Let's return once again to the overall structure of this entire unit of mitzvot. These mitzvot follow not only an 'educational progression,' as we have already seen, but also (more or less) according to the order of the Ten Commandments.
The opening mitzvot of this unit (see 20:18-22 - "bein adam la'Makom") can be viewed as "toladot" (sub-categories) of the first three Commandments [see further Iyun Section], as shown in Board #18.
Just as this unit features "toladot" of the first three "dibrot," so do we find "toladot" of the fourth commandment - "shabbat." In fact, both the opening and closing sections of the mitzvot relate to shabbat. The opening mitzvah, the law of a Hebrew servant (21:1-6), is based on the concept of six years of 'work' followed by 'rest' (=freedom) in the seventh year. The closing mitzvot of "shmitah," shabbat, and "aliya la'regel" (23:10-19), are similarly based on a seven-day or seven-year cycle. (See Board #19.)
In between these two "toladot" of shabbat, we find primarily "mitzvot bein adam la'chaveiro" (21:1-23:9), which can be considered "toladot" of the fifth through tenth Commandments. (See Board #20.)
The final section, describing God's promise to help Bnei Yisrael conquer the land should they keep these mitzvot, continues this pattern in descending order, as shown in Board #21.
This structure, by which the "mitzvot bein adam la'Makom" that govern our relationship with God (Dibrot I-IV) serve as 'bookends' enclosing the mishpatim [the civil laws and ethical standards regarding one's relationship to fellow men (Dibrot V-X)], underscores an important tenet of Judaism. Unlike pagan religions, man's relationship with other people constitutes an integral part of his unique relationship with God.
Yitro/Mishpatim - A Chiastic Structure
Board #22 illustrates how this progression of the mitzvot according to the Dibrot helps form a chiastic structure, which encompasses the entire unit from Shmot chapters 19-24. Note the chiastic [A-B-C-D-C-B-A] structure that emerges.
A chiastic structure (common in Chumash) usually points to a common theme and purpose of its contents. In our case, that theme is clearly "Ma'amad Har Sinai." This unit of "Ma'amad Har Sinai" (Shmot 19-24) continues the theme of the first unit of Sefer Shmot (1-18), the story of Yetziat Mitzrayim.
We conclude our shiur by relating this structure to the overall theme of Sefer Shmot, as discussed by Ramban in his introduction to the sefer.
As we explained, Yetziat Mitzraim (our redemption from Egypt) constituted the first stage in God's fulfillment of Brit Avot. Now, at Ma'amad Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael enter a second stage, as they collectively accept God's covenant and receive the Torah (Brit Sinai). These laws, especially those of Parshat Mishpatim, will help form their character as God's special nation - in order that they can fulfill the final stage of "brit Avot" - the inheritance of the Promised Land and the establishment of that nation.
For Further Iyun
A. Regarding Na'aseh V'Nishma:
D. We mentioned in the shiur that the mitzvot in Mishpatim can be understood as "toladot" of the Ten Commandments. See Ibn Ezra's observation of this point. See also Abravanel.
F. Based on the structure of the "ko tomar" unit, which is followed by "brit na'aseh v'nishma" and where Bnei Yisrael build a mizbayach and offer olot and shlamim, explain why the primary mitzvah in the opening section (i.e. 20:20-22) is "mizbach adama ta'aseh li..."
[Does this insight support Rashi or Ramban's interpretation?]
G. Chizkuni, following Rashi, also explains that the covenant in chapter 24 takes place before Matan Torah. However, he explains that Sefer Ha'Brit (in 24:7) is the tochacha in Parshat Behar-Bchukotei, even though it is only recorded much later in Chumash (see Vayikra chapter 26). According to Chizkuni, the Sefer Ha'Brit explains how the land will serve as a vehicle to either reward or punish Bnei Yisrael, depending upon their observance or neglect of the mitzvot they are about to receive. (This pirush also neatly explains why the phrase "ki li kol ha'aretz" appears in 19:5.)