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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Mishpatim

Parashat Mishpatim

Mishpatim - To Try to Understand or Follow Orders?

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Our parasha is introduced with the pasuk: "And these are the statutes that you shall place before them" (Shemot 21:1). Rashi brings the following two statements of the Rabbis. We learn from "and these" that just as the contents of last parasha were from Sinai, so too these were from Sinai. We learn from "…that you shall place before them" that Hashem instructed Moshe that it was insufficient to teach Bnei Yisrael the laws until they knew them well, as Moshe might have thought, but that he should also teach the reasons and explanations. Hashem told him to "place [the laws] before them" like a set table that is prepared for a person to eat at. Is there a connection between what the Rabbis teach at the beginning and end of the pasuk?

The Gerrer Rebbe, author of the Sefat Emet found ways to connect the ideas. (Let us note this year, the 100th anniversary of his death, that he was an unusually splendid man, both personally and as a public leader. For example, he received no financial compensation from his position, supporting himself from a private business). The greater part of our parasha presents the Torah’s very logical rules of civil law. Yet the Torah wants to stress that their origin is Sinai. We do not accept the laws because of their legal and moral logic, but because Hashem presented them at Sinai. The Divine commandment must come before human intellect, as the pasuk hints, "before them." Even after Moshe taught the Torah’s reasons, the commandment still had priority.

The Sefat Emet taught other lessons in this context. When Bnei Yisrael said: "We will do and hear" they were expressing their contentment to fulfill mitzvot without understanding. Moshe thought that it thus might be better not to teach them the reasons. But Hashem told him that because of their willingness, they deserved to know the reasons as well. Furthermore, in the merit of "we will do and hear" they were given the possibility to grasp the Torah’s hidden secrets. The reasons together with the letters of the Torah connect the revealed Torah to its inner meanings.

The Gerrer Rebbe ends off with a fascinating idea. Serving Hashem like a servant, who follows orders, is the correct approach during the week. However, on Shabbat, Bnei Yisrael reach a level that they can serve Hashem like a son. A prince is allowed to search the storehouses of the king’s treasures. So too, we can search for reasons behind the Torah. When one does so, he is liable to bring upon himself an internal battle, as, at times, he will find things that he cannot understand. The setting of Shabbat, a Shabbat of peace, of harmony, of rest, when we are like sons, is the appropriate time to search. It is a time for sons to sit around their father’s table and enjoy.

Let us pray that we will merit serving Hashem both as servants and as sons, and thereby experience the closeness to Him that our forefathers did at Sinai, where the laws we study were given.

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