Dayeinu: Was Har Sinai Enough? by Shimon Cohen


Parashat Mishpatim opens with specific details regarding Eved Ivri, and then continues to relate many the intricacies of many other Mitzvot as well. In total, there are over 50 laws mentioned in this week’s Parashah. This is in sharp contrast with last week’s Parashah, Parashat Yitro, when Bnei Yisrael receive the Aseret HaDibrot, but do not receive many specific details. The importance of this week’s Parashah is not just in its content, but also its placement; namely, directly after Parashat Yitro.

Rav Shlomo Aviner, in his Sefer Tal Chermon, offers an interesting explanation for the juxtaposition of these two Parashiyot. Parashat Mishpatim comes directly after our larger-than-life encounter with Hashem at Har Sinai. At Har Sinai we received the general guidelines for the way to live, all subsumed within the Aseret HaDibrot. Instead of learning all of the new laws we had to follow, we heard the Ten Commandments, a handful of general laws that show how the Torah applies to our everyday lives; however, we did not receive all of the intricate details and Halachot. Therefore, following the experience in Parashat Yitro is Parashat Mishpatim. The Perat, detail, usually follows the Kelal, general rule. Similarly, Parashat Mishpatim, which relates intricate Mitzvot, follows Parashat Yitro, which holds the general commandments.

But why is Parashat Mishpatim necessary after the greatest-ever experience with Hashem? Wouldn’t Har Sinai have been incredible in its own right without the detailed explanation that follows in Parashat Mishpatim? As we sing at the Pesach Seder, “Ilu Keirvanu Lifnei Har Sinai VeLo Natan Lanu Et HaTorah Dayeinu,” “If He had brought us before Har Sinai but had not given us the Torah, it would have been enough.” Apparently, Bnei Yisrael would have been more than fine without the many Mitzvot of Mishpatim.

One famous answer to our question draws an analogy to a person in a perfume shop. Once one enters a perfume shop, even if one doesn’t buy anything, one still comes out of the shop smelling better. Likewise, even though Mishpatim might not have been crucial, it was a natural follower of Har Sinai, a direct consequence of the Har Sinai experience. Alternatively, Rav Aviner relates an answer that applies to everyday life. He explains that Hashem’s willingness to interact with human beings is sufficient and extraordinary in its own right, and Parashat Mishpatim is merely an expansion and manifestation of this greatness. The greatness of Hashem and the Jewish people is shown through his willingness to interact with man and give man His laws as a guideline for life.

Had we experienced only Har Sinai, we would have had a basic knowledge of how to lead a Torah life, but we would not have fully appreciated all of the commandments and intricacies that help us adhere those commandments in a meaningful way. Har Sinai was not only a larger-than-life experience for Bnei Yisrael – it showed Hashem’s undying love and commitment to His people. Rambam (in his commentary on the Haggadah) states that each person should show himself as if he himself left Mitzrayim. This rule is to not only relive the Egypt experience but also to relive the experience at Har Sinai. It was a time when Hashem revealed Himself to Bnei Yisrael and showed that He cared about the Jews. Every generation of Jews should realize that Hashem does care about an individual’s actions as shown at Har Sinai, and in turn should respond by internalizing the many commandments, as we begin to read about this week, and understand that by following them we are showing Hashem that we love Him as well.

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