This week’s Parsha begins with the Pasuk, ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם, “And these are the laws that you shall set before them” (21:1). The word “and” indicates that this Parsha is a continuation of the previous Parsha. The מעם לועז explains that the laws in this Parsha were given at Har Sinai just as the Ten Commandments were given. These laws were given before the rest of the Torah because in order for the Jewish People to receive the Torah, there needed to be unity and civility among the nation Hashem gave these laws to teach the Jews how to act civilly.
At the beginning of last week’s Parsha, Yitro told Moshe that he should appoint judges. Yitro meant that if there were judges to handle internal problems, there would be peace. Pirkei Avot teaches (1:18) that three things maintain the world: law, truth, and peace. Laws discourse corruption and dishonest. The Gemara regards judges as partners of Hashem because they maintain society by keeping wrongdoers from destroying society. Moshe agreed, as did Hashem, to Yitro’s advice regarding appointing judges.
In the times of Yehoshua, Yehoshua re-taught the Torah, including the civil laws of our Parsha. After him, the period of the judges began, the judges made sure that the Jews were acting properly. Because of this, Bnai Yisrael defeated their enemies. King Shlomo was granted the ability to judge people fairly.
Shlomo’s request highlights the important of justice Moshe told the Jewish People that their acting properly and justly was a prerequisite for receiving the Torah. The Torah was given because Hashem wanted justice to be enacted. Without justice, people would sin endlessly, and Torah would be forgotten. Justice counteracts crime; the Torah can only exist in a just society.
The Torah is not only maintained through spiritual uplifting but through secular activities such as business. The Torah requires people to act properly with each other’s property. The Sanhedrin is next to the Bait Hamikdash because they are both used to worship Hashem.
Ramban explains that our Parsha’s civil laws are connected to the tenth commandment, “You shall not covet your fellow’s house.” These laws explain how to respect someone else’s property so one will not come to be envious of anther’s property. The Seforno adds that the Torah is explaining what belongs to other people in order to prevent envy. Bava Kama 30a says that for a person to be considered pious, he must carefully adhere to monetary laws. If someone violates someone else’s property, it is like he violated Shabbat or Kashrut. We can also learn the importance of justice from the words of the prophet Yeshayahu, who wrote, “Zion will be redeemed through justice, and its captives through righteousness” (1:27).