Last week’s parsha related the events leading up to the giving of the Torah, including establishing the boundaries around Mt. Sinai, warning the Jews not to approach those boundaries, and preparing them to receive the Torah by purifying themselves. It then goes on to relate the actual presentation of the ten commandments to the Jewish people, accompanied by a true “multimedia” show of thunder and lightening, and then finally the command to build the altar.

It would seem, then, that this week’s parsha, Mishpatim, which begins and almost ends with the myriad details of civil laws (dinim) between Jews, is a follow-up on the ground, in which after receiving the Torah, Moshe teaches its details. So, at least learn some of the commentaries of the Torah. However, Rashi does not agree. He says that the details of dinim were given in the period preceding the giving of the Torah, and that the nearly final command of Mishpatim (Ex. 24:1), “And to Moshe, it was said, ‘Ascend to G-d҅” is the initial command to Moshe to ascend Mt. Sinai to receive the tablets. That is, after relating the entire sequence of events, Rashi explains that only now, at the end of Mishpatim, does the command go out to Moshe to go up the mountain. This is a pretty difficult explanation to follow.

However, we can make sense out of it if we understand the dynamics of the giving of the Torah. Matan Torah, as it is called, wasn’t a one-way street. If there were no-one to whom to give the Torah, and no people willing to accept and practice it, there would be no point in giving it. There is a dynamic from Above to below, in which G-d bestows upon us the Torah, and there is a corresponding dynamic from below to Above, in which we obligate ourselves to learn and practice the Torah. The Midrash expresses this by saying, “The upper supernal worlds came down, and the lower worlds ascended.” And both were to be found in “matan Torah” itself – the giving of the Torah. First of all, there were the tablets. Clearly, they weren’t meant to be learned from in the same way that one sits with a set of books and pores over them. They were a reminder and sign from Above that the Torah is a G-d given document coming to inform and illuminate our lives. At the same time, on Mt. Sinai, G-d taught Moshe the details of the dinim, or civil laws. Moshe was required to use his own talents and abilities to absorb and remember all of the details, which he later gave over to the Jews.

The same pattern of dynamics allows us to understand, as well, the reason why the command to Moshe to ascend Mt. Sinai occurs only at the end of Mishpatim. Logically it should have occurred before the Ten commandments were given, in Yitro. However, the Matan Torah narrative is divided into two parts – G-d bringing the Torah to the Jews, and the Jews obligating themselves to its requirements. Parshat Yitro emphasizes the giving of the Torah (above to below), and parshat Mishpatim emphasizes the receiving of the Torah (below to above). According to Rashi, all of parshat Yitro and most of Mishpatim (all that is dealing with dinim) emphasize the former – the descent from the upper worlds to provide the Jews with Torah. However, from after dinim and on, the narrative is about the covenant that the Jews consummated with G-d. “Yitro” is about the upper worlds coming down, and Mishpatim is about the lower worlds ascending to G-d. Therefore, the command to Moshe to ascend is recorded only in parshat Mishpatim. Once the command came to Moshe to go up the mountain, the narrative was all about the Jews obligation and subjugation to the will of G-d, as expressed in the Torah. And that is why it is here (24:3) that we also find the Jews saying Na’aseh – “we will do it.” This was the expression of their commitment, from below to Above , to enter into a convenant and keep His Torah. There was only one event, but there were two viewpoints. From Above to below is recorded in Yitro, and from below to Above is recorded in Mishpatim. The command to Moshe to ascend Mt. Sinai from below to above comes toward the end of our parsha, Mishpatim.

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

Adopted from Likutei Sichot of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, vol. 26, pp. 153-159

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