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Mishpatim

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

This portion of the Torah is called "Mishpatim", which means judgements. The commandments are often divided into three categories: those that signify our special relationship with G-d, those that are not understood by us ("statutes"), and judgements - laws that every nation realizes must exist in order for a group of people to function as a society. This last category includes prohibitions against murder, kidnapping, stealing, cheating in business, and even setting up a court system.

Why did G-d place the Torah portion of "Mishpatim," which contains more laws than any other, immediately following the revelation at Sinai? Answers Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki: in order that we realize that just as the Ten Commandments were given at Sinai, so were all the others - even those that appear totally rational under a man-made system.

The larger lesson is equally clear: the legal system outlined in the Torah is not designed merely to tell us when to light fires, use ritual baths, or throw out chickens. It forces us to take our everyday, "common sense" affairs - interpersonal relationships, business matters, our judicial system - and raise them to a higher ethical standard. Clearly, all of these must be observed with the same level of precision as the statutes and signs.

The Talmud even relates several stories which tell us how careful Jewish judges were to avoid the prohibition for a judge to accept a bribe:

Once, [the Talmudic Rabbi] Shmuel was having trouble crossing a bridge, and someone came along and helped him. So Shmuel asked what he had done to deserve help - and the person answered that he had a case which he wanted to bring for trial in front of Shmuel. Shmuel apologized, and insisted that he was disqualified! A similar story is told of someone who came up to the Rabbi named Ameimar, and brushed feathers from his hair... so we see exactly how careful we must be with our ethics!


Text Copyright © 1995 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.

The author is the Director of Project Genesis.


 
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