Of all the many “ands”, hardly any attracts as much commentary as the “and” which commences this week’s sidra: “And these are the ordinances which you shall place before them” (Ex. 21:1).
The sages explain that this “and” links the civil law code which follows, with the Ten Commandments which were read last Shabbat. Just as the Ten Commandments emanated from Sinai, they added, so was the civil code.
The Ten Commandments establish principles; the civil code translates them into day-to-day detail. The one text tells us not to steal, the other sets out what is to happen if a person does steal.
A society cannot live by principles alone; it needs a pattern of practical applications of principle. That is why it is a mistake to dismiss the detailed rules of halachah as pettifogging and uninspiring.
WH Lecky says in his History of European Morals (1877 ed., vol. 1, page 292), “Simply to tell men what is virtue, and to extol its beauty, is insufficient. Something more must be done… if the characters are to be moulded, and the inveterate vices eradicated”.
For Judaism, the “something more” is halachah.