The Chapters of Redemption
The Ramban writes that Shemos is the Sefer of Geulah. From Parshas Shemos through Yisro the story is
told of the redemption from slavery until Sinai. From Mishpatim onward, however,
it is unclear what the subsequent parts have to do with the theme of redemption.
Mishpatim would seem to fit in better at the end of Kedoshim
or Shoftim; Trumah and the other sections about the Mishkan here in Shemos would
seem to pertain more to Sefer Vayikra, where the kohanim, korbanos and Beis
HaMikdash are discussed.
Regarding the parshios from Trumah onwards, the Ramban
explains that the geulah was incomplete until we returned to the original status
of the Avos, from which we had fallen. They were the merkava, the vehicle for
bringing the Divine Presence into the world. At the end of Sefer Shemos, it says
that the cloud rested on the Mishkan and it was filled with the glory of HaShem.
That signalled the completion of the historic process of redemption.
But what about Parshas Mishpatim? Why is it here in Shemos?
The answer in a nutshell: that there’s no dwelling of the Divine Presence in
this world, without mishpatim; because they constitute the application of the
Torah to everyday life. That’s why Mishpatim is integral to the Torah’s
account of redemption. For until Torah law blends into every aspect of life, and
it’s all permeated with Shechina, it’s not geulah.
This is also the key to understanding the difference between
Jewish and non-Jewish law, and why it is forbidden to go to non-Jewish courts.
Because even our everyday law is rooted in spirit. In Judaism there is no
demarcation between the religious and the secular.
For instance, if a person steals in broad daylight, he has to
pay back what he stole; if he’s a sneak thief, he has to pay double. Why? A
robber who grabs your purse in broad daylight should be worse, since he puts
more terror into you than a guy that snuck into your house at night. But the
Gemora says that the one who stole openly doesn’t care about HaShem or people,
he’s not afraid of anybody. The sneak thief, on the other hand, is afraid that
people will see him, but not that HaShem will see him. So he pays double. What
do these religious considerations have to do with laws of theft?
Their system of justice is built on human reason. Their lo
tirtzach is not our lo tirtzach. Theirs is built on what human beings think is
right. And what people think is right changes as conditions and perspectives
change. What is considered murder today, may be perfectly acceptable tommorow.
There are good arguments for abortion and euthanasia. Nevertheless, the Torah
says its murder. The Torah law in these matters is not based on situation ethics
or human reason; it’s Divine law and a completely different system, even
though it may appear to be similar.
The Rambam identifies two categories of mitzvos: rational and
supra-rational. He explains that the former are in accord with human reason and
we should want to follow them; whereas the latter, we should not want to keep
them but are obligated to do so. Therefore, you shouldn’t say, “Chazir, Yyyccchhh!
It’s disgusting! Who would ever want to eat such a thing?” Rather, you
should say, “It’s probably very tasty. People spend money on it in
restaurants, and even leave tips. So it must be good. But what can I do? G-d
said that I can’t eat it.” It’s only in the end disgusting to me because
G-d said that it’s ossur to eat. On the other hand, I shouldn’t go around
all day saying, “Oh, I wish I could murder somebody, but what can I do, G-d
said I can’t do it.” That’s not the proper way to be.
Now that doesn’t mean you are keeping the mitzvah because
it’s rationally right; because if you do that, you’re in big danger. No, you’re
keeping it because G-d said so. However, since He also said that murder is an
abomination, and He hates robbery, and since we have an obligation to emulate
G-d, not only do we have to refrain from killing and robbing, we have to hate
them, too. It does not, however, say anywhere that G-d hates chazir. So all we
have to do is abstain from it.