Parashat Yitro

A System of Justice and the Details of a Moral Life

Establishing an equitable human judicial system is the necessary condition for receiving the divine moral wisdom of the Torah.

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Their response, "na'aseh v'nishmah," ("we will do and we will hear") which appears in Parashat Mishpatim, now appears differently: na'aseh--we will do all the things to prepare, and we will define some basic values to be worthy of receiving God's principles; nishma--we will hear God's outpouring of moral content into the system that we establish, and it will provide principles, human values and laws which we will accept and obey.

A Human System

This justice system is a human one. It is predicated on basic ideas that enable us to function as a moral society. Its entirely human administration makes the system much more powerful, much more part of us, and even much more part of each person.

These are the standards that we should adopt for ourselves attempting to build a moral society. Humanity, in general, has experienced tremendous shocks recently--shocks that have raised basic questions about the way humanity should react. Have moral values collapsed, too, with the evil, animalistic behavior of some human beings, upheld of their own countries in the name of justice?

The order of our Torah portion gives us an answer in first establishing and accepting the idea of a society based on a justice system, and then filling it with details. We must not forget that our own social order is based on that first part of this Torah portion, before the Ten Commandments in their specificity are given. In not accepting the basic rule of law and the fundamental principle of human responsibility, we run the great risk of possibly destroying our entire society.

Even in our most difficult moments, we must be aware that supporting the justice system allows us to live a moral life. We must maintain it to be worthy of our relationship with God, and to be able to be inspired by God. That is the real meaning of the midrash (rabbinic interpretation) which says that all of Israel was at Mount Sinai when the Torah was given.

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Rabbi Uri Ayalon

Uri Ayalon is the rabbi at Kehilat Yotzer Or in Jerusalem.