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In The Garden Of The Torah
Insights of the Lubavitcher Rebbe Shlita
on the weekly Torah Readings

Mishpatim - 5754

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Publisher's Foreword

This week, the Alter Rebbe's directive "Live with the times - with the weekly Torah reading," takes on greater significance.

For this week's parshah, Parshas Mishpatim, is the eighteenth Torah reading in the annual cycle.

Eighteen, numerically equiva lent to chai, "life," alludes to the manner in which the Torah generates life for us - spiritual life, increased vitality in our Jewish observance, and material life, abundant Divine blessings, together with the insight that enables us to appreciate them in a complete manner.

May the study of the Rebbe Shlita's teachings generate divine blessings that enhance his life, leading to his complete and speedy recovery and enabling him to guide the entire Jewish people to the Redemption in the most immediate future.

20 Shvat, 5754

After Sinai
Making the Torah a Part of Ourselves

Adapted from
Likkutei Sichos, Vol. III, p. 896ff; Vol. XVI, p. 242ff;
Sefer HaSichos 5749, p. 243ff.

When the World Stood Still

When G-d gave the Torah, "There was thunder and lightning, and a heavy cloud on the mountain.... Mount Sinai was all asmoke..., the entire mountain trembled violently." [1] "And all the people saw the sounds, the flames, the blast of the ram's horn, and the mountain smoking. And the people trembled, standing far-off." [2]

Far more intense than these arresting physical phenomena was the internal power of G-d's voice.

And so, upon hearing each of the Ten Commandments, the people's "souls took flight." [3]

Moreover, the effects of this revelation reverberated throughout the world at large: "No bird chirped..., nor did an ox bellow, nor the sea roar." [4] Silence permeated all existence while G-d spoke.

After describing such an all-encompassing experience, one might think the Torah would continue with a discussion of matters that reflect such self-transcendence. But instead, the Torah continues: [5] "And these are the judgments."

What is the difficulty?

Our Rabbis [6] divide the mitzvos into three general categories:

  1. mishpatim (lit., "judgments"), those mitzvos which are dictated by reason, for example the prohibitions against theft and murder. Even if the Torah had not been given, Chas v'Shalom, we would have instituted - as did most societies throughout the world - laws of this nature. [7]

  2. eidus (lit., "testimonials"), commemorative mitzvos, e.g., observing the Shabbos or eating matzah on Pesach, which enable us to relive the events of history, and grasp their spiritual significance.

  3. chukim (lit., "decrees"), mitzvos that are superrational, that are "a decree from Me, [which] you have no permission to question." [8]

Presumably, the Giving of the Torah should have been followed by chukim, for their superrational nature offers fit expression to the spiritual feelings aroused at Mount Sinai.

Why instead does the Torah continue with laws that could (seemingly) be postulated by reason, parallels to which exist in all civilized society?

To Advance, Not to Withdraw

This question can be resolved based on a point of Hebrew grammar.

Rashi states: [9] "Whenever [the Torah] uses the term Aileh ("These are"), it negates what was mentioned previously.

"Whenever it uses the term Vo-aileh ("And these are"), it adds to what was mentioned previously.

Just as those mentioned first (the Ten Commandments) [were revealed] at Sinai, so too, these (the laws of Parshas Mishpatim) [were revealed] at Sinai.

Rashi is emphasizing that the judgments which are the subject of our Torah reading are not a departure from the revelation of Mount Sinai, but rather an outgrowth of it.

The Torah is not merely transcendent spirituality.

On the contrary, the main thrust of the Giving of the Torah is G-d's clothing His will and His wisdom in terms and concepts which mortals can relate to. [10]

When a person studies the Torah, he is comprehending G-dliness, and joining his mind with G-d's wisdom in complete and perfect unity.

For the nature of intellectual comprehension involves establishing a complete bond between one's mind and the concept one understands. [11]

Indeed, such a bond is most completely established in the study of those dimensions of the Torah which relate to worldly matters, for these are the ideas which human intellect comprehends most thoroughly. [12]

Fulfilling G-d's Purpose

The giving of the Torah completes the purpose of creation.

G-d brought all existence into being, because He desired a dwelling place in the lower worlds. [13]

The objective of creation is thus not the revelation of G-d's transcendent power, but rather that worldly entities as they exist within their own context, should be permeated by the truth of His Being.

This is accomplished through the mishpatim of the Torah.

They communicate G-dliness in relation to the issues that involve the everyday lives of mortals within this material plane. [14]

The comprehension of these laws brings G-dliness into each person's mind, making him personally a "dwelling for G-d."

And the application of these laws creates a society that enables man to achieve spiritual purpose and fulfillment amidst peace, security, and the opportunity to satisfy his material needs, a "dwelling for G-d" in the most complete sense.

