Moshe Kempinski

Parshat Mishpatim Exodus 21:1–24:18

After the awesome and somewhat frightening experience at the foot of Mount Sinai we read the following:

And these ( Ve-Eileh) are the ordinances that you shall set before them.” (Exodus 21:1)

Rashi explains that the words ”, And these,-Ve-Eileh” are meant to add another dimension  to what has been previously stated (Tanchuma Mishpatim 3).

That is to say, that just as the momentous words spoken at Mount Sinai were spiritually elevating and dramatic so are these words which focus on mundane issues intended to be.

Just as the commandments that G.d revealed with the Ten Declarations at Mount Sinai were to be a revelation of G.d in this world, the same would be true of these statutes and ordinances.

I obtained a deeper understanding of this lofty concept  from a Torah study sheet  I found on one of the tables in the makeshift Synagogue on the street in my neighborhood.

In it, the much revered Rabbi Moshe Shapira ( Ztz’l) taught on the Mount Sinai revelation. He returned to the classic question as to the difference between “VaYomer -and He said” and “VaYidaber -and He spoke”.

The classic understanding is that the term “VaYomer -and He said” is a description of a “softer’ form of communication while the term “VaYidaber -and He spoke” Is a form of communication that is more determined and “Din” related.

Rabbi Moshe Shapira ( Ztz’l) then offered another direction and thought. The term “VaYomer -and He spoke” is a description of words flowing in one direction. Someone speaks and tells someone something.

The term “VaYidaber -and He spoke” describes a two-way flow of words, a conversation.

That idea took me down another pathway ( MaHalach) of thoughts and possibilities.

When Hashem created the world, He simply declared it into being. “And G.d said ( VaYomer) , Let there be light: and there was light.( genesis 1:3). There was no conversation and no discussion. There was no one to speak to. He simply spoke creation into being.

Yet the Ten Commandments are called the Asseret Hadibrot, the Ten spoken declarations. The Ten Commandments and all of Torah,  are words (Dibburim) which on the one hand are determined, simple truths  with no embellishments. Yet more than anything else they are also “the beginning of a conversation”.

A conversation that will endure throughout time.

The conversation is not about should we or should we not fulfill the directions and commandments that Hashem has given us.

Rather it is an ongoing conversation of discovery of meaning and a searching for personal purpose within the framework of Hashem’s words.

That is the meaning behind the first words in the verse”And these ( Ve-Eileh) are the ordinances that you shall set before them.” (Exodus 21:1)

How does one unite the physical with the spiritual? How does one take physical reality and raise it to its spiritual purpose? How does one achieve ”And these ( Ve-Eileh) are the ordinances?”

Perhaps they can be found in the words expressed from the other side of “the conversation”:.

 “And he ( Moshe) took the book of the covenant, and read in the hearing of the people; and they said: ‘All that Hashem hath spoken we will do, and we will listen.”

“To do” is to obey while “to listen” is to contemplate and understand.

 “Rabbi Eleazar said: ‘When the Israelites gave precedence to “we will do” over “we will listen,” a Heavenly Voice went forth and exclaimed to them, Who revealed to My children this secret, which is employed by the Ministering Angels, as it is written (Psalms 103:20), “Bless Hashem, ye angels of His. Ye mighty in strength that do (oseh) His word, that hearken (lishmoa) unto the voice of His word.” First they fulfill and then they hearken?” (Shabbat 88 a)

Mortals always first attempt to understand what they are being asked to do. Only after this understanding can they choose whether to obey. Angels, on the other hand, first “do” what they are being asked to do by G.d .

A true  understanding of Divine processes and purpose can only be sensed through the doing.

All that we do for a Higher purpose, our symbols rituals and actions become the platform of deeper understanding .

it is that platform of ongoing conversation and dialog in action that enables the greater intimacy with Hashem.An Intimacy that was frightening when they first heard Hashem spoke, and yet now became manageable and within reach.

That is the added dimension of ”And these ( Ve-Eileh)”

Lerefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Alter Mordechai ben Freda

LeRefuat Yehudit bat Golda Yocheved and Alter Mordechai ben Freda

Leave a Comment