This week’s reading, Mishpatim, judgments, is aptly named. Yes, the Hebrew name of a parsha, a reading, is simply its first uncommon word, but there are no coincidences, right? Mishpatim is filled with exactly what the name implies: judgments, interpersonal laws. We have Commandments which testify to our belief that G-d Created the world and brought us out of Egypt, Commandments which we observe even without truly understanding their deeper meaning, and then, in the third category, we judgments necessary for a civilized society.
There are fifty-three Commandments in this week’s reading. That is to say, more than we learned in all of the Torah that we have read so far since “In the beginning,” combined. It is a reading packed with Mitzvos!
Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, Rashi, says that our reading begins with a bridge. He tells us that when we see the word Eleh, these, it means “these and not what came before.” It means what was previous to Eleh is discarded. But V’Eleh, and these, adds on. In this case, just as the previous laws came from Sinai, these laws are also from Sinai.
But why? If these regulations are necessary for a civilized society, we could, of course, devise our own system. In fact, when G-d gave Noah the Seven Commandments that apply to all of humanity, He only Commanded that they not steal, not murder, not commit immorality, and set up courts of justice. That was entirety of the interpersonal laws. Yet we have dozens of very specific Commandments, which, as understood by our Rabbis, add up to volumes of rules and regulations. Every first-world country has detailed laws, yet ours were given to us.
Last week’s reading concluded with building the Mizbeyach, the altar. Rashi says this too, teaches us a lesson: the Sandhedrin, the Supreme Court, was to sit in judgment at the site of the Holy Temple, near the altar.
If we imagine that Judaism lives in the synagogue, we are making a mistake. And it doesn’t reside in the home, either. Both are important, but Judaism is something we carry with us every minute of every day. The way we do business is different, because we have our rules. The way we interact, the behavior we expect of ourselves, must be different.
Our interpersonal laws are not simply another civilized system of justice, but part and parcel of our Divine Mission. And that means they are not merely a requirement, but an opportunity. We spend more time doing other things then we do praying, and our unique mishpatim give us the opportunity to grow closer to G-d even while doing mundane daily activities — to sanctify the ordinary, all day long.