Back to Sinai

Parshas Mishpatim concludes with a description of some of the details of the giving of the Torah, [15] including the declaration naaseh venishmah ("We will do, and we will listen") which represents the ultimate commitment of faith.

Even before one has been told what to do, one promises to obey, showing a complete and total willingness to do G-d's will.

This complements the lesson of Mishpatim. [16]

After a person has been able to internalize G-dliness within his mind and life through the systematic study and application of the Torah's laws, he is fit to receive the dimensions of G-dliness which transcend human comprehension, the heart of the Sinai experience.

The study and practice of the mishpatim refine him and transform his personality, making it possible for the infinite dimension of the Torah to permeate his character, erasing any dichotomy that might exist between his self and his faith.

Knowing, and Not Knowing

The above allows for an extended interpretation of a renown statement of our Rabbis, [17] "the ultimate of knowledge is not to know You."

The simple meaning of this statement is that a person realizes the limits of intellect, and therefore understands that knowing G-d is impossible, for He transcends all limits.

There is, however, an allusion to the concept that when a person has developed his knowledge, he appreciates that even the concepts which he knows possess an inner dimension which transcends intellect. [18]

And going further, one can infer that which cannot be known, the dimensions of G-d that are infinite, can be internalized by our knowledge to the point that they shape our personalities. [19]

Knowledge of G-d in this manner anticipates - and precipitates - the coming of the Redemption, the era when "A man will no longer teach his friend..., for all will know Me, from the small to the great." [20]



  1. (Back to text) Exodus 19:16-18.

  2. (Back to text) Ibid. 20:15.

  3. (Back to text) Shabbos 88b.

  4. (Back to text) Shmos Rabbah 29:9.

  5. (Back to text) Exodus 21:1.

  6. (Back to text) See the Ramban on Deuteronomy 6:20; Sefer HaMamaarim 5701, p. 51ff.

  7. (Back to text) Cf. Yoma 67b.

  8. (Back to text) Rashi to Numbers 19:2; cf. Yoma 67b, Midrash Tanchuma, Chukas, sec. 7.

    Seemingly, our Rabbis should have said "you have no permission to disobey." By stating "you have no permission to question," they implied that the devotion to G-d's will expressed by the chukim must be internalized to the point where, not only is the mitzvah observed, it is fulfilled with unquestioning obedience, one's mind consenting to the commitment which transcends reason.

  9. (Back to text) Rashi, Exodus 21:1, based on Shmos Rabbah 30:3, and the Mechilta to this verse.

  10. (Back to text) The fact that the Torah speaks of physical entities on the material plane does not at all diminish its inner G-dly core.

    To borrow an analogy from Tanya, ch. 4, it is like embracing a king who is wearing garments. It is not significant how many garments the king is wearing; what is significant is being in the king's embrace.

  11. (Back to text) See Tanya, ch. 5. See also the Guide for the Perplexed, Vol. I, Chapter 68.

  12. (Back to text) See Tanya, Kuntres Acharon, Essay 4.

  13. (Back to text) Midrash Tanchuma, Parshas Bechukosai, sec. 3.

  14. (Back to text) Although mishpatim express the purpose of the Giving of the Torah, the Torah first highlights the transcendent revelations described in Parshas Yisro. This is necessary, for it must be clear that the intellect content of Mishpatim is not merely limited human reason, but rather an expression of G-d's infinity.

    After the transcendent dimension of the Torah is underscored, it is possible to clarify that G-d's absolute infinity extends into the realm of the finite, and becomes manifest in the wisdom of Torah law.

  15. (Back to text) Although this portion of the Torah reading took place previously (according to Rashi), it is mentioned at the reading's conclusion, because the Torah does not always follow a chronological order Pesachim 6b; Rashi, Shmos 19:11.

    Were the narratives related in the Torah merely historical chronicles, it would be preferable for the chronological sequence to be kept.

    The fact that this sequence is, from time to time, transposed indicates that the fundamental purpose of these narratives is to teach us lessons pertaining to our divine service.

  16. (Back to text) This explanation enables us to understand why the name Mishpatim applies to the entire Torah reading, including its conclusion.

    Similarly, it can be explained that the passages of the Torah reading that describes the festivals also relate to the name Mishpatim, for the thorough comprehension of Torah law evokes feelings of happiness, and that is the essence of the festivals.

  17. (Back to text) Bechinos Olam, sec. 8, ch. 2; Ikarim, Discourse II, ch. 30, Shaloh 191b.

  18. (Back to text) To state this in the context of our Torah reading: even the mishpatim are in essence expressions of G-d's infinity.

  19. (Back to text) In the context of the Torah reading: the study and the practice of the mishpatim lead to an internalized appreciation of the experience of Sinai.

  20. (Back to text) Jeremiah 31:33.

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