The Deeper Dimension of Mishpatim
Rabbi Yeheskel Lebovic
Does The Name Mishpatim Belong Right After Sinai?
This name of this week’s Sidra is Mishpatim/Judgements. The mitzvoth of the Torah are subdivided in three categories: (a) Mishpatim/judgements. These are quite logical and one would be inclined to observe them even if they would not have been commanded as Divine Mitzvoth (b) Eidoth/testimonies. These refer to the various holiday Mitzvoth which, once commanded, make sense (c) Chukim/statutes. These are Mitzvoth which are very baffling and transcend intellect, such as the prohibition of mixing wool and linen in garments and cooking/eating meat and milk together. The name of a Sidra covers all items discussed in the Sidra (vs. naming a Sidra merely on the basis of some opening word). We therefore have to understand how the name Mishpatim would apply to the end of the Sidra, where: (a) it recounts how the Jews said ‘we will do (first and then) we will hear (and strive to understand), implying their acceptance not being on the basis of understanding (b) certain Mitzvoth transcending intellect are mentioned, such as cooking/eating meat and milk together (mentioned above) difficult to understand since separately meat and milk are each fully kosher. Hence, how can the name Mishpatim be applied to such intellect-transcending elements?
Doesn’t Mishpatim Apply Also to Bnai Noach?
Furthermore, one of the seven Mitzvoth in which all of humanity is obligated (as Bnei Noach/descendants of Noach) is the obligation to establish courts of justice, which according to the Ramban (Gen.34:13) includes a host of laws concerning theft, honesty in salary payment, payments for damages etc... all included in Torah Law under Mishpatim. Seemingly, therefore, the type of laws that should have been stated right after the Sidra of Yisro and the Giving of the Ten Commandements should have been Eidos and Chukim rather than Mishpatim, in which Jews were already obligated as Bnei Noach? And we know that the full Jewish status was finally acquired at the giving of the Torah at Sinai!
Faith and Understanding
Judaism subdivides into two categories: (a) Faith and Belief—Emuna (b) Application of intellect towards understanding Torah and Mitzvoth according to one’s ability. The Shaloh (in his Asara Maamaros 40a) interprets a verse in the Song of the Sea accordingly. The verse states “this is my G-d and I will build Him a sanctuary, He is the G-d of my fathers and I will exalt Him (Ex. 15:2) “G-d of my fathers” refers to the faith and belief inculcated into us by our ancestors, while “this is my G-d” refers to one’s efforts at internalizing one’s faith and making it my own through intellectual application. Accordingly, there are actually three stages in this process: first, one must rely on the faith and tradition received from our fathers. Secondly, we must apply ourselves to internalize it intellectually on a personal level. But, in addition, explains the Lubavitcher Rebbe based on the sequence of the two parts of this verse, there has to be a further reconnection between our intellectual recognition of G-d and the transcendent aspect of faith and Emuna.
How Does It Work?
This process can be understood in light of the Midrashic statement (Shmos Rabbah 12:3 and Tanchuma Voera 15) that at the time of Creation there was a division/separation between the upper( spiritual) realms and the lower (physical) realms. Come the Giving of the Torah at Sinai, the gulf was bridged: first the upper realms descended (“G-d descended on Mt. Sinai” Ex. 19:20) and then the lower realms ascended (“and Moshe ascended” Ex.19:20). At the initial point of G-dly revelation appearing and descending (on Mt. Sinai) the lower realms became “nullified”, as a result of such revelation (“the whole mountain trembled”; “the people stood from afar”). That revelation then gave the lower realms strength to rise on their own (similar to “this is my G-d”) towards the upper divine realm. In this last stage there is the advantage of one’s own existential dimension becoming thoroughly united with G-d vs. becoming nullified “out-of-existence”. G-d desires that we should retain our existential dimension (of intellect, emotions etc..) and in that state become proper recipients of the upper, transcendental divine realm. This answers the opening question: The reason why Mishpatim comes upon the heels of Yisro and the giving of the Torah is because this is the eventual goal of the descent/ascent process at the time of giving the Torah: to reach the point whereby we will be proper recipients, even as we retain our personal existential dimensions of intellect (Mishpatim), of divine revelation to reach the highest level of connection with G-d, especially in the coming days of Moshiach, speedily in our days.
Application to Chabad
What applies to the revealed aspects of Torah also applies to its esoteric inner dimension-- which will be fully revealed in the Messianic era. Though there was only one Mattan Torah/Giving of the Torah at Sinai, it already incorporated the inner dimensions which would be gradually revealed with the passage of time. It all started at the beginning of the sixth millennium with the revelation of Chassidic teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples. At this initial point, the emphasis was the Emuna dimension, having faith and belief in the power of the Rebbe as a Tzadik having the ability to connect his chassidim/followers in a deeper manner to G-d, with their reliance on his spiritual power to generate such connection. However, here too, there is the need for followers to retain their personal existential dimensions of intellect and emotions, and apply them fully to internalize the inner, esoteric dimension accessible through Chassidic teachings. This stage was accomplished by the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman of Liadi. As is known, Chabad is an acrostic for Chochma, Bina, Daas, wisdom, understanding and knowledge, the three components of intellect. The way Chabad is currently spreading all over the world definitely indicates that it is auguring the coming of Moshiach and the revelation of Torah’s esoteric dimensions speedily in our days!
Based on Likutey Sichos vol.16 pp.242-250