Mishpatim 3

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Blind Faith?

Parshas Mishpatim

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Immediately after the Jews had received the Ten Commandments at Sinai, they were given several civil laws known as mishpatim. There is a common misconception that religion relates solely to G-dly matters, but more earthly matters such as civil law do not. The truth is contrary to this.  Our goal is to imitate Hashem as much as possible. One of the primary ways of doing this is through honesty in money matters. So the juxtaposition of the receiving of the Torah and civil law fits in perfectly.

After Moshe had related the laws to the Jews, they proclaimed in one voice "Na’aseh v’nishma", we will do and we will listen. Concerning this proclamation the Talmud relates an incident: A Saducee (one of the many deviant Jewish sects at the time of the Talmud; 100 C.E) asked one of the sages (Rava; tractate Shabbos 88a-b): "Why were the Jewish people so impetuous as to promise to do before they promised to understand?"

And if one thinks about it rationally, is this not a legitimate question?  Why did the Jews not respond to Hashem: "If we are able to understand, and it makes sense to us, we will keep the Torah." Were they willing to accept Hashem’s Torah on blind faith? When the Jews said we will do before we will listen, they were not saying it to an unknown entity. They had already experienced first hand Hashem’s intervention in the world, and they knew that anything He did was done out of His love and concern for them. They might not always understand it as it was happening — for example, their enslavement in Egypt — but they knew it was done for the best.

This is why the Ten Commandments start off with "I am your Hashem who took you out of Egypt", as opposed to "I am your Hashem who created the world." Creating the world was a greater feat than taking the Jews out of Egypt, but the reminder of deliverance from slavery had a stronger impact on the Jews: it had happened to them personally.

We reject the notion of blind faith. Hashem expects us to believe in Him because of our prior relationship with Him dating back to our forefathers.

For example: If a person is driving on a particular highway for the first time and gets off by exit 38, does he know for a fact the road continues beyond the exit? He can certainly make a strong hypothesis that it does, since road signs and his map indicate it does, although he has never seen it with his own two eyes. So too, looking at world history, and how we as Jews relate to it, particularly the fact of our survival for 2000 years without a country (from the fall of Masada until the formation of the state of Israel) is certainly enough to instill in us a belief in Hashem.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

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