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Friday
Feb242017

JUDGMENT: PRELUDE TO MOSHIACH

THE FIRST PARSHA AFTER SINAI

The first parsha that follows the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai is called Mishpatim. It deals with the so-called “man to man” or societal laws. This underscores the Divine nature of these laws. Every civilized society has its own system of law that keeps its people civilized and protects them from harm caused by illegal behavior.

What makes the regulatory laws different in Judaism is that these social laws are not man-made. They come from G-d, just as the laws that govern our relationship with Him. There is no theological difference between the laws that dictate what we believe in, revere and love G-d, and the laws that tell us to not mistreat our fellows.

This symbiotic relationship between man-to-G-d commandments and man-to-man commandments is demonstrated by the Torah in at least five ways.

FIVE HINTS

First, when G-d gave Moshe the Ten Commandments (or more accurately the “Ten Statements”) they were etched on two tablets instead of just one. Moshe carried these tablets, which were divided into the two subjects of man-to-G-d and man-to-man commandments, side by side to underscore their equal nature.

A second demonstration of the equality between these two categories of commandments derives from the juxtaposition of Mishpatim with the parsha of Yisro which records the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

A third and stronger indication is that the Torah’s opening letter in the text of Mishpatim is the letter vav-and. Rashi explains that this indicates that the laws contained here were also given at Sinai.

More specifically, the Parsha begins with the description of a Jew who sells himself as an indentured servant and who refuses to leave after completing his six-year service commitment. His ear has to be pierced with an awl. Rashi, citing the Talmud, explains: “The ear that heard G-d say ‘For the children of Israel Are slaves to Me; they are My slaves,’ but they are not slaves to slaves.”

In other words, the Torah disapproves of a Jew subjecting himself to even a limited form of servitude. Why? Because in so doing he has violated the Divine declaration in the first commandment/statement, i.e., that G-d took us out of slavery exclusively to be His servants. This too connects the laws governing society with G-d’s direct communication of the Ten Commandments.

A fifth indication of the synergy between these two sets of commandments is what happened after Moshe returned with the second set of Tablets. The Torah relates that on the very next day Moshe was already sitting in judgment of the Jewish people. He was so preoccupied by this duty that his father-in-law Yisro had to counsel him to delegate some of that responsibility.

In his commentary on a later parsha (VaYakhel) Rashi informs us that on the same day, Moshe gathered all the Jews to instruct them concerning the construction of the Mishkan, G-d’s dwelling place. In effect, Moshe accorded the same degree of importance to adjudicating civil law as he did to constructing the Mishkan, G-d’s sanctuary; the most powerful expression of the Divine in this world!

Indeed, G-d’s approval of the construction of the Mishkan showed that He was willing to forgive the Jewish people for the construction of the Golden Calf and would dwell among them. The construction of the Mishkan was the climax of G-d’s revelation at Mount Sinai; the most dramatic revelation of G-d to the world. What happened at Sinai, though, was a momentary revelation that dissipated with the sounding of the shofar. Construction of the Mishkan was actually the first step in concretizing G-d’s presence in this physical world; a process that continues to this day and will be completed with the Final Redemption.

What emerges from this analysis is that the need to judge the people and ensure a prompt resolution of their disputes was considered no less urgent to G-d and Moshe than the momentous commandment to solidify the relationship between G-d and Israel by building the Mishkan!

SINAI JUSTICE

One may reasonably ask why the civil laws are accorded so much significance here? In an earlier parsha, the Torah states that the civil laws had already been given at Mara, prior to Sinai:

…[T]here [at Mara G-d] gave them the commandments and judgments…

Rashi, citing Talmudic tradition, says that the “judgments” referred to here are the civil laws.

Why was it necessary to restate these laws and with the added emphasis that they came from G-d at Sinai?

The simple answer is that the revelation at Sinai changed the entire dynamic of the previously revealed laws. Before Sinai, these laws were intended to protect society from self-destruction. After all, there can be no place for a relationship with G-d if we can’t get along with each other. A world of chaos and anarchy is headed to self-destruction just as it did in the generation of the Great Flood in the days of Noach.

The revelation by G-d at Mount Sinai introduced another dimension to these same laws. Rather than just controlling threats to society, these laws now underscored G-d’s relevance in every facet of our lives. Sinai linked G-d to the most mundane aspects of existence. Similarly, the Mishkan demonstrated that G-d’s presence is compatible with the physical world. In fact, the only world in which G-d’s essence can be manifested is our physical world.

