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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim 5781

Parashat Hashavua: National Spiritual Impact of Justice

Harav Yosef Carmel

Right after the giving of the Torah and before the many halachot that appear in our parasha, the Torah declares: “These are the statutes that you shall place before them” (Shemot 21:1), which is the source of the halacha that one must adjudicate in beit din (rather than non-Jewish or secular courts). This special location gives special importance to the place of Jewish monetary law in our national and individual lives.

Already in Parashat Yitro, before the giving of the Torah, the matter of appointing dayanim is discussed, and the desired characteristics of such dayanim are mentioned. Actually, even in Parashat Beshalach, right after the Splitting of the Sea, it says: “There (at Mara) He placed before them chok u’mishpat (statutes and laws) and there nisahu (He tested them)” (ibid. 15:25). Chazal saw this as such an essential matter that the Mechilta D’Rashbi (15) says that “mishpat” refers to a variety of monetary laws and “nisahu” refers to a high level of spiritual elevation. The aggadic midrashim also describe this pasuk in special terms. Shemot Rabba (30) compares it to a queen who was walking with an honor guard on either side.

According to this midrash, one can understand that the basis for the dwelling of the Divine Presence among us is a proper judicial system. The social and national life of Am Yisrael is based not only on people who have a common language and homeland, but also on a properly operating judicial system. This system elevates the nation. Naturally, just as a special nation has a special land, so does it have a special judicial system, which fits its needs and elevates it. By means of the judicial system, we can view the character of the nation and the level of its society.

Therefore, it is no surprise that prophecies that deal with the future full liberation put significant stress on the Jewish judicial apparatus, as it says in the famous opening prophecy of Yeshayahu: “I will return your judges as they were originally and your advisors as of the beginning. Afterwards, this will be called the city of justice and the trustworthy city. Zion will be redeemed with justice and its returnees with charity” (1:26-27).

As we know, Avraham, the father of our nation, was praised as teaching his household to uphold “the path of Hashem to do charity and justice” (Bereishit 18:19). Similarly, David, the first king who founded an independent nation-state in Eretz Yisrael, was also described by the navi as one who did “justice and charity for all his nation” (Shmuel II, 8:15).

The building of a justice system, which rests on the just foundations of the Torah, is a highly important task when developing the State of Israel as a Jewish state. If we are able to create such a system, which epitomizes honesty and strives with all its might to create justice, so that it is respected by all elements of Israeli society, we can see that as real progress, even if gradual, toward the fulfillment of the prophets’ prophecies. In our Eretz Hemdah-Gazit beit din network, we try to do our modest part in advancing this important goal.      

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