By: Rabbi Osher Jungreis
The parashah opens with a most unusual expression, “V`eileh hamishpatim asher tasim lifneihem – And these are the commandments that you shall place before them.” (Exodus 21:1)
Normally, the Torah instructs Moses with the words, “speak”, “command”, or “teach”–so why is Moses here commanded to “place”?
Rashi, whose commentaries are a key to understanding Torah, gives a brief but cryptic explanation: “Placed in front of them like a set table.” But this leaves us even more puzzled. Our revered grandfather, HaRav HaGaon Avraham HaLevi Jungreis, explains that a good mother prepares a beautiful table for her children, bearing in mind the needs and tastes of each of them (one may like meat, the other prefers chicken, sweet or spicy, etc.). And once her children are seated at the table, the mother urges them to taste the many other delicacies that are available there. Similarly, when imparting the commandments, the Torah teacher must bear in mind the needs of each of his charges. He must offer something that will draw the student to the table. He must invite the student to experience the many other mitzvos and thus imbibe the wisdom of the Torah.
This commandment speaks to us with great relevance, for ours is a generation that has seen many young people fall through the cracks and lose their way. We must find a way to bring them to the Torah table and reach their hearts, and this teaching reminds us how we may do so. We need only set a beautiful table for them, taking into account their special needs, and, with the help of G-d, the transformation will surely take place.
This week`s portion also deals with Laws concerning our interaction with our fellow man, be it in the workplace or in a social venue. “V`aleh Hamishpatim,” — “And these are the judgments that you shall place before them” (Exodus, 21) are the opening words of the parsha. To commence a sentence, let alone an entire portion with the word “And” is most unusual. Our sages explain that whenever the word “And” is used, it is in order to connect the passage with the previous portion of the Torah.
Since we studied about the giving of the Ten Commandments in last week`s parsha, there is a very profound message inherent in this connection. We learn that, even as G-d gave the Ten Commandments at Sinai, so too were the civil laws given at Sinai. Not only are the commandments regulating our relationship with G-d immutable, but so too are the ethical laws upon which our relationships with our fellow man are formulated.
There are those who believe that moral and ethical laws are so logical that even had they not been promulgated at Sinai, man would have deduced them on his own. But this is totally erroneous. Firstly, there is no code of behavior that comes even close to the high standard that the Torah requires of us. Secondly, even on a most elementary level, twenty-first century man has yet to accept “Thou shalt not kill.” From Hitler to Arafat to Bin Laden to Ahmadinejad, it is obvious how desperately man needs G-d to regulate his behavior.
Moreover, the Ten Commandments open with “I am the L-rd Your G-d.” By placing the laws of business ethics after the Ten Commandments, the Torah teaches us that he who is not ethical in business does not really trust G-d, for if he believed in Divine providence, he would understand that it is G-d who provides, it is He who determines our income and therefore, it is futile to cheat, steal, or give vent to greed. Finally, this connection reminds us that we adhere to our moral and ethical laws, not because they appeal to our logic, but because they were given by G-d and are therefore not subject to change or compromise. They are our eternal guiding light.