Parashas Mishpatim

Parashas Mishpatim deals with civil laws. The Midrash expounds (Shemos Rabbah 30:1, expounding on Tehillim 99:4), it is written: “You established uprightness for Your beloved ones – through the laws that You gave them, they enter into disputes with one another, and go to have them adjudicated, and [thereby] they make peace.” The Maggid explains that when devoted Jews bring a court case, it is not out of love of money, but rather out love of uprightness and justice. Both parties in the case are concerned that they may be taking something that is not theirs, and wish to have the matter properly resolved.
Avos 1:18 states: “On three things the world stands: on justice, on truth, and on peace. As it is written (Zechariah 8:16): ‘Truth and judgment of peace are you to adjudicate in your gates.’” Yerushalmi Taanis 4:2 comments: “All three are one: when justice is done, truth is established and peace is made.” The Maggid explains this teaching by noting a key difference between a court case that is brought because one party is trying to take or withhold something unrightfully from the other from the other party and a court case that is brought by upright men who are unsure about what the law is in a certain matter and wish to have the issue properly clarified. If someone brings a case in an attempt to take what is not rightfully his, the court will set the matter straight, and as a result the person who brought the case will go home upset, because he did not get what he wanted. By contrast, when two parties bring a case to court out of a desire to clarify what the law dictates, and one of the parties is told that he has been holding something that is not rightfully his, he will give it over right away and will not want to have it in his hands anymore, and he will go home glad that the court saved him from doing an injustice to the other party. In this vein, the Gemara says (Sanhedrin 7a): “Let one who leaves a court that has taken his cloak from him sing his song and go his way.” Moreover, the one who was judged to be in the wrong will appease the other party and apologize over making him go through the trouble of going to court. And thus, after the case is decided, there will be peace and friendship between the two parties.
From the Mishnah in Avos, we might have thought that justice, truth, and peace are three separate things, but the Yerushalmi, after quoting the Mishnah, states that they are all one unit. In the verse in Zechariah, truth comes first, and then justice and peace. If the initial reason for seeking a court judgment is the desire to arrive at the truth, then after the judgment the parties will be at peace with each other, and they both will thank the court profusely for guiding them to the proper outcome. But if the initial reason for seeking a court judgment is a need for someone to retrieve something that was wrongfully taken from him, then the opposite will result: After the judgment the losing defendant will hate both the plaintiff and the judges.
The Midrash states that the Torah’s laws lead Jews to enter into disputes with one another. The Midrash is saying that the reason the Jews go into court is a desire to uphold the Torah’s laws and reach a resolution that is true and just. Accordingly, after the matter is adjudicated, the parties are at peace with each other.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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