Immediately following the Parsha of Yisro, which narrates G-d’s Revelation at Mount Sinai, the portion of Mishpatim, which means laws, is presented.
It may appear surprising that the first law listed concerns a Jewish person who was in a dire situation and wound up either being sold or sold himself to a Jewish master.
The Torah lays out judiciary laws, interpersonal laws, conflicts, torts, and laws concerning a Jew’s relationship with G-d.
The laws of the Torah are stated specifically for a Jew. The nations of the world have a set of seven G-dly commanded laws that are called the Noachide laws. One of the Noachide laws is that each nation set up a judiciary system. The laws do not have to mimic the laws of the Torah; it is what each country establishes for the benefit of its particular population.
Our portion begins, “These are the laws that G-d told Moshe to present before the Jewish people.”
Our Sages explain, that this means the laws of the Torah are specifically for the Jewish people. In the event that Jews have a conflict with one another which needs to be resolved by a court, they are instructed to go specifically to a Jewish Bais Din – Jewish court – since we are bound by the laws that are dictated by the Torah. If Jewish litigants go to secular court, even if the outcome will be the same as the Bais Din, it casts a disgrace to the name of G-d, for it displays that G-d’s definitive laws He specially gave to us are inadequate.
The laws that G-d gave us in the Torah consist of logical laws and laws that are called Chukim – statutes, which G-d gave based on His understanding and is beyond our comprehension.
My father, Rabbi Boruch Saks o.b.m. explains that even within the logical laws stated in the Torah, there are elements within these laws that are not based on logic, rather, they are dictates from G-d. For example, before one does a prohibited act, two male witness must give a warning right before the person does the act to become liable in Bais Din. Also, the witnesses cannot be relatives.
Thus within the logical laws there are elements that don’t necessarily follow a logical pattern.
My father quotes the following insightful explanation from Rabbi Aaron Kotler o.b.m. A person has five basic senses; seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching.
Each one of these senses have boundaries. On a clear day from the highest observatory, one may see miles ahead, yet there is a point beyond which he cannot see. Not seeing further does not mean that there is nothing beyond that point. Of course, the person realizes that there is so much more but it is past the limitations of his sight.
The same applies to hearing, touch, taste and smell. One has a limited capacity as to what they can access even though there is so much out there.
Says Reb Aaron, we can apply this same concept when it comes to our intellect. G-d gave us an intellect that has its limitations as well. This means, when we do not understand why G-d prohibited this or that or why the law has to be specifically this way, a Jew does not say, ‘Well, if I cannot understand it, it is insufficient.’ This is because we understand and believe that if G-d willed it, even though it is beyond our scope of comprehension, He has a reason that is beyond our intellectual grasp.
This however, is not the approach of the scholars of the nations of the world; whatever concepts they cannot intellectually grasp they often discard.
At the end of our Torah portion, the Torah fills us in with details of the ceremony at Mount Sinai which was described in last week’s portion. It is here where we are told that the Jews, upon being asked if they wanted to receive the Torah, responded by saying: Na’aseh V’nishma – We will do and we will listen! Their commitment was so strong that they accepted what G-d had in mind for them without even hearing it first!
The great and sharp minded Kotzker Rebbe points out further; not only did the Jews show their distinction from the nations of the world by committing themselves to follow G-d without hearing what was involved. Their declaration of Na’aseh – their commitment to do the Mitzvos – injected in them the ability to say V’Nishma – to listen to G-d’s instruction.
Our Sages tell us that when the Jews declared, Na’aseh V’Nishma, the holy ministering angels asked G-d, “Who are these people who are acting like us – who express their desire to do G-d’s will without first knowing what it is about?”
It is no wonder why G-d extolls and calls us, “A kingdom of ministers and a holy nation!”