FedTalks Parshas Mishpotim -Transcript
There is an all-important letter at the beginning of this week’s sedra, the ‘vov’, the letter of conjunction, the letter of connection; “ve’eileh hamishpotim”, “and these are the ordinances”.
These are the halochos, the laws that govern civil disputes, civil law, “asher tossim lifneihem”, that you, Moshe Rabbeinu, should place before klal Yisroel.
And that ‘vov’, says Rashi, comes to tell us that the authority, which is the basis of civil law, is m’Sinai, is rooted in the Divine, in the Ribono shel Olom, just as much, in exactly the same way that the asseres hadibros, and all of the rest of the giving of the Torah, is rooted in Sinai.
And this is a well-known Rashi, a well-known idea, but let’s ask a very basic question. What does civil law mean? What do we mean when we say civil law? What do you think of when we talk about disputes, the laws of damages, guardianship? Why would we think otherwise? And even further, if you examine the asseres hadibros themselves, you see that the vast majority of them also regulate and talk about the most basic of interactions; do not steal, do not murder. So, what’s really going on over here?
The Alshich Hakodosh has an amazing idea. And he says that civil laws, even those laws that are made in secular society, are designed to ensure that there are no disputes, that everything runs smoothly. But how can you tell whether it’s a good system?
The notion of the individual right, or the rights of the individuals is an amazing one. The problem with it is that when your right conflicts with my right. Because whenever you have a right you have a competing obligation and duty, and when they clash, and clash they will, then the system begins to unravel – what takes precedence? My right to freedom of speech, over your right not to be abused, harmed? Where do we draw the line?
‘’Mishpetei Hashem Emess” – how do we know that the mishpotim of the Ribono shel Olom are emess? Because “tzodku yachdov”, they unite to a coherent, unified whole, and they have a system and a prescription that describes and prescribes every situation and shows that there is no tension. Everything is rooted in Sinai.
We live in a world that is obsessed with rights, and indeed the touchstone of what is considered a civilized and progressive and developed society, it’s all about rights. In Yiddishkeit, in Judaism, there are no rights. There may be implied rights, but we have 613 mitzvos, obligations. A Jew does not ask, ‘what is my right’, but ‘have I been ‘yotzei midei chovoh’’, have I discharged my obligations, obligations to other, obligations to the Ribbono shel Olom and all of them, “v’eileh hasmishpotim”, they’re all rooted in Sinai – “tzodku yachdov”.