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"The Laws of God are True; They are Righteous Together"

  • Harav Yehuda Amital




Dedicated in memory of 
Joseph Y. Nadler, z”l, Yosef ben Yechezkel Tzvi




Sicha of Harav Yehuda Amital zt”l



"The Laws of God are True, They are Righteous Together"

(Tehillim 19:10)



            This verse can be understood on several levels.  Firstly, a simple explanation: Other nations also have laws and ordinances; this is not a phenomenon unique to Israel.  But how are their laws created?  A certain problem exists, and a law is legislated in order to solve the problem.  Each law responds only to one aspect of human activity, such that contradictions frequently exist between different laws.  A law legislated for the good of society may harm the rights of the individual, another legislated for the benefit of a certain city may adversely affect the surrounding cities, or the ecology, etc.  Their laws demonstrate no all-encompassing perspective.  The Torah, on the other hand, contains no contradictions.  It is one complete unit, and its laws bring about "righteousness together" - all of them are just, even when they are all considered together.


            On another level, Avot de-Rabbi Natan (28:10) teaches: "There is a parable to which this (the relationship between Torah and derekh eretz) can be compared: Imagine a highway that passes between two paths, one filled with fire and the other filled with snow.  If one travels towards the fire, then he is burnt, and if he travels in the direction of the snow, then he freezes.  What should he do?  He should travel between them...."  The Torah is compared to a path that passes between fire and snow, between olam ha-zeh and olam ha-ba.  The proof of the Divine nature of the Torah is that, as opposed to foreign ideologies, it does not deal solely with spiritual and Godly matters, but rather directs our interpersonal relationships as well - our financial dealings, civil laws etc.  This is another aspect of the difference between Torah and other religions and philosophies.


            Beyond all this, the very laws of the Torah themselves cannot be understood when they are each taken in isolation - this causes them to be perverted and misunderstood.  On one hand, the Torah speaks of mercy: "God is good to all those who call on Him" (Tehillim 145:9), and at the same time, "Happy is he who shall seize and dash thy little ones against the rock" (Tehillim 137:9).  These verses need to be reconciled and seen together.  Every movement and religion that has made its appearance in the world has chosen some aspect of existence, one ideal, in which it has excelled and which it has demonstrated to the world - kindness, justice, honesty, etc. - but none of them has presented a complete picture.  Christianity, the religion of loving kindness which prided itself on the ideal of "turning the other cheek," eventually gave rise to the Crusades, Inquisition, and other movements outstanding in their cruel destruction.  When only one aspect is chosen, despite the truth that that aspect may contain, it is by definition partial and incomplete.  If, for example, the Torah contained only the mitzva of Shabbat, then it would appear that man was placed in a world whose terms were permanently dictated and determined by God during the six days of creation.  The laws of Rosh Chodesh and the festivals come to teach us that "the nation of Israel sanctifies time."


            According to this understanding, we can also explain the end of the parasha, where the nation declares, "All that God has spoken we shall do and we shall hear (na'aseh ve-nishma)" (24:7).  Chazal, as we know, interpreted this as a favorable reflection on the nation, in that they agreed to fulfill God's commandments before they had heard exactly what was required of them; Chazal took "nishma" literally - namely, physical hearing.  This is also apparent from the gemara (Shabbat 88a) which quotes a Sadducee as saying to Rabba: "Hasty people! Your mouths preceded your ears (i.e. you spoke before listening).".  However, the "hearing" here seems also to imply understanding (as in "Shema Yisra'el" - don't just hear, but understand that God is one).  At first Moshe tells the nation "all of God's words and all the laws" - the seven Noachide laws, Shabbat, honoring parents, the law of the red heifer, and civil laws, which were given (according to Rashi) at Mara, before they arrived at Har Sinai.  Therefore they answered, "All the words which God has spoken we shall do" (24:3) - as we have been commanded.  Further on, God makes the covenant with them, and at that point they say "naaseh ve-nishma" (24:7).  "Na'aseh" - we shall do that which we have already been commanded, "ve-nishma" - the rest of the mitzvot, and only then will we truly understand that which we have received now.  Only when considering all the laws together would they be able to understand the meaning and significance of any individual law.  It is to the credit of the nation that they promised to fulfill the laws even though they had only heard part of the mitzvot.


            Our parasha begins, "And these (ve-eleh) are the laws...".  Rashi explains that the letter "vav" in "ve-eleh" indicates an addition to the previous [laws] - just as those were given at Sinai, so were these.  This poses a problem, for we find an explanation by Chazal in Parashat Behar that states, "Just as the general and specific rules of shemitta were given at Sinai, so too were all the mitzvot given at Sinai."  If this is so, what is special about Parashat Mishpatim?  Weren't all the laws given at Sinai?


            Rabbi Eliyahu Mizrachi in his work on Rashi explains that Parashat Mishpatim was transmitted to the nation at Sinai with thunder and lightning, in the same way that the Ten Commandments were, and this is what the quotation from Parashat Behar is referring to.  The rest of the mitzvot were given to Moshe alone during the forty days that he spent atop the mountain.  The Maharal in his "Gur Aryeh" disagrees, and explains that all the mitzvot were indeed given at Sinai, but there are some mitzvot which represent the crux of Torah, while the other mitzvot come to support and reinforce them.  "And this is because God's Torah is perfect - its commandments cannot be separated from one another, and therefore they were all said together at Sinai, because God gave the Torah in its entirety at Sinai."


            A common mistake is the assumption that it is possible to formulate an Israeli legal system by taking the legal system from the time of the Mandate and simply adding a couple of Torah laws to it.  It is not possible, for the laws of the Torah cannot be properly carried out unless the entire system is changed.  Hence Halakha forbids going to a non-Jewish court, even if the plaintiff or defendant concerned knows that he will be judged according to Jewish law, for it is written, "And these are the laws which you shall place before them" - and not before non-Jews.  The moment this mitzva is isolated from the rest of the Torah, it is no longer the same mitzva.


            Only through the Torah of Israel are "the laws of Hashem true; they are righteous TOGETHER!"



(Originally delivered at Seuda Shelishit, Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim 5746.


Translated by.Kaeren Fish.)