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Parsha Mishpatim

By: Debra Zauderer, Teaneck, NJ

When reading through the parsha, I noticed two strange things. One is that the first pasuk begins with "AND these are the ordinances that you shall set before them." From a very young age, we were all taught not to start a sentence with the word "and," so why would the Torah break this cardinal rule? Rashi notices this problem and states that the "and" means the statement is referring back to what was previously stated in Parshat Yitro, namely the Aseret HaDibrot. This shows us that the Ten Commandments are the beginning of Hashem's list of rules and laws for us, and now in Parshat Mishpatim, we are continuing with the rest of the laws.

We then come upon the second oddity in the parsha. Why does this section of laws begin with the laws of slavery? Rabbi Moshe Gewirtz gives an interesting answer to this. He states that the laws of how to treat a slave and for how long one may own a slave are given at the beginning because they are most relevant. The Jews had just gotten out of slavery in Egypt and now know first-hand how hard and demeaning slavery truly is. Now that they just experienced that low, and it is still fresh in their minds, Hashem is hoping that if He tells them not to treat others like that, they will understand and behave accordingly.
I, however, see this parsha in a different light. The way I see this parsha is that the laws are given in no specific order. If they were given in a certain order, wouldn't it make sense to have the things we do more often first? Or to have the most strict laws first? If it were in order, cursing and hitting one's mother and father would not come after slavery, murder would not come after an eye for an eye/a tooth for a tooth, and kashrut and following the ways of Hashem would not come late in the parsha because these are all laws pertinent to us on a daily basis. This is why I believe the laws are in no specific order. From this I infer that Hashem is giving us the message that all mitzvot are equally important in His eyes and thus there is no clearly correct order in which to place them in the Torah. At the same time, this means that Hashem has given us the ability to figure out for ourselves which ones stand out as particularly meaningful to us. Of course, all mitzvot are incumbent upon us and we must observe them all, but each individual will relate to some more than others, and can choose to highlight and focus on those. The fact that Hashem gives us this choice conveys the powerful message that He believes in us. It is on each of us individually to choose the right path for ourselves that will bring us closest to Him.

Our year in Israel is a big year. It is as if we are given an empty jar and asked to fill it. We are given big stones, little pebbles, sand, and water. The only way to fill our jar to its maximum capacity is if we first deal with the major stones, and then as time goes on, fill in the empty spaces with the pebbles, sand, and water. It is our year to make choices for ourselves, figure out our priorities, and discover who we are.