Mishpatim-Dynamics

The name of a Torah portion tells its story. The name permeates the parsha, and applies to all of its details. It is therefore somewhat surprising that the content of our parsha (Mishpatim) seems to contradict its name. Mishpatim are Torah commandments that are understood by way of logic and intellect. The other commandments are either not understood (chukim) or understood upon explanation (eidut), but mishpatim are the kind of Torah laws that we should be able to infer by ourselves, even without having read about them in the Torah or having heard about them from others. There are plenty of such commandments in our parsha (such as the laws of how to treat slaves and servants, and of monetary damages and returning lost or stolen articles), but the conclusion of the parsha focuses on some details of matan Torah (the “giving of the Torah”), which was not an event characterized by intellect. The Torah in its inception and origin far transcends intellect, and so the giving of the Torah was an event that also transcended intellect. The question is, why do these apparently super-natural events occur in our parsha, which according to its name is dedicated to mitzvoth and events based upon logic?

Aside from the name, the order of the parsha (following last week’s parshat Yitro) needs explanation. The Torah transcends intellect, and the Torah was given to us in last week’s parsha (Yitro), so it would have been logical to follow last week’s parsha with a description of the super-rational mitzvoth of the Torah. It would have made sense that the first thing the Jews would have heard after the giving of the Torah (which was a non-rational event, in which everyone present “saw what is generally heard, and “heard what is usually seen”) would have been the chukim and eidut, which are not rational mitzvoth. Why did the Torah follow up the event at Mt. Sinai with descriptions of the rational mitzvoth (mishpatim)? Moreover, most of the mitzvoth which are commanded in our parsha were already given to the Jews, even before the Torah was given, at a place called Marah. So, why does the Torah find it necessary to repeat these commandments in our parsha? It is true, as Rashi explains, that it was necessary to make it clear that just as the first mitzvoth (to have faith in G-d, and to refrain from idol worship) were given at Mt. Sinai, so also these later mitzvoth (the mishpatim) were also from Sinai. However, even this is only for emphasis – “even these mishpatim” were given at Sinai. Nonetheless, it would have made sense to list also the mitzvoth – the chukim and eidut – that have little or know intellectual explanation.

One explanation is the following: The purpose of giving the Torah was in order for the “upper spiritual realms to descend” and for the “lower physical realms to ascend.” Prior to the giving of the Torah, there was no real connection between the spiritual and the physical worlds. That all changed with the giving of the Torah, but this had to occur in such a way that the “lower realms” could ascend to a higher level. If all that occurred was that the “upper realms descended,” revealing G-dliness from above, the desired result would not be achieved. The desired goal was elevation, but without the participation of the lower realms themselves, there would only be a nullification and destruction of the lower physical realms, and not elevation. Indeed, this is what occurred at Mt. Sinai, when the Jews “trembled,” and “the nation saw and moved and stood far away” (Ex. 20:15). Not only the Jews, but “the mountain shook,” and the “birds were silent…the whole world was still.” That was because the world was not yet prepared to receive G-dly revelation; it was not yet a receptacle for revealed spirituality. Some “work” and participation of the “lower realms” was also necessary. The Jews had to prepare themselves in order to become receptacles for G-dliness, and then they and the entire world could ascend without becoming destroyed and completely nullified.

The “lower” and “upper” realms, in human terms, are intellect and faith. Faith is from the “upper” realm; it comes not from human effort and labor, but from Above. As the Sheloh says, faith is a “tradition that is received, one person from another.” The ability to believe in G-d is something we learn from parents and family, and absorb from the environment. And, of course, we have a collective Jewish propensity for faith, based upon thousands of years of history. But, it is not something that requires effort and work. Therefore, it cannot be said about faith that it “unites us with G-d.” Faith motivates and gives incentive, but it is does not permeate us from within. Only when we struggle with our intellect to grasp a G-dly concept, and labor in our minds to improve our understanding of spirituality, does it have an internal effect upon us. When our new-found understanding permeates our personality, then we can truly say that we are united and cleaving to G-dliness. When the mind grasps and the heart feels, this is true cleaving to G-d.

Now we can comprehend the order of the Torah portions. Yitro is the parsha of faith. In parshat Yitro, matan Torah – the giving of the Torah – occurs. It corresponds to the “upper worlds descending below,” to the lower worlds. By descending from Above, the “upper realms” provided the stimulus and the preparation for the lower realms to ascend, by nullifying the lower realms to G-d. The revelation of G-dliness instilled in the Jews a base and foundation of faith – they could always return to the events of matan Torah and say, “We heard this, we saw that.” However, for an ascent from below to take place, it was necessary for the creation – the lower realms – to actively participate. And that is what takes place in our parsha – Mishpatim – wherein the Jews are called upon to understand and comprehend the laws of the Torah. The active participation of the “lower realms” occurred when the Jews not only received the Torah, but used their minds to understand it. In Yitro, we received the Torah; in Mishpatim we began to comprehend it. Though we might have expected the giving of the Torah (parshat Yitro) to be followed by an exposition of super-rational laws (chukim and eidut) in parshat Mishpatim, the Torah followed a different order. Because the point of the Torah is to bring about joining of the upper and lower realms, Yitro (matan Torah, the “upper realms descend below”) is followed by Mishpatim (laws based upon human intellect, the “lower realms ascend above”). Revelation of G-dliness from Above provides the impetus for the mind to work and elevate from below. When that happens, the result is unity and joining of the upper and lower worlds – the true goal of matan Torah.

We now understand the order of the Torah portions; first the upper realms descended to arouse and awaken the lower realms, and then man below exerts intellectual effort to ascend to the spiritual heavens. But if so, why does parshat Mishpatim conclude with details of the giving of the Torah? Furthermore, what is the explanation of the verse following the crossing of the Reed Sea, wherein “My G-d” (intellect) precedes “G-d of my fathers” (faith)? Both seem to be the opposite of the description of the order of the Torah portions described above, in which faith precedes logic?

The answer: Even though revelation from above is necessary to initiate and “kick-start” the response from below, there is also an advantage to faith that follows and builds upon intellect exertion. When G-d descended upon Mt. Sinai, the point was not only to address intellect and stimulate the human mind to function from below. The point was to promote unity of the upper and lower realms, which only occurs when the lower realms actively participate in elevation to the upper realms by grasping Torah concepts. However, this is only the beginning. Once elevated, the Jew is capable of absorbing revelation that is beyond intellect as well. The Torah transcends intellect and operates on “frequencies” and levels that are beyond what the human mind is capable of comprehending. That doesn’t mean that we are incapable of absorbing such G-dly revelation. It means that intellect alone does not provide the tools for absorbing and integrating spirituality. What does? Together with intellectual exertion, there must be bitul – self-effacement and nullification. A Jew is capable of ascend to more stratified levels of spiritual experience and integrating G-dly revelation. However, that only takes place after much refinement and preparation, in which intellectual activity combined with the bitul that preceded understanding lifts the Jew to a truly transcendent level.

For a longer more detailed version, go to www.jerusalemconnection.org

From Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 16, pp. 242-250

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