Commentary for Mishpatim

13 Feb

There is a famous midrash about God shopping the Torah around to the various nations. God would go to each nation and ask them if they would like to accept the Torah. They would ask “what’s in it?” and God would give them some sample laws like “don’t commit adultery” or “don’t murder” or “don’t withhold wages from you workers,” at which point the various nations would say “No thanks. We’re not interested in following those laws.” Finally, God came to the Israelites and asked them “do you want to accept the Torah?” and the Israelites famously respond with the phrase found in this week’s parshah: “Everything that God says, we will do and we will obey (Ex. 24:7).” The word used for “we will obey” here, “nishma, is more simply translated as “we will listen,” and the expression has been used by Jews throughout the generations as a statement of faith. We will do what God commands and only then will we ask for the reason behind it because we trust that God will never steer us wrong.

 

For many people, this idea is hard to fathom. We as humans don’t like doing things if we cannot find some value or meaning in it. If we can’t see the value in it, we often won’t even give it a shot. For many Jews, many of the ritual commandments such as keeping kosher or various holiday laws fall into this category.

 

While the above midrash contains a very nice message about faith in God, it is interesting to note that this is actually the third statement along these lines that the Israelites make. According to Rabbi Elie Munk, the first (“Everything that God has spoken, we will do” Ex. 19:8) refers to all of the laws the Israelites had received before they got to Sinai, the second (“All the words that God has spoken, we will do” Ex. 24:3) refer to the Ten Commandments, and ““Everything that God says, we will do and we will obey (Ex. 24:7),” refers to all of the commandments God desires to give from that point forward. The Israelites did not make this amazing statement of faith blindly, but rather they made their decision based on past experiences. Each time God gave them a set of laws, they took it, lived it, and experienced it, and although they might not have understood some of them in the beginning, they came to understand the value and meaning of those laws. Over their journey to Sinai and their time there, they built up the sort of trust in God’s judgment that can only come from giving something an honest shot, and through those experiences they developed and strengthened their relationship with God to the point where they were ready to make such a remarkable declaration of faith.

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