Mishpatim- The Principles of Law

This parasha begins with “and”(v’eleh) indicating continuity with the previous subject – the Ten Commandments. This link between the presentation of the civil code and the Ten Commandments, is a reminder that all the Jewish law is of divine origin.


R’ Munk quoted from the psalms “justice looks down from heaven” (85:12) to support the argument that man has an inability to know the essence and nature of justice on his own, due to his limited understanding of himself and others. This is in comparison with the all-knowing view of G-d.


Another important word in the first sentence is “tasim” meaning that Moshe should “place” the ordinances before the people. R’ Munk quoted Rashi who wrote that it was not sufficient to simply state the substance of the law, repeating it until the people learned it. The law must be presented with all its reasoning and explanations laid out in detail, as one sets a table before a person about to eat.


R’ Munk wrote that this principle applied to the laws of social justice but when it came to the laws of sacred practice the Torah was generally brief. Within the domain of civil and penal law, the text is detailed and precise. It covers laws of restitution, the thief breaking in, the injunction against oppressing the stranger, the laws of charity, the rules of lending and borrowing and the importance of keeping away from falsehood.


Then there is the law to not cook a kid in the milk of it’s mother. Onkelos translated this verse as not eating meat with milk. Rambam wrote that the law was directed against idolatry and superstition. Others understood it as a humanitarian measure meant to prohibit a practice whose consequences led to insensitivity and cruelty. Ibn Ezra emphasised the futility of seeking specific interpretations, and saw this law as being in the category of those beyond the grasp of human understanding. 

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