Parshas Mishpatim – These are the laws that you shall place before them

By Shalom Olensky


This week in the Torah:

After recording the revelation of G-d and the transmitting of the Torah to the Jews, including (especially) the Ten Commandments, the Torah introduces laws of civil justice, by saying, (Exodus 21:1), “G-d said to Moses, ‘These are the justice-laws which you shall place before them….’”

Three interpretations of the (above) words, “before them”:

  1. Gemara, Gittin 88b: Jews must resolve any civil dispute specifically “before” a Jewish court, not before a gentile court.
  2. Gemara, Eiruvin 54b: A teacher must set the law “before” the pupil; i.e. explain to him the logic of the law.
  3. Torah Or, (by Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi), Mishpatim, page 148: Draw the knowledge of G‑d “into” (a play on the Hebrew word for “before”) them, deep “into” their souls, by teaching them the Inner Dimension of the Torah.


How do these three interpretations connect in the same word?


Why are these precautions relevant specifically to civil justice-laws, as opposed to other laws of the Torah, such as the supra-rational laws of Kosher?

True, it is specifically Jewish civil laws that require the precaution of the aforementioned first interpretation, because the gentiles judge civil laws similarly. But the next two interpretations (b and c) seem to be more apropos to the supra-rational Commandments, since a) they are the ones which need explaining and b) they, as they transcend logic, are the ones which will be bereft of meaningful fulfillment if the inner soul is not awakened.


These Jewish justice-laws directly follow the Ten Commandments, as mentioned above.

The structure of the Ten Commandments teaches us that the loftiest levels of belief in the One G-d (contained in the first five Commandments) must infuse the observance of the understandable and logical, subsequent Commandments such as the Commandments not to kill, nor steal, nor commit adultery, etc.


Hence, the civil justice-laws which immediately follow, continue in the same vein, necessitating and uniting the three aforementioned interpretations:

  1. A Torah law, as sensible as it may be, must be regarded as Divine. Hence, specifically a Jewish court must rule in all Jewish civil cases.
  2. This same idea indicates how to provide logic for a Torah law; out of a reverence for its Divine origin.
  3. Understanding and feeling that a logical law, as it comes from the Torah, is Divine, is only possible by arousing the inner dimension of the soul.

Further note:

Feeling that every logical Torah law is really from the supra-rational Divine, is crucial for two reasons:

  1. Otherwise, if left only to the dictates of one’s logic, this allows for self-love to coerce a person, against his better judgment, to degenerate, step by step, until, ruled by his animalistic side, he may ultimately reject G-d altogether, G-d forbid.
  2. A Torah Law must be seen as it truly is; the word of G-d.

(Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. 3, Mishpatim)


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