In these week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim, we delve into G-d laws to us, elucidating last week’s reading of the Ten Commandments from Parshat Yitro. It is fascinating to me that the high-level conceptual laws of everything from “I am G-d” to “Do not be envious of your neighbor” are in one Torah reading, but the detailed laws into how to execute on these are in the following reading this week.
I think one of the reasons is that the Torah is for all of us. Whether you are a “big picture” thinker or someone who is very detail-oriented, the Torah is applicable to all of us. Certainly, we all have to appreciate both the high-level, strategic concepts as well as the details on how to fulfill the commandments. But let’s face it, not everyone can fully appreciate both of these. In fact, some people are perhaps OCD and they get lost in the details, forgetting what the fundamentals of Yiddishkeit are, while others are ADD and they can’t fully focus on or appreciate the details of what needs to be done to fulfill the commandments.
While some Jews certainly thrive in Yeshiva delving into the Talmudic understanding of the laws for long hours every day, and they serve an important role in understanding and transmitting the laws from generation to generation, others may be more interested in the fundamental philosophy of Judaism and in “doing what’s right” by applying the core teachings of the Torah at their own levels every day. Maybe this is one reason that the Ten Commandments are presented separately from the “mishpatim” that follow. Not that they aren’t both important and necessary, but that the Torah is for all of us in the ways that each of us can appreciate, learn, and apply them within the overall framework of the Torah.
It’s funny, my father (zichron l’bracha) used to jokingly comment about another separation of the Torah laws, and that was within the Ten Commandments themselves. He used to say that five of the commandments are between man and G-d, and the other five between man and man. For example, keeping the Sabbath is a law between man and G-d, but not committing murder is between man and man. My father used to say that unfortunately, very few of us keep both sets of the Ten Commandments–some keep the five been man and G-d and not so much the ones between man and man, and others vice versa. Indeed, I believe there is unfortunately a lot of truth in this, where some people focus more on their relationship to G-d and others on doing right by their fellow man, but not enough of us are able to do both really well.
Of course, all the commandments are important between G-d and man and between man and man, as well as the conceptual framework of the Ten Commandments and the details embedded in the rest of the 613 commandments. Yet certainly, all of us in one way or another struggle with some commandments more than others or with losing sight of either the high-level essence of the Torah or important details of implementation. Nevertheless, we must strive to not only appreciate that all the Torah comes from Hashem, but also that we each must work as best as we can, in our own capacities, to learn and fulfill G-d’s laws and to be a good example and “light unto the nations,” which is what being “the chosen people” is really all about.
Whatever your orientation to learning and practicing Torah, the key is to keep at it, and never forget that the Torah is our blueprint for living and for doing what’s right in this world by G-d and to our fellow man, both fundamentally and in the details. Whether you are learning the holy Torah, serving valiantly in the IDF, pursuing your degree, or out in the workforce earning your daily bread, the Torah is for all of us to live our lives righteously and to always strive to serve as a kiddush Hashem no matter who we are individually and whatever path we end up taking in His service.
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