This week’s Middat HaShavuah, taken from this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Mishpatim, instructs us to create fair rules.

Parshah: מִּשְׁפָּטִים 

Key Verse: וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם  

שמות כא:א

Middah: Create fair rules

Parshat Mishpatim is interesting because this Torah portion actually contains 53 of the 613 total mitzvot in the Torah. That is to say, almost 9% of all of the Mitzvot in the entire Torah are contained in this one Torah portion. That is a lot of Mitzvot for one Torah portion!

When it comes to Mitzvot, they can be divided into many categories: Mitzvot “Aseh” and “Lo Ta’aseh” (sometimes referred to as positive and negative commandments); and there are Mitzvot “Bein Adam LeMakom” and Mitzvot “Bein Adam LeChavero” (religious or spiritual commandments between ourselves and G-d, and commandments between one person and another). Most, but not all, of the Mitzvot in this week’s Torah portion fall into the latter category – Mitzvot “Bein Adam LeChavero” – commandments between one person and another. These could be considered “rules of fairness” that help guide us and help us lead a better, more ethical life, and help us get along in society.

We often hear young people say, “but it’s not fair!” Children do have a strong sense of fairness and justice. They say “it’s not fair” and so it is our responsibility as parents and educators to explain why. Which takes us back to the opening line in this week’s Torah portion:

Key Verse: וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם  

The Talmud comments on this verse as follows:

וּמִנַּיִין שֶׁחַיָּיב לְהַרְאוֹת לוֹ פָּנִים — שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר: ״וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם״. 

“And from where do we derive that a teacher must show his students the reasons for the teachings? As it is stated: “Now these are the judgments (מִּשְׁפָּטִים – also rules or laws) which you shall set before them” (Exodus 21:1), which indicates that the lesson must be set out in logical fashion for the students.”(Eruvin 54b)

Rabbi Akiba understood something deeply profound when it comes to creating fair rules: we must create fair rules AND we must explain the reasons behind them to our children. The adults in the room (teachers and parents) play a pivotal role in this process. The adults in the room  can certainly explain the reasons for having fair rules with our words. I would suggest that we, the teachers and the parents, should also explain why we create fair rules through our actions. 

Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach,

Moreh Alan

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