Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Mishpatim
To dedicate this lesson

The Torah of Peaceful Litigation


Various Rabbis

27 SHEVAT 5769
Our parasha, which begins after the drama of matan Torah (the giving of the Ten Commandments) goes into great detail about an area of the Torah that deals with monetary law. This extensive immediate treatment certainly demonstrates how central these laws are to the Torah. We will show how it is even more central to matan Torah than one might think.
The gemara (Sanhedrin 56b) says that one of the mitzvot that were given to Bnei Yisrael at Mara (Shemot 15:25), before matan Torah, was dinin (monetary law). The Me’am Loez (Shemot 21:1) says that this was done to help ensure one of the basic requirements of matan Torah: unity within the nation (see Shemot 19:2 with Rashi). As long as people had their financial grievances one with the other and had no system to settle them, there could not be true harmony.
If monetary laws were given before Sinai, why are they mentioned only afterward? It is clear from the gemara that the individual laws of how and based on what to rule were given at Sinai, not before it. The crucial thing before matan Torah was that a system was in place through which people knew they would receive a just conclusion to their disputes. It was the system that brought peace more than the individual rulings. This also explains why Yitro’s judicial ideas, which expanded the judicial system and made it more user-friendly, appear in the Torah prior to Sinai even though, according to many commentators, Yitro suggested them only months later.
The Me’am Loez also points out that the law, truth, and peace, which Pirkei Avot (1:18) tells us keeps the world going, all apply to the judicial system. If we take a look at an important gemara in Sanhedrin (6b), regarding the concept of compromise, we will see a slightly different view of these concepts. Din (a standard ruling of beit din) would be an example of emet, as the dayanim faithfully apply the truths of the Torah. A compromise is an example of shalom, which is not likely to work out to be an absolute truth but puts the conflict to rest as quietly as possible. We accept the opinion that compromise is preferable to din.
This conclusion actually fits in beautifully with the thesis we have been developing. The specific laws and rules that the Torah teaches us to use in ruling are important truths, which we cherish as we do all the halachot of the Torah. In fact, one who chooses to adjudicate by a different system is severely insulting the Torah (see Beit Yosef, Choshen Mishpat 26), even if he feels he will gain regarding peace. However, ultimately the most special element of our judicial system is that one can use a system approved by the Torah to create and maintain relationships within our nation. This preserves the peace that makes us thrive not only as a religion but as a cohesive nation that accepted the Torah "as one man with one heart."

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