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Parshas Mishpatim

Courting Har Sinai
Rabbi Yosef Levinson

"And these are the laws that you shall place before them" (Shemos 21:1).

The Torah introduces the parsha with the conjunction "and", linking the Mishpatim (civil laws) to the Aseres Hadibros, the Ten Commandments of the previous parsha. From this, Chazal derive that just as the Aseres Hadibros are from Sinai, so too are the mishpatim (Rashi). This raises a difficulty. Wasn't the Torah given in its entirety at Sinai? Indeed, Rashi explains (Vayikra 25:1) that all of the mitzvos were taught at Sinai in all their detail.The special emphasis given here to the mishpatim must therefore be coming to teach something else.

Imagine if the identical dispute came before two different Batei Din (Jewich courts), but each court ruled differently. In both cases the same set of arguments was presented, yet one court ruled in favour of the plaintiff, the other in the defendant's favour. According to the halacha, we are obligated to uphold each court's decision, otherwise the judicial system could not function and a state of anarchy would result. Nevertheless, one cannot help but wonder whether one of the Batei Din has erred. In fact, both decisions are correct and in accordance with the Torah as we shall see.

The Gemara (Eruvin 13b) relates that even though Beis Hillel and Beis Shamai argue and each one says that the halacha follows their view, eilu v'eilu divrei Elokim chaim, both opinions are the words of the living G-d. The Ritva explains that for each halacha that Hashem taught Moshe Rabbeinu, He revealed forty-nine reasons that could render it permissible and another forty-nine ways in which it could be forbidden. When Moshe Rabbeinu questioned the rationale behind this, Hashem told him that He gives the authority to the chachamim (sages) of each generation to rule according to their understanding. Even though the actual halacha can only follow one opinion, each line of reasoning is still considered an integral part of the Torah. The final ruling is left to the chachamim.

Therefore, if two Batei Din would issue opposite rulings regarding the same case, their words are still divrei Elokim chaim. This is what Chazal mean by emphasising that the mishpatim are from Sinai. They were not referring to the point in time when these mitzvos were taught to Moshe, for all the mitzvos were given then. Rather, they meant that each subsequent ruling of a Beis Din also emanates from Har Sinai and is not mere conjecture.

This is provided of course, that the judges have pure intentions and that they ensure thier judgements are firmly grounded in Torah. This point is alluded to by the juxtaposition of mishpatim to the mitzva of erecting the Mizbeach (altar). We derive from this sequence that the Sanhedrin ("Supreme Court") convened in the Beis Hamikdash. The Ramban writes that the purpose of the Mishkan (Sanctuary) was so to provide a place where Hashem's glory could be revealed - a place where He could continue to teach Moshe Rabbeinu the Torah. The Sanhedrin, conducting their business in this exalted setting, would also be able to see their rulings as the continuation of the revelation at Har Sinai.

At the conclusion of Shemoneh Esrei, we pray that Hashem rebuild the Beis Hamikdash, and that He "Grant us our share in Your Torah", for the Beis Hamikdash is the appropriate setting for us to toil to understand the Torah. The Shela Hakodesh explains the meaning of our request for a share in "Your" Torah. Our reasoning and novellae should be Your Torah, they should be consistent with what we were taught at Har Sinai. We then conclude with the hope that we will again serve Hashem in Yerushalayim. For it is also in the merit of the Sanhedrin that the Shechina (Divine presence), dwells in the Beis Hamikdash. The Temple Mount is therefore called Har HaMoriah because from there "horah", teaching, comes forth. May we merit the rebuilding of the Beis Hamikdash and the re-establishment of the Sanhedrin speedily in our days.

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