed justice. For perfect justice, we cannot depend on man’s heart. We must look for Divine guidance from Above if we desire true justice.
“Justice looks down from heaven” (Tehillim 85:12)
At best, we humans have a limited understanding of ourselves and of our fellow humans. We also struggle to understand the purpose of life. Compare that to the mastermind behind creation, the All-Knowing Creator Himself, and well, there really is no comparison. Despite our best intentions, our man-made laws have, throughout history, ultimately led to injustices.
“At that time I commissioned your judges, ‘Hear the cases that arise between your brothers and judge fairly between a man and his brother, and the foreigner (ger) who is with him. You are not to show favoritism when judging, but give equal attention to the small and to the great. No matter how a person presents himself, don’t be afraid of him; because the decision is G-d’s. The case that is too hard for you, bring to me and I will hear it’. I also gave you orders at that time concerning all the things you were to do.” (D’varim 1:16-18)
True judgment belongs to Hashem. We humans do not understand or see the bigger picture underlying every minute detail of the events of this world. We are bound by time and space. Hashem is not bound by time or space, and He understands things the human mind is incapable of understanding. I think that makes Him more qualified to set rules, don’t you?
Rabbi Munk in his commentary on this parsha states:
“Justice is not in the hearts of man, nor in nature. It emanates from the Creator who has set down the rights and duties of individuals toward one another according to the fundamental laws of human society, just as He has set the immutable laws of nature.”
Justice is not in the hearts of man. Boy, is that ever evident in our world! Just this week, as I was contemplating Mishpatim, I received a text from a friend which really caught my attention. The text was Ben Shapiro responding to something Canada’s PM, Justin Trudeau reportedly said. PM Trudeau: “Pro-lifers are not in line with where we are as a government and quite frankly where we are as a society.” Ben Shapiro responded by saying “Good!” So, we are not in line with the rest of society, he stated, “righteousness doesn’t have to be popular, it just has to be righteous.” I’m sharing this because it this is a perfect example of why I desire to be governed by Hashem and not by man. Seriously, those of us who value human life are not in line with society? The society that thinks killing innocent children is ok, is a society I do not desire to be in line with.
With that said, there is one more important thing we need to understand. Please consider the following excerpt from one of my favorite commentaries “The midrash says”:
“The Ten Commandments were preceded and followed by the mishpatim since the mishpatim are basic to the survival of human civilization. Our Sages state (Avot 1:18) ‘As a result of three factors is the world maintained – truth, justice, and peace.’
To the nations, Hashem gave only seven basic laws known as the Noachide laws. To K’lal Yisrael, on the other hand, He revealed thousands upon thousands of halachos which deal with all the details concerning claims, damages, and disputes. Why are K’lal Yisrael singled our that they must study and fulfill all the numerous details of the mispatim, whereas these were never revealed to the nations?
The doctor was making his daily round through the hospital accompanied by his assistant. Bending over one patient and examining him, he instructed the staff, ‘this patient’s diet is not to be restricted. Let him have whatever he demands!’ He continued his route and, after having checked another patient, marked down on his record a long list of foodstuffs. ‘All these may under no circumstances be given to this man,’ he ordered. ‘He is allowed only a limited number of foods!’ His assistant seemed confused. ‘The patient whose diet your restricted seems to be less ill than the other one whom you did not restrict at all,’ he commented. ‘Precisely,’ explained the physician. ‘The first man, unfortunately, was a hopeless case. He will not recuperate even with a special diet. Why then should I give one? But this last one has hope for survival. I will therefore do everything in my power to heal him.’”
Ok, before you start picking up stones to throw at me (chazv’shalom), let’s consider the words of Rabbi Shaul in light of this misdrash:
“Therefore, remember your former state; you Gentiles by birth……at that time had no Messiah. You were estranged from the nation life of Israel. You were foreigners to the covenants embodying G-d’s promise. You were in this world without hope and without G-d.” (Ephesians 2:11-12)
Eludicating Rashi on Sh’mot 21:1 about placing these judgments before “them” [i.e. the children of Israel] it states:
“Before “them” but not before non-Jews. (Gittin 88b). Even if you know about a certain matter of law that [non-Jews] judge it according to the same legal principles as the law of Israel, do not bring it to their courts, for one who brings legal matters of Israel before non-Jews desecrates the Name of G-d, and accords esteem to the idol’s name by attributing importance to it; as it says, ‘For their rock (their god) is not like our rock (our G-d), and yet our enemies judge us.”
