Mishpatim – Civilly Spiritual or is it Spiritually Civil

PARSHAS MISHPATIM

The Shoresh [root word] is שׁ פ ט   which means judge.  Shofeit is a judge; mishpat is a judgment or a law; and lishpot means to judge

There are different categories of Mitvos:  Mishpatim are civil laws – laws understandable according to human logic.  Eidos – laws set in place in commemoration of something or as a witness to something.  And Chukim – laws that are spiritual in nature and not something you and I would dream up (such as the Red Heifer).  This week’s Torah portion is entitled Civil Laws.

CHAPTER 21:  VERSE 1

“and these are the laws that you shall place before them.” Rashi asks, why does the verse begin the Parsha with the linking word “and”?  It would make sense to say, these are the laws.  The answer is that it is to link the laws that follow in this chapter with the Parsha beforehand which described the giving of the Torah on Sinai.  Jews don’t have civil law thought up by man.  Just as the ten commandments were given on Har Sinai, so too were these civil laws and torts.  You might think that we shouldn’t steal or cheat in business because it isn’t right civilly, for civilization.  And we Jews say, no, we don’t do it because G-d says it is wrong.

What would be wrong to have civil laws thought up by civilization?  When man dreams up a justice system and laws, there is no objective truth.  Each generation would then decide what is right and wrong and many times wrong will be done as a right.  There must be objective truth and that can only be G-d given.  That is why the two chapters are linked with the “and” that begins this chapter to tell us our sense of morality must be linked with Divine Revelation and guidance from G-d.

Now let us look at the last words of that verse, the words “before them” .  One explanation of these words is expounded by the Kol Simcha who says this teaches us that the laws come before us – that we suspend our desires and our logic when they are contradicted by Jewish law. Jewish law always gets precedence over what we want or think is right.  The I, the egotistical self-centeredness, gets put secondary to G-d’s will.

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About jewishspectacles

Jewish Spectacles-the kind you look through, not the kind you create!
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