Mishpatim: Elevation through Rules
ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם
And these are the laws that you shall place before them.
"כל מקום שנאמר אלה פסל את הראשונים, ואלה מוסיף על הראשונים, מה הראשונים מסיני אף אלו מסיני"
"And place before them these laws," commands the Torah, as it presents a comprehensive list of monetary laws to guide us in our daily lives.
Rashi, quoting the Mechilta, says that the ‘extra vuv’ at the beginning of this week’s parsha is a ‘connecting vuv’.
This week's parsha follows last week's awe-inspiring revelation at Mount Sinai, where we were blessed with the gift of the Torah and witnessed the unimaginable. The seven heavens opened and we "saw" Hashem to the greatest extent humanly possible. The 'connecting vuv' at the beginning of this parsha reminds us that, just as the Ten Commandments were given at Sinai, so were these intricate monetary laws with all their details.
The author of this particular Mechilta is Rabbi Yishmael. Interestingly, he holds the opinion elsewhere that most of the details of the Torah were not given actually at Mount Sinai, but were revealed to Moshe from the Tabernacle as they were needed.
If so, there must be something unique about the monetary laws to have taught them at Sinai, together with the Ten Commandments. What makes these laws so special?
The Medrash Raba likens the Torah to a noblewoman, flanked by her guards on both sides. The guards, explains the Medrash, are the Rules:
The Torah is surrounded with rules. The parsha before states, "and you shall judge the people at all times." This parsha, Mishpatim, begins with more rules. And the Ten Commandments are in the middle.
What is the deeper meaning of this medrash?
The Be'er Yosef explains that, at first glance, these monetary laws may seem straightforward. However, when we delve deeper, we realize that they actually oblige us to go above and beyond.
Don’t mistreat your servant! Honor him as much as yourself. Don’t you go sleeping comfortably with a pillow, while your servant has none. Consider the following scenario. I only have one pillow! If I use it, I will be enjoying more than my servant, contrary to the halacha. If no one uses it, that’s just plain cruel. So my servant will get it and I will be sleeping without!
Lend money to the needy -- but don’t act as a creditor. You may not enter his home to collect collateral. If the lender gives you something to hold on to, you must return it to him whenever he might need it.
This is the Torah's intention. We must treat our servants with the same respect as we do ourselves, lending money becomes a full-time job, and generosity and kindness become the norm. The Torah's rules create a stage for endless acts of kindness, inspiring us to become the best version of ourselves, and we were sanctified and given the capacity to live up to this at the revelation of Har Sinai.
The Torah is a gift from Hashem, meant to transform and uplift us. As we grow and evolve through the Torah's teachings, we become sanctified, capable of fulfilling its expectations. We are flanked on either side by rules that guide us, with the opportunity to be transformed in the middle.
May we embrace these laws and transform ourselves through them, striving to be the best we can be. Wishing you a wonderful Shabbos.