This clearly indicates that Hashem sees the goyim (nations) as completely separate from K’lal Yisrael.
All Jewish law is of Divine origin. In this week’s parsha, we are reading Divine directives by which the Jewish people are to conduct themselves, both individually and as a society. Mishpatim are the ordinances which regulate the conduct between a Jew and his or her fellow Jew. Those from the nations that do not wish to graft themselves into the root of the covenant, the root which is Judaism, need not read further. It does not apply to you!
“You are great indeed, O Hashem! There is none like You and there is no other G-d but You, as we have always heard. And who is like Your people Yisrael, a unique nation on earth, whom Hashem went and redeemed as His people, winning renown for Himself and doing great and marvelous deeds for them [and] for Your land – [driving out] nations and their gods before Your people, whom You redeemed for Yourself from Egypt. You have established Your people Yisrael as Your very own people forever; and You, Hashem, have become their G-d. And now, O Hashem, fulfill Your promise to Your servant and his house forever; and do as You have promised.” (2 Shmuel 7:22-25)
If any of that offends you, you are probably reading the wrong blog. The truth of Torah is that it was only to the nation of Israel that Hashem gave His Divine directives and only K’lal Yisrael by their response: “na’aseh v’nishma”, are capable of attaining the highest spiritual levels, by following them.
“He issued His commands to Ya’akov, His statutes and rules to Yisrael. He did not do so for any other nation; of such rules they know nothing. Hallelujah!” Tehillim 147:19-20
K’lal Yisrael are the only nation which agreed to accept the Divine directives upon themselves. “Na’aseh v’nishma” (we will do and we will hear – Sh’mot 24:7). By their absolute willingness to accept the Torah, they were given the ability to attain the highest spiritual level that human beings are capable of achieving. The level of Adam before he sinned.
“And these are the rules that you shall set before them:” (Sh’mot 21:1)
Rabbi Munk explains that Moshe was told that it was not sufficient to simply state the laws, but that he must also present the people with reasons and explanations, laid out in detail as one “sets a table before a person about to eat. (Rashi)”.
The midrash explains that the Almighty asked Israel who was going to be their guarantors that they would keep this commitment. After much deliberation, a suitable guarantor was accepted:
“It is written, ‘when Israel stood before Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the Holy One, Bless Be He, said: ‘In truth, shall I give you the Torah? Bring me good guarantors that you will keep it, and then I will give it to you….they said to Him, ‘Our children will be our guarantors.’ (Shir Hashirim Rabba 1:24), which G-d accepted.”
Hashem was satisfied with this answer, and agreed to give them the Torah on the condition that their children throughout the generations would be their guarantors. That means if the Jews fail to keep the Torah, their guarantors – their children – are punished. Thereby, Hashem taught Israel that if they want to ensure that their children will live, they would need to give them a proper Torah education. This is not something that is taken lightly!
The laws of justice must be studied by the entire nation, not just the judges. All the people governed by these laws are required to be familiar with their rights and duties.
Even many of the world’s judicial systems hold to the doctrine of: “Ignorantia juris non excasat or ignorantia legis nemenem excusat (Latin for “ignorance of the law excuses not” or “ignorance of law excuses no one”), which is a legal principle holding that a person who is unaware of a law may not escape liability for violating that law merely because one was unaware of its content” (Wikipedia)
There is a joke about a man being brought before a judge to be sentenced. He tells the judge he didn’t know he was breaking the law. The judge tells the man that ignorance of the law is no excuse, to which the man replies, “I didn’t know that either.”
Rabbi Munk explains, “this principle applies to the laws of social justice, but when it comes to the laws of dealing with sacred practices and metaphysical concepts, such as the underlying principles of faith, the Torah generally tends to be brief and ambiguous. Thus, the meaning of Rosh Hashanah, the nature of the human soul, and the particulars of the world of angels, are hardly mentioned in the Torah (R’ Bachya to Vayikra 23:24). Whatever enters the realm of the sacred is discreetly covered with a veil like the Holy of Holies in Hashem’s Temple. But within the domain of civil and penal law, which this sidra of Mishpatim introduces us, the text is detailed and precise.” Did you get that? Some things we are expected to know, and some things we are ignorant of by design. Unfortunately, we too often get them confused.
