Torah Fax

Friday, February 24, 2006 - 26 Shevat, 5766

Torah Reading: Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 - 24:17)
Candle Lighting Time:  5:23 PM
Shabbat Ends: 6:24 PM
We Bless the New Month of Adar
Shabbat Shekalim
Not For Us To Reason Why?
Jewish law is generally divided into three categories, Chukim, Edot and Mishpatim. These are usually translated as Statutes, Testimonies and Judgements. A more precise rendition would be:
Chukim: Practices that the mind finds difficult to fathom. The only reason we observe these commands is because they are G‑d's will; there can be no rationalizing of Chukim. Examples of this type of Mitzvah are the prohibition of mixing wool and linen in our garments and the mixing of milk and meat food products.
Edot: Mitzvahs that are intended to remind us of certain events and ideals such as Shabbat, a reminder of creation; Passover, commemorating the Exodus; and Mezuzah, which reminds us of G‑d's presence. If the Torah had not expressly commanded us to observe these commandments, we would not have conceived them on our own. However, now that the Torah has given us these rituals, we can easily grasp their
Mishpatim: Rules that govern the relationships between people. In this category one finds the laws against theft and murder. Even if the Torah had not specifically commanded us to observe these laws, the human mind would have come to the realization that these laws are necessary to have a civilized society.
This week's Torah portion, while it is entitled Mishpatim, actually contains all three categories of Mitzvahs. The Chukim laws of Kashruth, the Edot laws of the Jewish holidays along with a number of Mishpatim concerning property damages all are discussed in this, the first Parshah to follow the account of the Giving of the Torah.
Chassidic thought explains that, while some Mitzvahs are clearly from the camp of Chukim and others must be categorized as Mishpatim, in truth, every Mitzvah has elements of all three of these categories. The Chukim, as elusive as they may from our mind's grasp, must have some anchoring in our intellect. We are obligated to try and gain some insight into the meaning behind of all Mitzvot, even the Chukim. To be sure, our human understanding should not be the reason for doing the commandment, for - after all - the commandments come from the infinite G‑d who transcends are human limitations, but our intellect cannot be absent from the fulfilling of any Mitzvah. The "Mishpatim" aspect of the Mitzvot (even of the Chukim) tells us that G‑d wants our minds and hearts to have an appreciation for the Mitzvahs, human shortcomings notwithstanding.
Conversely, even the Mishpatim, the straightforward, moralistic commands, have an aspect of Chukim in them. The juxtaposition of the Sinai account with the beginning of our Parshah which discusses Mishpatim tells us that we cannot fulfill the logical commandments solely because we understand them. If a person claims he avoids stealing or harming someone merely because he feels it is the right thing to do, he is missing a major part of the Mitzvah. The very term Mitzvah means "connection." A Mitzvah is a G‑dly act, a method of connecting with the divine. The "Chukim" portion of Mishpatim tells us that even something as basic as avoiding stealing is not only a means to making a civilized society, it is a way of rising above the mundane and attaching ourselves to G‑d.
The three types of Mitzvahs thus teach us three distinct messages. The Chukim were given to instill within us an acceptance of divine authority. Our actions must be governed by an absolute set of morals that derive from an Absolute Creator. This is true even when we might not fully understand the reasoning behind a specific decree.
The Edot are intended to inspire us with an awareness of G‑d's role in our lives. By accentuating the spiritual nature of these commandments we become more spiritually sensitive and aware of G‑d's divine providence in everyday, seemingly haphazard, occurrences. 
The Mishpatim teach us to try and gain personal insight from every part of the Torah. Even if we study and abstract concept in Talmudic law, we must always ask "what is the possible message for me? How can I gain meaning from this Torah law to improve my daily life?" Indeed, the Kaballah teaches that the word Torah is connected with the word Hora'ah, message or teaching. We cannot merely discuss the intricacies of "whose ox gored whom,"  we must ask "what it means to me, how does it make sense in my life."
The approach of "it is not for us to reason why" is not the Torah's way. We must attempt to incorporate a personal appreciation of the commandments into our Torah observance (though, as mentioned before, our intellect cannot be the hinge, the deciding factor, upon which our Torah observance depends). When Moshiach comes, our intellect will play an even more vital role in our Jewish experience, for then, as Maimonides writes, our entire pursuit will be to attain "the knowledge of G‑d" and  "the earth will be filled with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters fill the sea."
Moshiach Matters
Moshiach is fundamentally collected with children, especially when they learn Torah. The Talmud tells us that the destruction of the Temple happened when they stopped the children from learning Torah, which implies that through children’s learning of Torah - the Temple will be rebuilt.
(The Rebbe, Simchat Torah 1991)

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