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    Two types of law – Mishpatim

    The beginning of Parashat Mishpatim (Ex. 21:1) says, “And these are the laws which you shall place before them (the people of Israel)”.

    The rabbinic sages, echoed by Rashi, say that the word “and” contains a wealth of meaning. It implies that not just the Ten Commandments which figure in last week’s reading come from Sinai, but so do the civil laws of Mishpatim.

    A person might have thought that Sinai proclaimed only the theological principles of the Torah – “I am the Lord your God… Have no other gods before Me… Do not take the name of the Lord your God in vain”, but the laws of human relationships were worked out on earth by human society as the result of trial and error.

    The Ten Commandments themselves decisively negate that line of interpretation since they have two sections, laws between man and God and equally, laws between man and man. The man-and-man laws (no murder, no theft, no adultery, no false witness, no coveting) are not just the result of human experience but ordained by God.

    Their motive is not merely, “This is the way for humans to live in harmony”, but “This is how God’s creatures must emulate His wisdom and will”.

    People should not kill, both because human society needs that kind of rule in order to survive, but because every person is made in God’s image, and murder injures God as well as man.

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