So, if you find Mishpatim a little boring, you might want to reconsider where Hashem desires you spend your study time. So many people want to know the mystical, deep teachings of the Torah, but don’t spend much time learning about the basics, about how to conduct themselves as a decent human being. Hashem has much more to say about our conduct, which should speak volumes to us! Ignorance is no excuse!
Our Sages throughout the generations understood this, and they have paid careful attention to every word, in fact, to every letter and space in the Torah, and through doing so they gained amazing illumination (i.e. Divine understanding, Ruach HaKodesh). You can try to get your understanding from other sources, but that is like getting your laws from someone other than the Creator.
Rabbi Trugman, in his exceptional commentary, “Orchard of Delight”, which I often quote, explains that this sidra contains 53 of the 613 mitzvot (as set by Sefer Hachinuch). This is second only to Parsha Ki Teitzei, which contains 74. These laws cover every aspect of Jewish life from “laws between man and G-d to laws between man and his fellow man; from laws demanding individual responsibility to laws governing a judicial system that demands communal integrity and promises societal punishment; from laws dictating ritual practice to laws governing moral action; from agricultural laws to festival observances.”
R’ Trugman (like R’ Munk) also talks about Rashi’s interpretation of Sh’mot 21:1 that Moshes need to not only tell the people the laws but also the “reasons” for them. The Hebrew word translated “reasons” is ta’amei (tet, ayin, mem, yud), which can also mean “taste”. He further explains that “R’ Shlomo Carlebach teaches that the Torah has to be transmitted and lived in a manner that leaves a good taste in people’s mouth……The Torah is truly sweet when served on a table that is set and ready for dining. It becomes a veritable feast for the soul. An orchard of delight.”
Continuing to quote R’ Trugman: “We are taught that Mashiach he will teach the Jewish people, and ultimately, the entire world, ta’amei Torah (the Torah’s rationale), the sod, the spiritual depths of the Torah. As we come closer to the Messianic age the longing, of Jews and non-Jews [alike] for understanding the deeper meanings of the Torah, will become increasingly pronounced.”
I can tell you, my dear sisters, that we are seeing this happen before our very eyes! There is no other way to explain the move of Hashem we are witnessing. There are people from all walks, and from every country, who find themselves seeking answers through the Torah, and the Jewish faith.
Unfortunately, there is also much confusion. There are those who believe they are better suited than the Sages of Israel to interpret the Torah. I claim to be an expert at nothing, but from what I have learned first hand, I believe if you don’t feel compelled to jump in with both feet and immerse yourself in what is the deep well of Judaism, as taught by it’s inspired Sages, it is better to just remain a decent person living amongst the nations, and observing the Noachide laws. There are so many weird teachings out there. You need to ask yourself where these so-called teachers get their authority. If its not from Hashem, there is probably much confusion, contension and contradictions. And Hashem has given His authority to no one but Israel. Many claim they are now the “new Israel”, but that invalidates everything if it is true, which Baruch Hashem, it isn’t! Hashem is not a man that He should change His mind. When He says forever, well, as Buzz Lightyear would say that means “To infinity and beyond”!
For the rest of us, that find ourselves so drawn to true Rabbinical Judaism, a lifestyle and philosophy that is usually completely foreign to our upbringing and society; often being willing to give up whatever we must to pursue a relationship with the G-d of Avraham, and his chosen people, then I would like to leave you with a few words of encouragement. Don’t give up! It is a difficult walk at times. Sometimes you might feel totally isolated, as you don’t feel welcomed into the world you are drawn to, but you are unable to return to the one you have left behind. I know first hand how difficult it is. But I also know firsthand, that if you stay focused and trust in Hashem, He will guide your steps and it will be the most rewarding journey you can take.
May we merit witnessing the time when the secrets of the Torah will be revealed to the entire world! Until that time, let us not loose heart as we seek purpose, relevance and direction. And may we have the wisdom to seek those answers only from the sources authorized by Hashem. Shabbat shalom!
Be blessed and be a blessing,