AND these are the laws...
In this week's parsha we come across a very important letter. It is, perhaps one of the most important letters in the entire Torah. The long list of detailed laws in Parshat Mishpatim begin with the words "V'aileh Hamishpatim"-"AND these are the laws". Rashi (Shmot 21:1) explains that this apparently superfluous letter of "vav" (and) is to teach us that this list of laws that we read were all given and announced at Har Sinai and not afterwards. Why is this so important for the Torah to emphasize?
After the great ceremony at Mount Sinai of fire, light, and the frightening sound of Hashem's voice, one might think that this ended forever. Lights off, curtains closed. In truth, it all continues after that! We make sure that the Shechina (presence of G-d) remains with us in our daily lives. We want to meet Hashem in every situation - in our business, relationships, accidents, money, and home. This was all part of the original plan, and part of the fire and lighting ceremony.
Mount Sinai thus becomes a relevant occurrence forever in the life of the Jew.
The unique mission of the judges
Rashi adds that the Sanhedrin, which consists of the highest judges in the nation, need to be seated next to the alter (mizbeach) in the Beit Hamikdash (Great Temple). Why is this important? It is to show the nation where the source of inspiration is for the great Jewish judges. That it emanates from the Alter, and of course, the Mikdash, the Temple. It is not to display the legal organization of Jewish society, or the Jewish mind, or common sense, but to show where we get our brilliance.
Rashi goes on to state that 'erkaot', or the non-Jewish legal system, is off-limits to us. That is even if the rulings would be identical. The reason is that they emphasize an entirely different philosophy, agenda and attitude towards laws.
This may explain why the Torah, in this parsha, uses the word 'elohim' to refer to judges. Elohim, of course, means God, masters, or lords. This is not coincidental. Fulfilling the G-d given laws is critical to obeying G-d's will in this world.
"G-d stands in the congregation of G-d; in the midst of the judges He judges" (Psalms chapter 82). He actually sits with them in court. This is much greater than any High Court of Justice. This is a remarkable way to preserve the historic revelation at Mt. Sinai in every situation in our lives, as well as in the courtroom.
Rabbi Yonatan Kirsch was born in NJ but grew up in Ginot Shomron after his parents moved to Israel. He teaches at the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot, where he lives with his wife and family, after receiving his semicha from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He is author of the book "Ma'alot Hamikve", published by Dabri Shir, and served as a combat soldier, is a certified tour guide.