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They Were All Given At Sinai

"ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם." (שמות כא:א)

רש"י: ואלה המשפטים- כל מקום שנאמר אלה פסל את הראשונים, ואלהמוסיף על הראשונים. מה הראשונים בסיני, אף אלו מסיני. ולמה נסמכהפרשת דינין לפרשת מזבח, לאמר לך שתשים סנהדרין אצל המזבח.


“And these are the laws which you shall set before them.” (Shemot 21:1)

Rashi: Wherever the term “these” is used it cuts off the previous section, but “and these”adds to (continues) the previous section. Just as the preceding laws were given at Sinai, so these were given at Sinai. And why was the section of civil law placed next to the section dealing with the altar? To teach that the Sanhedrin (High Court) should be located adjacent to the altar.

Rashi's commentary on the first verse of Parashat Mishpatim links the parsha to two aspects of Parashat Yitro which precedes it: 1) to the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and 2) to the commandment regarding the building of the altar that immediately precedes this verse.

All of the Laws Were Given at Sinai

Many of the commentators find difficulty with Rashi's linkage of this verse to Mount Sinai, a connection which anyway seems to be obvious from the proximity of the two sections. For example, Mizrachi asks:

וא"ת והא בפרשת בחוקותי כתיב אלה המצוות ובפרשת מטות כתיב אלההחוקים ובפרשת מסעי כתיב אלה המצוות והמשפטים ובפרשת כי תבאכתיב אלה דברי הברת ולא דרשינן שם שפוסל את הראשונים?

And you might ask: But in Parashat Bechukotai it states “these are the commandments”, and in Parashat Mattot it states “these are the statutes”, and in Parashat Massei it states “these are the commandments and ordinances”, and in Parashat Ki Tavo it states “these are the words of the covenant” – and we do not learn in those cases that it cuts of from the previous section?

R. Yisrael Isserlin (Trumat Hadeshen) provides the following response:

מה ראשונים מסיני- אע"ג דפרשה זו סמוכה למתן תורה מסיני איצטריך קרא לרמוז לנו דמצוות שנמצאות בפרשה זו מסיני מפי הגבורה באו, לפישרב אלו מצוות השכל מחייב אותם …, הייתי אומר משה מדעת עצמו סדר אותם ופרש דקדוקיהם לפי סדר מנהג העולם, בא הכתוב ורמז שכלם מפי הגבורה מסיני נצטוו.

Just as the preceding laws were given at Sinai - Even though this section is in close proximity to the giving of the Torah at Sinai, the verse needed to hint that the laws in this section were given by God at Sinai, because most of these mitzvot would be considered obligatory on a rational basis … and I might therefore say that Moshe arranged them himself and explained their details according to the custom of human society. Therefore, the verse came to hint that all of them were given by God at Sinai.

Isserlin refers to the difference between מצוות שמעיות, commandments that we know only because they were revealed to us, and מצוות שכליות, laws that we would know from our own reason. According to Isserlin, the innovation of the Torah in verse 21:1 is that even the civil laws, which serves as the foundation for all of human society, were revealed to us by God and have an equal status with the ritual law.

The Sanhedrin Should Be Located Adjacent to the Altar

Mizrachi also questions the second part of Rashi's commentary on verse 21:1:

והלא לא הביא רש"י מכל אותן דרשות שדרשו על סמיכות פרשיות אלאאותן שאינן כתובות על הסדר, אבל לא אותן שלא נתפרש בהן שהן אינועל הסדר, מפני שאין צריך לתת טעם על סמיכותם. ומנא ליה לרש"י לומרדפרשת משפטים אינה כתובה על הסדר עם הפרשה הקודמת לה עד שהוצרךלומר: למה נסמכה פרשת דינין לפרשת המזבח.

Does not Rashi only use the explanation of the proximity of sections only when the sections seem to be out of order, for when they are in proper order, there is no need to explain their proximity. And why would Rashi think that Parshat Mishpatim is not written in the proper order relative to the parsha that precedes it, that he would say: “why was the section of civil law placed next to the section dealing with the altar?

