Heaven on Earth by Rabbi Hershel Solnica zt”l


            ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם )שמות כ"א:א'(.  ואלה, תניא רבי ישמעאל אומר ואלה מוסיף על הראשונים, מה עליונים מסיני ,אף תחתונים מסיני )מכילתא שם(                                                              

            Our Parsha opens with the word "ואלה," meaning "And these."  The Midrash, puzzled by the word "And" at the beginning of the Parsha, explains that the Torah is linking the laws found in our Parsha with those presented after the Aseres HaDibros which appeared at the end of the last week's Parsha, teaching that just as those laws were given at Mount Sinai, so too were the laws in our Parsha given at Mount Sinai.

            Rabbi Charles B. Chavel z"l once noted that this idea teaches a vital lesson to us all.  Pausing at the first word of the Posuk "ואלה," Chazal called attention to the fact that by right, the Torah should have stated "אלה המשפטים," these are the judgements."  After all, there seems to be little connection between the laws in our Parsha and those at the end of last week's Parsha.  A simple analysis of the Pesukim reveals that the laws in the preceding section deal with matters related to the House of Hashem, focusing on the service of Hashem, the altar and the sacrifices.  Our Parsha, however, deals with the laws of servants, damages, hiring workers, monetary matters- what we may call "civil law."  Chazal explain that nevertheless, the word "ואלה," "and these," suggests that the present section of the Torah is in fact a continuation of the preceding one.  Rabbi Chavel observed that the Midrash uses the word "עליונים" "those above" to describe the laws in last week's Parsha, and the word "תחתונים," those below, to describe those in our Parsha.  He suggests that additionally, the word "עליונים"  means those laws pertaining to above, that is, to Hashem, while the word "תחתונים" means those laws pertaining to below, that is, to matters here on Earth.  The Torah links the two categories to stress that both come from Sinai.

            This clear teaching sheds light on a distinguishing feature of Judaism.  In the ancient world, and unfortunately, to a great measure even today, religion's primary concern was man's relationship to the deity, the עליונים, that which is above.  It was a religion devoted to matters that did not affect the practical affairs of man but focused merely upon higher and unseen things.

            The Torah teaches us that true piety from Sinai is achieved when one realizes that what one does for Hashem and how one behaves toward one's fellow man both represent the true essence of Torah Judaism.  Every Mishpat, every civil law, has the Kedushah of a Chok, a ritual commandment.  One thus cannot be religious and not be righteous.  One the other hand, one cannot be benevolent, friendly, and kind, and lack the observance of the basic rituals like Shabbos and Kashrus.  Our goal must be the synthesis of both elements.  The focus of our religious attention as committed Jews must also be on Mishpatim, the תחתונים, representing the mundane and basic rules of decency and kindness.

            Surely, Dovid HaMelech felt this way when he wrote "מגיד דבריו ליעקב חקיו ומשפטיו לישראל, לא עשה כן לכל גוי ומשפטים בל ידעום...")תהילם קמ"ז:י"ט-כ'(, teaching that Hashem presented His words to Israel, not to all other nations, and taught Mishpatim that they could not comprehend.  When he intimated that the gentiles did not comprehend Mishpatim, basic rules, at least as part of religion, he surely felt that a proper Jew must observe Mishpatim with the same reverence, meticulous attention, and holiness with which he observes Chukim, commandments of ritual.  Let us face up to our responsibilities to focus on the תחתונים, and then maybe we will be able to reach the עליונים.  In this way, we can create "Heaven on Earth."

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