February 15th, 2018

The Torah portion of Mishpatim contains dozens of laws governing day-to-day life, a startling departure from the very elevated atmosphere of the revelation at Mount Sinai.

The Talmudic sages inform us that these laws are as important in terms of our relationship with God as are the ritual laws.

This assertion seems puzzling. In the first instance, the concept of ‘common law’ or ‘civil law’ predated Sinai, codified under the heading ‘Noahide Laws’, a legal system that applied to all of humanity. In what way is post-Sinai Torah-oriented ‘common law’ any different from pre-Sinai Noahide ‘common law’?

Secondly, the whole idea of a legal system that encompasses ‘common law’ is that it is self-evidently important in terms of maintaining a stable society. Why, therefore, would the fact that these laws are connected to ‘Divine revelation’ be of any consequence to the spiritual status of a Jew if they are identical with the laws that govern all nations?

The sources open up this important subject to reveal a number of fundamental principles in terms of how we relate to God through the mundane realities of human existence.


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