Judaism is primarily a society of laws and not of men. It is possibly the
first society in human history that stressed the primacy of law over the
rule of humans, no matter how righteous and benign that rule may be. In
Jewish life, law reigns supreme. Judaism is a religion of halacha. Within
that field of halacha there is room for opinion and innovation, but there
is no possibility to leave that field and decide matters on the basis of
personal whim or set agenda.
The parsha of Mishpatim follows immediately after the parsha that
described the giving of the Torah to Israel on Mount Sinai. This
juxtaposition is to reinforce this idea of the supremacy of the law in a
Torah society. There is no absolute freedom for leaders and rulers to do
as they wish, to institute norms that are contrary to the laws and values
of the Torah itself. The law of the Torah reigns supreme in Jewish life.
There may unfortunately be lawbreakers in Jewish life, just as there are
in all societies. But that in no way diminishes the supremacy of Torah law
and its discipline on Jews.
It has been this adherence to law instead of to charismatic and even
scholastic human leaders, over the ages, that has kept Judaism rooted in
its eternal values and able to weather all of the changing vagaries of
fashion and current "political correctness." The halacha in all of its
divinity from Sinai is the framework for all Jewish existence and
survival. Stepping outside the framework of halacha and attempting thereby
to create new norms in Jewish life has always led to disappointment and
eventually disappearance and disaster, both on a personal and national
Mishpatim also teaches us, through the wide variety of subject mater
covered in the parsha, that there is no area of human life or society that
is not governed and shaped by halacha. Judaism is not restricted to the
confines of the synagogue or the study hall. It is rather all-pervasive,
touching on all aspects of the human condition, physical moral, societal
and spiritual. There is no place in life that is empty of Torah, its laws,
wisdom and guidance. Its presence therefore in every nook and cranny of
our lives is itself what enables us to enjoy and live a truly Jewish
The Torah guarantees our right to privacy and our absolute freedom of
choice at any given moment and circumstance in our life. Yet the
realization that Torah has something to say about this particular
circumstance and situation facing us now, itself serves as a background
enabling us to make wise and holy choices. God commanded us to "choose
life." In that statement is the implicit instruction to follow halacha and
to be truly a people of the book -- the law book that halacha represents.
In our Torah blessing we state that the Torah plants within us eternal
life. Anyone who follows its precepts and lives a life in accordance with
Torah values and practices will certainly sense that serene sense of
eternity present in halacha and Jewish law. Law brings stability to Sinai.
Halacha (Jewish law) brings holiness on its wings.
Rabbi Berel Wein
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com