Every Jewish child knows that when Hashem offered Am Yisrael the torah they responded unequivocally with the statement “na’aseh venishma”. If those same chidren, or even their parents, were asked to state in which parsha those words are to be found, most of them would answer by quoting last week’s parsha, Yitro. This is in fact not the case. The phrase “na’aseh venishma” is actually found towards the end of this week’s parsha, Mishpatim. In this shiur we will attempt to explain why.
Parshat Yitro recalls the conversations that took place prior to the Asseret Hadibrot between Moshe and Hashem. At several points in this chapter we are told that Moshe ascended the mountain and then returned in order to convey G-d’s words to the people. It is somewhat unclear from these pesukim (Shemot, chapter 19) as to whether Moshe remained on Har Sinai at the point at which the Asseret Hadibrot were delivered. In fact a careful reading of the section in the Torah directly after the Asseret Hadibrot (Shemot 20:16-18) in tandem with the parallel section in Devarim (Chapter 5) would suggest that Moshe actually was standing with Am Yisrael at this time. They turn to him and ask for the Torah to be delivered not directly from Hashem, but rather by Moshe acting as an intermediary. This conversation that took place between Moshe and Am Yisrael would suggest that Moshe had not yet ascended the mountain but was a member of the “audience”. If so, when did Moshe go up to Har Sinai to receive the Torah?
The answer to the above question can be found in this week’s parsha:
“To Moshe He said, go up to Hashem, you and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and seventy elders of Israel and bow down from a distance.” (Shemot 24:1) and a few pesukim later:
“Moshe went up to the mountain, and the mountain was covered in a cloud.” (24:15)
When did this ascent take place?
Rashi, on the first pasuk, claims that these words were said to Moshe before matan torah. This is based on the principle “ein mukdam umeuchar batorah” the Torah does not follow a chronological order. However, Rashi states later on in the chapter that Moshe in fact ascended the mountain only after matan torah.
Ramban, who very rarely employs the principle of “ein mukdam umeuchar batorah” disagrees with Rashi and says that the entire chapter is in its’ natural chronological place. Obviously Ramban agrees with Rashi that Moshe’s ascent to Har Sinai took place after matan torah.
The disagreement between Rashi and Ramban relates not only to the timing of the command to Moshe to go up to Har Sinai but also to the episodes described following this command. These include the construction of an altar, bringing of sacrifices and the cry of “na’aseh venishma” by Am Yisrael. According to Rashi this acceptance of the Torah with the accompanying ceremony did in fact take place before matan torah and the Asseret Hadibrot. The opinion of the Ramban is that it did not; it took place after matan torah.
Two questions now arise:
Why, according to Rashi is this episode written out of chronological order?
If we adopt the opinion of Ramban, it seems that Am Yisrael accepted the Torah only after Hashem had appeared to them at Har Sinai. Surely the importance of Am Yisrael’s demonstration of blind faith stems from the fact that it took place before matan torah?
We suggest that the answer to these two questions lies in a rereading of this week’s parsha and of the entire account of matan torah. Let us begin with the opinion of Ramban. He states that the formal ceremony of kabbalat Hatorah, acceptance of the torah and the covenant made between Hashem and Am Yisrael takes place at the end of parshat Mishpatim. This means that everything included in this parsha is, in fact, an integral part of matan torah. Revelation, as he sees it, did not just include the ten commandments but rather the entire section from the beginning of the asseret Hadibrot until the end of chapter 23 in Shemot. Thus, the question asked above as to why Am Yisrael’s demonstration of blind faith took place after matan torah is based on an incorrect premise that matan torah consists of the ten commandments alone. According to Ramban, this is not the case. In fact, the Torah writes in the chapter about the covenant (24:3) that Moshe told the people all the words of Hashem and the mishpatim.. Ramban claims that the use of the word mishpatim implies that parshat Mishpatim was included in Moshe’s report of Hashem’s words to Am Yisrael.
This understanding of this week’s parsha in some ways elevates its importance to that of the Asseret Hadibrot. While we subscribe to the notion that no part of the Torah is more important than another, we all relate to the Asseret Hadibrot with a certain sense of uniqueness. Based on the above understanding of the Ramban, Parshat Mishpatim should also be viewed as a unique section of the Torah. Consisting as it does of many civil laws as well as basic principles of Judaism such as chagim and kashrut, this parsha forms the bulk of matan torah, the first section of torah delivered to Am Yisrael.
Let us return to Rashi’s opinion. He claims that the covenant section is out of order; that it in fact took place before. Again, on the basis of our explanation of the Ramban, we can understand why the Torah changed the order according to Rashi. Despite parshat Mishpatim not formally being a part of matan torah, it is perceived to be so as a result of the order of these parshiot. The Torah has created the following structure:
Matan Torah – Mishpatim – Matan Torah.
Therefore, according to Rashi, the Torah is emphasizing the crucial aspect of parshat Mishpatim.
We have stated that this parsha contains civil laws as well as basic principles of Judaism. We can, however, point to the fact that the majority of this section deals with laws “bein adam lechavero”. We could suggest that both according to Ramban who sees this section as part of matan torah, and according to Rashi who views the Torah’s thematic representation of this section as connecting it to matan torah, we are to view these laws as crucial to our acceptance of Torat Hashem. We are to internalize the fact that our covenant with the Almighty does not obligate us in the realm of our relationship with Him alone. It involves every aspect of our lives including the most mundane things such as cattle and money. The structure of these parshiot emphasize the interconnectedness of the “bein adam lemakom” and bein adam lechavero” aspects of revelation. Only by uniting the two can we accept the Torah and therefore proclaim “na’aseh venishma!”
[The final section of parshat Mishpatim prior to the “matan torah ceremony” deals with the mitzvah to conquer Eretz Yisrael and to rid the land of all traces of idolatry. Although the shiur did not relate to these pesukim, the theory espoused can be used to discuss the significance of these mitzvot based on the juxtaposition between them and the matan torah experience.]
Shabbat shalom – Rav Yonatan