The social laws introduced at Sinai and implemented immediately after Moshe descended from the mountain reflected a much more positive and sublime objective of these laws. Rather than being a distraction from the construction of a Sanctuary for G-d, the social laws served the same purpose: bringing the Divine into the ordinary.

FOCUSING ON THE PAST AND FUTURE

There can be another way of understanding the need for and emphasis on the social laws after Sinai, which corresponds to the foregoing explanation:

There are two focuses we must always have in life’s journey. The first is to remember. We must always keep the memory of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs in our consciousness. We can never forget the Exodus from Egypt that molded us into a nation under G-d’s exclusive sovereignty. We must never forget the evil violence of Amalek. The echo of Sinai must always reverberate in our ears.

At the same time, we must always look to the future, when G-d’s plan for the Universe will be fully realized. It will be a world of justice, peace and harmony among all of G-d’s creatures. We will experience total harmony. There will no longer be dichotomies between the upper and lower, inner and outer, spiritual and physical, collective and individual. All that seemed to be in conflict will experience complete unity. This will be the ultimate and true form of justice.

The prophet Isaiah declared that “Zion will be redeemed with Mishpat-Justice…” Zion is Isaiah’s metaphor for Jerusalem and the Beis HaMikdash. Jerusalem is the City of Peace, which, ironically, has known scant peace throughout its long history. This is consistent with the notion that the most important ideals are also the most challenged and threatened. Only in the Messianic Age will Jerusalem become the fountainhead of peace for the entire world, when it will house the third and final Beis HaMikdash.

When the Torah speaks of justice in the post-Sinai era, particularly as we stand on the threshold of the Final Redemption, the focus must be on the higher function of Mishpat. That will bring the world to its ultimate state of fulfillment. This state is not just simply the absence of strife and discord; it is characterized by the positive energy of unmitigated Divine unity pervading all of existence.

The above thoughts on Mishpat tie into the Rebbe’s statement that, while love of our fellow Jew will repair the communal flaw that lead to the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash and exile, our focus today is no longer rectification of the past but rather on riding the peaceful, loving and unifying wave of the future.

HEBREW SERVANT = MOSHIACH

The laws discussed in our Parsha this week allude to the future, as evidenced by the opening theme of Mishpatim: the Eved-Ivri-Hebrew servant. The Gematria (numerical value) of this term is 358, the same as the word Moshiach. This righteous descendant of the House of David will be the ultimate Hebrew servant, whose life is dedicated exclusively to the idea of serving G-d.

One can explain the entire verse concerning the Hebrew Servant in light of the above:

If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall work for six years. But in the seventh year he is to be released without liability.

The Hebrew word for “you buy” is “tikneh,” which can also mean “you perfect.” The verse can now be interpreted to mean “When you bring the world to its state of perfection, it will be done through Moshiach (the “Hebrew slave”).”

And the Torah continues: “he shall work for six years.” This can be interpreted to mean that Moshiach will perfect the world while standing on the shoulders of six millennia of efforts (we are now at the tail end of the sixth millennium). Moshiach is the container that holds all the cumulative energies of the past. As result of these mighty efforts, we will be set free from all the constraints of exile and sin.

TWO MESSAGES

The fact that this hinted reference to Moshiach is found in the context of Mishpatim-social laws, informs us of two messages:

First, the social laws of the Torah based on the revelation at Mount Sinai (as opposed to their secular counterparts) play an integral role in bringing the world to its state of perfection.

Second, one of the defining characteristics of Moshiach is his fidelity to the highest standards of justice, righteousness, goodness and kindness. The Prophet Isaiah (Chapter 11:3-5) states in his description of Moshiach:

“And his delight shall be in the reverence of G-d; and he shall not judge after the sight of his eyes, neither decide after the hearing of his ears; but with righteousness he shall judge the poor, and decide with equity for the meek of the land… and righteousness shall be the girdle of his loins and faithfulness the girdle of his reins.”

Moshiach’s fidelity to Mishpatim will be based on his reverence for G-d and will lead us to universal peace, as described metaphorically in verse 6:

“And the wolf shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid, and the calf and the young lion and fatling together, and the child shall lead them…”

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