MISHPATIM: DIVINE SOCIAL JUSTICE
“And these are the rules that you shall set before them.”
Rashi explains the words “And these” to add to the former subject matter and imply that not only were the Ten Commandments given at Sinai, but so too were Mishpatim given at Sinai.
What is the hidden meaning and message here?
One might think that a system of laws and jurisprudence concerned with crimes and the punishment of individuals who commit crimes were typical of any nation.
Indeed, any set of governing rules that constituted a financial system that created a legal framework governing money, banking, etc., is basic and straightforward.
So what is the connection to the otherworldly and spiritually sacred Har Sinai experience?
Is it not the foundation and purpose of any country's criminal/monetary system to protect its citizenry and foster economic growth?
If this was simply the case, there wouldn’t be the need to telegraph dry legal codes at such a supernatural experience on the level of Mattan Torah and Har Sinai.
The answer is that Mishpat in the eyes of Hashem isn’t punishment - it is Justice!
Justice, according to the Torah, means the Law takes into consideration not only the needs of the victim but the reformation of the criminal as well - and seeks to make material improvements in the life of the criminal.
Indeed, the Torah demonstrates compassion for the criminal and caps indentured servitude to a maximum of six years.
Theoretically speaking, why would there be term limits or a cap on the enslavement period?
One would be justified to argue, “Let the accused rot in prison!”
Rather, Hashem is signaling to the thief that He loves him and wishes him future success in his life.
Indeed, this feeling of love will positively influence the thief to abandon a life of criminality and lawlessness.
The thief will reason to himself, “I observe Hashem loves me; if he loves me then He can and will provide for me. I do not have to engage in criminal mischief anymore to earn a living!”
We now understand why these laws were presented at Mount Sinai - to demonstrate that the rules of criminal law defy human logic and understanding.
Hashem shows love to the criminal and demonstrates compassion even for deviants and miscreants.
Mishpatim are truly spectacular showcases of G-d’s unlimited rachmanus - to all people.
Have a wonderful Shabbos!
I’ll see you in Shul,
Rabbi Aaron D. Mehlman
Erev Rosh Chodesh Adar 1 5784