Mizrachi claims that there is no apparent problem with the order of the text, and, therefore, Rashi's question is out of place. Gur Aryeh claims that Rashi's comment is designed to emphasize the strong inherent connection between the two laws:

ואיו זה קשה דהם שווים לגמרי דהמזבח הוא משום שלום בין ישראללאביהם שבשמים כי עליו מקריבין קרבנות שנקרא קרבן על שהוא מקרבאת האדם לבורא … וכן המשפטים מטילים שלום בעולם.

And this is not difficult, for they are completely similar – the altar is designed to create peace between Yisrael and their Father in Heaven, for upon it they bring sacrifices which are called “korban” because the bring man close to his Creator… So too, the civil laws bring peace to the world.

The above commentaries on Rashi's explanation of verse 21:1 establish the integral connection between religious and civil law in the Jewish legal system.

The General and the Specific

Rashi's interpretation connects the laws in Parashat Mishpatim to the Ten Commandments with regard to the location that they were given and their source. Sforno sees the linkage also as thematic:

ואלה המשפטים- הנה בפרשה של מעלה היתה האזהרה שלא תחמוד כלאשר לרעך, ואלה המשפטים אשר בם ידע האדם מה הוא כל אשר לרעך.

And these are the laws - Behold in the preceding section there was a warning against coveting anything that belongs to your neighbor, and these are the laws by which a person knows what constitutes the property of his neighbor.

Sforno sees the Ten Commandments as general laws that are expanded in detail in Parashat Mishpatim. This is consistent with the view of R. Sa'adya Gaon that all of the mitzvot in the Torah are subcategories of the Ten Commandments.

The Hebrew Servant – The Theological Link

Some commentators see in the laws of the Hebrew servant, the first laws that appear in Parashat Mishpatim, a theological connection to the events of Mount Sinai.

"כי תקנה עבד עברי שש שנים יעבד ובשביעית יצא לחפשי חינם." (שמות כא:ב)

“If you buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve and in the seventh year he shall go free for nothing.”(Shemot 21:2)

The Hebrew servant is one who was sold by the court because he cannot repay the value of something that he has stolen. The status of the Hebrew servant, however, is not actually one of slavery. For example, the Torah here stipulates that the Hebrew servant must be set free after six years. Other restrictions relating to the treatment of the Hebrew servant are found, as well, later in the Torah:

"וכי ימוך אחיך עמך ונמכר לך לא תעבד בו עבודת עבד." (ויקרא כה:לט)

"וכי ימכר לך אחיך הערי או העבריה ועבדך שש שנים ובשנה השבעיתתשלחנו חפשי מעמך. וכי תשלחנו חפשי מעמך לא תשלחנו ריקם.[1] העניק תעניק לו מצאנך ומגרנך ומיקבך אשר ברכך ה' אלקיך תתן לו." (דברים טו:יב-יד)

“And if your brother who dwells with you becomes poor and be sold to you, do not compel him to work as a slave.” (Vayikra 25:39)

“And if your brother, a Hebrew man or a Hebrew woman, be sold to you, he shall serve you six years, and in the seventh year, you shall set him free from you. And when you send him out free from you, do not send him empty handed. You shall furnish him liberally from your flock, and your threshing floor and your wine press, with which the Lord your God has blessed you.” (Devarim 15:12-14)

The Mechilta expands on the verse in Vayikra:

"שש שנים יעבד – שומע אני כל עבודה במשמע? ת"ל (ויקרא כה:לט) לאתעבוד בו עבודת עבד. מכאן אמרו לא ירחץ לו רגליו ולא ינעל לו מנעליו ולא יטול לו כליו לבית המרחץ … כדרך שעבדים עושים."

