Musings of an Orthodox Jew

Thoughts on Torah and the Jewish world today.

Parshas Mishpatim 5769- Civil law now?

Pashas Yitro concluded on the note of where we may offer sacrifices when we worship hashem.  We concluded on the lofty notes of the Aseeret HaDibrot and how we can properly fulfill our sacrificial duties to Hashem.  From that, it would seem logical that we either move straight onto the receiving of the Torah on Har Sinai, or the building of the Mishkan- both which seem far more related to the conclusion of Parshas Yitro than our Parsha!  After all, our Parsha brings us down from these spiritually heady heights and gives us a whole load of civil jurisprudence, 53 laws in all!

Rashi points out that the word “Eleh” on its own would indicate a break from the previous parsha, a new set of ideas.  However, the parsha starts with “V’Eleh”, “AND these”.  So the laws enacted in parshas mishpatim are directly conencted to the previous lofty ideals.  How so?  In the Midrash d’rabbi Ashlich he advances the following idea:  all our law is from Hashem.  Our entire system of justice hinges on this relationship of us with hashem, which governs not just how we relate to Him, but to our fellow man as well.

He also points out that in these laws, the courts are sometimes referred to as “Elohim”- the courts are essentially acting as the shaliach of hashem in passing judgement and awardng damages and monetary compensation to the victims.  R’ Asjlich relates this to the concept that all our parnasah comes from Hashem; that when a Jewish court acts as the shaliach of Hashem, they are his shaliach in transferring to us the parnasah decreed by Hashem.  However, a non-Jewish court does not act in this capacuty- and thus why we are commanded to settle our disoutes in a jewish court and to not go to the courts of the non-Jews.

I see yet another aspect to the laws appearing here, related to the beginning of Parshas Yitro.  There, the chronology of the narrative is interrupted in order to introduce the multi-level court system that will ensure justice for all.  Now, in the beginning the only government that the Jews had, prior to the appointment of the kings, was the Judges.  thus a working court system, access to judgement and justice by all, was needed to ensure a functioning society and to prevent chaos. Simialrly, the laws in parshas Mishpatim function in a similar capacity.  Civil jurisprudence enables a functioning society.  people cannot conduct business or rely on documents if their is no functioning court system or system of law that gives effect to them.  Thus just as the giving of the Ten commandments was preceeded by the giving of laws that prevents societal decay and ensures a functioning society in which the Torah can be observed and applied; so too the receiving of the Torah on Har Sinai is preceeded by the giving of laws that ensure a just and fair societ.


February 16, 2009 - Posted by | Parshah, Torah | , , , , , , , , ,

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