Monday, January 28, 2008

Mishpatim 5631 First Ma'amar

וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם/And these are the laws that you will place before them.” (Shmos 21:1) The Torah contains many laws. Some are decrees having no apparent reason while others are rational laws found in most cultures. The commandment to eat only the flesh of animals that have split hooves and chew their cuds, for example, is a decree having no apparent reason. The commandments not to steal and murder on the other hand, seem very logical, indeed. In this first pasuk of the parsha, God commanded Moshe Rabbeinu to place the rational laws before them. The word “מִשְׁפָּטִים/laws” refers to rational laws.

Rashi on this pasuk quotes the Midrash which says that this parsha directly follows the story of the revelation of God on Mount Sinai and the giving of the ten commandments to teach us that these rational laws were given on Mount Sinai, too. Our parsha begins with the word “And” indicating that this parsha is a continuation of and connected to the previous one. But why must the Torah make a point of teaching us that these laws were given at Mount Sinai? All the laws were given there! Furthermore, Rashi quotes Chazal who tell us that God instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to explain to the nation the reasons behind these laws. This is why the pasuk states, “... אֲשֶׁר תָּשׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם/… that you will place before them.” Moshe Rabbeinu was required to serve them the laws like food on a set table. Everything was to be understood and clear. Why was he instructed to explain specifically these laws? What about all the other laws in the Torah?

The Chidushei HaRim explains that there is a tendency to attribute these rational laws to man’s logic. After all, these laws are good for society. Chazal tell us that these laws as well were given on Mount Sinai to teach us that the only reason the laws are logical to us is because God created logic as well. We usually do not think of logic as a creation. But, the Chidushei HaRim says that this is exactly the point. The rational laws of the Torah only appear logical to us because that is the will of God. This is why Chazal make a point of telling us that these rational laws were given at Sinai, too. They are teaching us that the laws are only rational because that’s the will of God.

The Sfas Emes explains this further. Not only do we understand these laws as being rational because that is the way God created us. Even the rational laws have deep underlying spiritual meaning. We are able to connect and understand these deeper meanings only because Moshe Rabbeinu placed these laws before us. Regarding this the Zohar explains the pasuk, “בָּרְכוּ ה' מַלְאָכָיו גִּבֹּרֵי כֹחַ עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ לִשְׁמֹעַ בְּקוֹל דְּבָרוֹ/Bless God, His angels, those mighty in strength, performers of His word, to hearken to the sound of His word.” (Tehillim 103:20) This pasuk tells us that the angels were “עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ/performers of His word.” When the nation of Israel said “נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע/We will do and we will listen,” (Shmos 24:7) we became “עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ/performers of His word.” How so? The words “עֹשֵׂי דְבָרוֹ/performers of His word.” in this pasuk can also be translated as “makers of His word.” How do we make God’s word? The Zohar is teaching us that when we said that we will first do and then listen, God gave us the power to make His words come alive in this world. According to a person’s desire to understand, the letters themselves will become alive to him and he will be able to constantly hear new and novel things from the very same words. This is the deeper meaning of “... אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם/… that you will place before them.” The Torah stresses that Moshe Rabbeinu placed particularly these rational laws before us to teach us that even the rational laws to which this pasuk refers have very deep spiritual meanings. Moshe Rabbeinu placed these laws before the nation so that they would be able, through their quest, to reach an understanding of the very deepest meanings of the laws.

The Holy Rav of Parshischa takes this concept a step further. He says that God was telling Moshe that they should place His laws before themselves and before their own lives. The Rav of Parshischa explains that the nation of Israel did this when we said that we would keep God’s decrees even before knowing what they were. Essentially, we trusted God completely and delivered ourselves into His hands.

Because of this mesirus nefesh, God granted us the ability to understand all the inner meanings of the Torah. In essence He gave us the power to make the Torah come alive by drawing out the inner meanings of the words of God. This is what Chazal meant when they explained the pasuk, “... אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם/… that you will place before them.” God instructed Moshe Rabbeinu to place the laws before them like a set table with food ready to be eaten. The laws can be understood on different levels. God commanded Moshe to set the laws before them so that they could merit the deepest understanding.

Moshe Rabbeinu gave us all the inner meanings of the words of the Torah. However, it was given to us in a format which requires work on our part to unveil them. When a Jew works hard to understand God’s laws, he opens himself up to constant new understandings in the words of the Torah. A person can merit understanding new and different concepts each time he learns the same words of Torah. We can merit understanding the deeper will of God through the letters of the Torah.

This happens when we trust God completely and accept the words of the Torah even before understanding or knowing what they are. Then, the wellsprings of Torah open up for us. Certainly God does not limit these wellsprings to these specific laws. Rather, a Jew through learning the Torah can reach a deep understanding of all of God’s laws. The inner will of God will be revealed to him through the Torah. We can prepare, before beginning to learn, by taking a few moments to contemplate this. According to the intensity of our desire, we will find the truth in everything and we will not err, chas vesholom.

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