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Parshat Mishpatim

By: Reb Norman Meskin

It is common knowledge that Parshat Mishpatim contains many mitzvot – 53 to be exact. However, a brief review of those mitzvot reveals a very fascinating, but little-known fact: Most of those mitzvot relate to civil law – to the rules and regulations that should govern a civil, just society. There are, for sure, a number that deal with ritual matters and laws between Man and God, but the majority deal with issues between Man and his fellow Man.


What is so intriguing about this is the fact that the Revelation at Sinai – the beginning of which was described for us in beautiful, poetic, and emotional detail in Parshat Yitro, does not culminate until the end of Parshat Mishpatim! In fact, Bnei Yisrael’s famous declaration of faith “Na’ase ve’Nishma” is not made until after all those mitzvot are enumerated!

                In essence, the Torah presents to us the following framework:

  1. A vivid description of “Ma’amad Har Sinai” with all its glory and splendor – the “Opening Ceremony” and the declaration of  “The Ten Commandments” (Yitro)
  2. A rendering of almost 9% of the mitzvot in the Torah with an emphasis on those between Man and his fellow Man (Mishpatim)
  3. A detailed description of the “Closing Ceremony” at Mt. Sinai (Mishpatim)

What lessons are we to draw from this rather “strange” arrangement? A beautiful statement of purpose was articulated by Rav Yissochar Frand of Ner Yisroel Yeshiva in Baltimore:

The answer is that this is teaching us two lessons, tying the giving of the Torah and Derech Eretz (proper civil behavior) together. It teaches that if there is no Derech Eretz there can be no Torah — and that without Torah, there cannot truly be Derech Eretz.”

Briefly, Rav Frand is pointing out two very important concepts that are derived from this configuration in the Torah.

First of all, any amount of Torah learning – any degree of Torah scholarship – that is not accompanied by proper torah-directed behavior between individuals – i.e., is not accompanied by the Torah “scholar” behaving like a “mentsch” - all such “lumdus” and “learning” are null and void! Torah is not a “theoretical science” to be studied and analyzed and forgotten when one closes the book! Torah is a guide to everyday life and if studying it does not impact on a person’s behavior, then that effort was in vain!


Secondly, and certainly equally important, is the notion that trying to be a “mentsch” in the absence of Torah and Halacha is an impossible task and inevitably will result in the decaying of “ethical” and “moral” behavior, especially when all those “good values” become relative (i.e., subject to individual whim and caprice) instead of absolute, as they are when they are “commanded” by the Creator! History – even 20th century history – has proven the validity of this point.


I am proud to say that the program at Midreshet Amit is structured to provide for the correct balance between “Talmud Torah” and “Mentschlichkeit.”