Parshat Mishpatim -
The Laws of Parshat Mishpatim: An Educational Progression

(To prepare for this shiur,
see the questions for self study.)

When did Bnei Yisrael declare "Na'aseh V'nishma"?

Most of us would probably answer: before they received the Ten Commandments (Rashi's opinion). However, many other commentators (including Ramban) disagree!

In this week's shiur, as we study the overall structure of Parshat Mishpatim (and its connection to Parshat Yitro), we will uncover the source of this controversy.

[The shiur is a bit longer than usual, so we have divided it into three sections.]

Part I - When Did
Bnei Yisrael Say
"Na'aseh V'nishma?"

Often, we spend so much attention studying the specific mitzvot in Chumash that we lose track of the narrative in which they are embedded. Parshat Mishpatim is a classic example, as it forms part of a very important narrative following the story of the Ten Commandments.

Recall from Parshat Yitro that after Bnei Yisrael heard the Ten Commandments directly from God, they were overcome by fear and asked Moshe to act as their intermediary (see Shmot 20:14-17).

God grants their request, and in the next 'parshia' in Chumash God commands Moshe (now acting as His intermediary) to relay an additional set of mitzvot to Bnei Yisrael:

"And God said to Moshe: Ko Tomar ... Thus you shall say to Bnei Yisrael:
You saw that I spoke to you from the Heavens.
Do not make any idols of Me...
A mizbayach made from earth you shall make for Me..."
(see 20:18-22)
Although these four psukim conclude Parshat Yitro, they do not conclude this set of mitzvot (that began with "Ko Tomar")! In fact, this short parshia (see 20:18-22) introduces a collection of numerous mitzvot that continue in Parshat Mishpatim with:
"And these are the mishpatim (rules) that you shall set before them..." (see 21:1)
[See Ibn Ezra (peirush ha'aroch) and Rashi.]

This set of laws (which Moshe is to convey to Bnei Yisrael) continues all the way until the end of chapter 23. It is only in 24:1 where this long quote (of what Moshe is to tell Bnei Yisrael) finally ends, and the narrative describing the events at Har Sinai continues.

In other words, we have identified a distinct unit of mitzvot, introduced by "Ko Tomar..." (in 20:18) and continuing all the way until 23:33. (See Board #1.)

Considering that this unit began with "Ko Tomar...," we should expect Chumash to now continue its narrative by reporting that Moshe in fact conveys these laws to Bnei Yisrael. Indeed, that is exactly what we find:

"...And Moshe came [back down from the mountain] and told the people all the divrei Hashem (God's words) and all the mishpatim." (24:3)
You've probably noticed one serious problem with this presentation - we would expect 24:3 to be the first pasuk in chapter 24; instead, it is the third. However, the reason for this is quite simple. Before Chumash tells us that Moshe conveyed these laws, the narrative provides us with some background information that will be critical towards understanding the continuation of chapter 24:
"And Moshe was told to ascend the mountain with Aharon, and Nadav and Avihu, and seventy elders to bow at a distance. And only Moshe went very close, but they did not..." (see 24:1-2)
These opening two psukim should perhaps be understood as surrounded by 'parentheses,' whereas Moshe fulfills this command only later on, in 24:9-12. (See Board #2.)

To understand why, let's keep these two psukim in 'memory' and pick up the narrative in 24:3:

"...And Moshe came and told to the people all the divrei Hashem (God's words) and all the mishpatim." (24:3)
As we presumed, in this pasuk Moshe conveys the laws of this "Ko Tomar" unit (i.e. 20:18-23:33) to Bnei Yisrael. The "mishpatim" (mentioned in 24:3) obviously refer to the "mishpatim" introduced in 21:1, while (by default) the "divrei Hashem" must refer to all the other "mitzvot" in this unit that do not fall under the category of "mishpatim" (surely 20:19-22). (See Board #3.)

In this same pasuk, Bnei Yisrael confirm their acceptance of these laws:

"...and the people answered together saying: 'All that God has commanded us - na'aseh - we shall keep." (24:3)
Even though they already proclaimed "na'aseh" before Matan Torah (see 19:5-8) in relation to the Dibrot, they now repeat this declaration to express their acceptance of this additional set of mitzvot that they have now received via Moshe.

Immediately thereafter, Moshe records these laws in an 'official document,' builds a mizbayach and prepares a special ceremony that he will conduct the next day, during which Bnei Yisrael will offer korbanot (see 24:5-6).

The highlight of that ceremony takes place when Moshe takes this 'document,' to which the Torah now refers as "sefer ha'brit," and reads it aloud (see 24:7):

"...Then Moshe took the Sefer Ha'Brit and read it aloud to the people, and they answered: Everything that God has spoken to us Na'aseh V'nishma [we shall keep and obey]. Moshe then took the blood [from the korbanot] and sprinkled it on the people and said: This is the - dam ha'brit - blood of the covenant ... concerning these commandments..." (24:7-8)
[Later in the shiur we will discuss what precisely was written in this Sefer Ha'Brit and why the people respond "na'aseh v'nishma."]

At the conclusion of this ceremony, Moshe, together with Aharon, Nadav, Avihu and the 70 elders, ascends the mountain and bows down to God. One could explain that this 'leadership group' officially represents the entire nation. They now approach God to symbolically accept this covenant on behalf of the people. Clearly, by doing so, Moshe fulfills God's command as detailed in 24:1 (see above). (See Board #4.)

