The goal of laws and rules is to impose order in hopes of creating a just and civilized society.
For the Israelites who just left Egypt, God provides The Law in the form of the Ten Commandments. The rules that specify the particulars of how The Law is to be carried out are provided in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim. The translation of mishpatim is, in fact, “rules,” and the rules of Mishpatim are considered mitzvot (“commandments”).
Over 50 of the Torah’s 613 mitzvot are found in this week’s Torah portion. As time marched on, well beyond the giving of Torah at Sinai, humankind moved towards more civilized societies through the use of rules and laws. Also, as time moved on, Jews lived under different governing authorities, and the rabbinic dictum Dina d’malkhuta dina (“the law of the land is the law”), became binding. While as Jews we live according to the laws of Torah, first and foremost we live according to the laws of the country, states and cities in which we reside.
As concerned and responsible citizens, we ought to take the words of the prophet Jeremiah to heart: “Seek the welfare of the city to which I have exiled you and pray to Adonai in its behalf; for in its prosperity you shall prosper” (Jer. 29:7). In our actions and in our words, may we dedicate ourselves to our collective, civil well-being.
Rabbi Sandra M. Bellush