In this week parsha, Parshat Mishaptim, the Torah veers from both the way it had been written, and the content it had been relaying up until this point. Instead of continuing from the story of Har Sinai to the story of chet haegel, it pauses for an entire parsha to give Bnei Yisrael laws. Why this sudden break in the story? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to finish the story at Har Sinai and then talk about all these laws?
The Ramban suggests that every mitzvah given in parshat Mishpatim is related to the Asseret Ha’Dibrot. The first aliyah of the parsha states: "One who strikes a man, so that he dies, shall surely be put to death." (21:12), "One who kidnaps a man and sells him, and he was found to have been in his power, shall surely be put to death," (21:16) and "One who curses his father or mother shall surely be put to death" (21:17). These three mitzvot are clearly related to the dibrot of “Don’t kill,” “Don’t steal,” and “Honor your father and your mother,” but not every mitzvah in the parsha has such a clear connection. How then, can we see the full validity of the Ramban’s statement? It is known about the Ramban that he uses the language of the psukim to make and prove his points, therefore it would be appropriate to look at the words of the psukim themselves.
The first few psukim of the parsha are dealing with mitzvot related to slaves and servants. "If you have a Jewish bondsman, he shall work for six years; and in the seventh he shall go free..." (21:2). The language in these psukim is similar in many ways to the language used in the fourth dibrah which commanded Bnei Yisrael to keep Shabbat. "Six days thou shall work, and accomplish all your work; but the seventh day is Shabbat unto Hashem..." (Shmot 20:8/9). To go one step further, in the fifth aliyah of this weeks parsha the pasuk states, “Six years you shall sow your land and gather its produce. And in the seventh, you shall leave it unattended and unharvested….Six days you shall accomplish your activities, and on the seventh you shall desist...” (23:10-12). The language connection is obvious, but what do laws of slaves, servants, shabbat and shmittah have anything to do with each other?
There is a concept in Judaism (which is stated time and time again by the Rambam, Ramban and Sefer Ha’Chinuch) which says that every mitzvah represents a higher principle than just the law itself. Maybe these three mitzvot were given to Bnei Yisrael for the same higher purpose. Why would a master be forced to let his servant go free? As a reminder that he is not the Ultimate Master. Why do we keep shabbat? To testify for the creation of the world, by the Ultimate Creator, not by man kind. Why do we keep Smittah? Because it too is a reminder that Hashem is ultimately in control.
The idea that mitzvot represent a higher principal in Judaism is exactly the reason why the Torah veered from the way it had been writing and the story it had been telling to give a set of laws. In last weeks parsha, Parshat Yitro, Bnei Yisrael was given the task of being a “Mamlechet Kohanim,” and a “Goy Kadosh.” There would be no way for the Torah to continue telling the story of Bnei Yisrael without first telling how it expects them to behave on a level higher than just laws. The asseret hadibrot, is not just a list of laws, but also a list of the principles every Jew should live by, and parshat Mishpatim tells us how to put those principles into action; it is a manifestation of our values. We, as Jews are not only supposed to preach Hashems values, but live by them as well, and what better place to do that than in the land Hashem chose; it is the only place in the world where a Jew live by the principles and values of Hashem as an individual, and as part of a society which does the same.
May we all merit the ability to live our lives by the principles and values Hashem has given us, in the land that exemplifies those values as well. V’Shavu Banin Li’Gvulam.
Adapted from: Aleph Beta: Are Laws Just Oppressive Restrictions? on Parshat Mishpatim
Shoshi Gross is currently studying in Midreshet Lindenbaum and is a Here Next Year Ambassador.