Nice and simple? Not so fast!

Rashi (quoting the Mechilta) disagrees! For some reason, Rashi claims that this entire ceremony - reading the Sefer Ha'Brit, sprinkling the blood, and proclaiming Na'aseh V'nishma - all takes place before Matan Torah. Basically, Rashi takes the entire parshia from 24:1-11 and 'weaves' it into the Torah's description of the events preceding Matan Torah in chapter 19 (see Rashi 24:1 and Board #5). At first glance, Rashi's interpretation seems unnecessary and altogether irrational. What leads him to this conclusion?

We shall now show how Rashi's interpretation is actually quite convincing and based on fundamental thematic and textual considerations.

Recall from last week's shiur that Shmot chapter 19, the story of Bnei Yisrael's preparation for the Dibrot, presented us with many difficulties. For example:

There is enough 'circumstantial' evidence linking these two parshiot together that by combining the story in 24:1-11 with the events in chapter 19, one can fill in many important details that otherwise appear to be 'missing.' [Of course, should this be true, we must explain why the Torah records these 'missing details' only later.]

Rashi's interpretation also solves a Biblical 'mystery' concerning when Bnei Yisrael received Sefer Breishit. According to Rashi, the "sefer ha'brit" that Moshe reads aloud in 24:7 is none other than Sefer Breishit! (See Board #6.) How (and why) does Rashi reach this conclusion?

[Chumash in its final form was given to Bnei Yisrael only in the fortieth year (see Devarim 31:24-25 and Gittin 60a). Even though the mitzvot received at Har Sinai were written down in "megillot" (scrolls), the Torah never mentions when, where, or how Bnei Yisrael actually received Sefer Breishit.]

Once Rashi places the events in 24:1-11 before Matan Torah, he encounters an obvious difficulty interpreting the phrase "divrei Hashem v'haMishpatim" in 24:3 and 24:4. He obviously cannot explain (as Ramban does) that this refers to the "divrei Hashem" and "mishpatim" found in the Ko Tomar unit (see above). Instead, Rashi explains that the divrei Hashem refer to the rules God set down with regard to preparing for Matan Torah (see 19:10-16,21-25) and the mishpatim refer to the seven "mitzvot Bnei Noach" and the laws Bnei Yisrael received at Mara (see Shmot 15:25). (See Board #7.) In 24:4, he explains that the Sefer Ha'Brit that Moshe writes down (and reads in 24:7) are actually Sefer Breishit and the first half of Sefer Shmot.

[Note that according to Rashi, the entire Ko Tomar unit was given to Moshe during his first forty days on Har Sinai, after Matan Torah (see Rashi 31:18).]

Rashi's explanation that considers Sefer Breishit (and the first part of Shmot) a Sefer ha'Brit ties in beautifully with the centrality of Brit Milah and Brit Bein Ha'btarim thus far in Chumash. [Recall how Breishit focuses on the forging of a covenant between God and Avraham Avinu, by which his offspring will become a special nation. Sefer Shmot deals with God's fulfillment of that covenant.]

Furthermore, Rashi's interpretation adds tremendous significance to the nature of the three days of preparation for Ma'amad Har Sinai (see 19:10-16). From chapter 19 alone, this preparation reflects a very 'repressive' atmosphere, consisting primarily of "no-no's" [don't touch the mountain, don't come too close, wash your clothes, and stay away from your wives]. But if we weave the events in 24:1-11 into this three-day preparation, then what emerges is a far more festive and jubilant atmosphere, including Torah study (see 24:3-4), offering (and eating) korbanot (see 24:5-6,11), and a public ceremony whereby the nation's leaders approach God (see 24:7-10)! [It's a full-fledged "shabbaton"!]

But perhaps most significant is Bnei Yisrael's study of Sefer Breishit and the first half of Sefer Shmot ("divrei Hashem" according to Rashi) during these three days. Considering that Sefer Breishit explains how and why Bnei Yisrael were first chosen, it is important that they first understand why, i.e. for what purpose, they are receiving the Torah, before they actually receive it.

Finally, Rashi's interpretation provides us with a classic example of his exegetic principle of "ein mukdam u'muchar" [parshiot in Chumash are not necessarily recorded in chronological order; see shiur on Parshat Yitro part II]. Because of the many textual and thematic parallels between chapters 19 and 24, Rashi prefers to change the chronological order of the "parshiot" so as to arrive at a more insightful interpretation.

But why (according to Rashi) does the Torah divide the Matan Torah account, telling half the story in chapter 19 and the other half in chapter 24?

One could suggest that in doing so, the Torah differentiates between two aspects of Ma'amad Har Sinai. Chapter 19, as we discussed last week, focuses on the yirah perspective, the people's fear and the awe-inspiring nature of this event. In contrast, chapter 24 focuses on the ahava perspective, God's special closeness with Bnei Yisrael, which allows them to 'see' Him (24:9-11) and generates the joyous nature of this event, as they join in a festive meal [offering olot and shlamim (which are eaten) - see 24:5-6,11].

To emphasize the importance of each aspect, the Torah presents them individually. (See Board #8.) Likewise, in our daily lives, we must learn how to integrate both aspects into all our endeavors.

Continue to the next page for Part II.

TSC Home Next