“Six years he shall work – from this I understand any work? The Torah teaches us (Vayikra 25:39): “do not compel him to work as a slave.” From this I know that he should not wash his feet, tie his shoes, or carry his things to the bath house … as slaves do.”

The owner of the Hebrew servant is greatly limited in the type of work that he can give to his servant. According to the Rambam (Laws of Servants 1:7), this is designed to protect the dignity of the servant:

"במה דברים אמורים בעבד עברי מפני שנפשו שפלה במכירה אבל ישראל שלא נמכר מותר להשתמש בו כעבד שהרי אינו עושה מלאכה זו אלא ברצונו ובדעת עצמו."

“What instance are we talking about? – A Hebrew servant, because he is humiliated that he had to be sold. But a Jew who was not sold can be given the work of a slave for he only does the work willingly and by choice.”

According to Cassuto and Ramban, these restrictions flow from the first of the Ten Commandments:

קאסוטו- לא מקרה הוא שהפרשיות המשפטיות האלה מתחילות דוקא בדיני העבד העברי. יש כאן מעין הקבלה לפסוק הראשון של עשרת הדברות.

רמב"ן- התחיל המשפט הראשון בעבד עברי מפני שיש בשילוח העבד בשנה השביעית זכר ליציאת מצרים הנזכר בדיבור הראשון.

Cassuto - It is not by chance that these legal sections begin specifically with the laws of the Hebrew servant. There exists here a parallelism to the first verse in the Ten Commandments.

Ramban - The first law begins with the Hebrew servant because setting the servant free in the seventh year is a remembrance of the exodus from Egypt that is mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments.

The linkage between the laws of the Hebrew servant and the first of the Ten Commandments establishes the theological connection between the two. The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai represented the coronation of God as the King of the Jewish people, to the exclusion of human kings. Theocracy, the ideal form of government established at Sinai, assumes both the kingship of God and the equality of all human beings under that kingship. The prohibition against real slavery in the Jewish legal system is expressed by the Rabbis in these very terms:

עבדי הם ולא עבדים לעבדים.

They are my servants, and not the servants of servants.

Conclusion

The first verses of Parashat Mishpatim an important fundamental principle of the Jewish legal system – that the theological foundations of the relationship between God and the Jewish people at Sinai have direct implications regarding interpersonal human relations.


[1] Two modern commentators also see a connection to the redemption from Egypt in the comparison of the treatment of the Hebrew slave and the fact that the Egyptians gave the Jewish people some of their possessions:

ונתתי את חן העם הזה בעיני מצרים והיה כי תלכון לא תלכו ריקם (שמות ג:כא)

And I will give this people favor in the eyes of the Egyptians, and it will come to pass that when you go out, you shall not go out empty.

וכי תשלחנו חפשי מעמך לא תשלחנו ריקם. (דברים טו:יג)

And when you set him (a Hebrew slave) free from you, you shall not let him go empty. (Devarim 15:13)

Benno Jacob: In the heart of every Israelite the Egyptians were associated with bitter memories. It would not be surprising if an Israelite would hate an Egyptian…and would think that he does not have to fulfill the commandment relating to the stranger with regard to him: “How so? Should I show love with regard to the Egyptian when I was commanded regarding the stranger: ‘You shall love him as yourself.' Didn't he oppress my fathers?” But the Torah says that in the end they sent you out as friends with gifts and objects of gold and silver, as you are commanded to do with a Hebrew slave – “You shall not send him out empty handed.” (Devarim 15:13)

Cassuto: The Hebrew slave already served his master according to the number of years prescribed by God. Therefore, they deserve release, and with the release they deserve a gift…. That's what absolute justice requires. And even though there was no court in the world that was able to force Pharoah and his aides to fulfill their obligation, the heavenly court worries about the requirements of the law.

The above image originally appeared on the jacket of the Nehama Leibowitz printed series © WZO/JAFI and is reproduced here with permission from the online series © The Pedagogic Center, The Department for Jewish Zionist Education, JAFI.