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

In the Torah, we find various categories of Mitzvot, or commandments. Mishpatim, often translated as “rules,” encompass commandments that are self-evident, such as prohibitions against murder or theft. These Mitzvot contrast with Chukim, or “decrees,” which lack a known rationale, like the prohibition against mixing certain wools and linens, known as Shatnez. The majority of the commandments in this week’s Torah portion fall under Mishpatim, representing laws that are both logical and fair.

Children frequently express sentiments like “but it’s not fair!”—a testament to their innate sense of fairness and justice. It falls upon us, as parents and educators, to address these concerns and provide explanations. This responsibility brings us back to the opening line of this week’s Torah portion:

וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּשִׂ֖ים לִפְנֵיהֶֽם׃

“Now these are the rules that you shall set before them.”

The Talmud delves into this verse:

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 rules that you shall set before them’ (Exodus 21:1), which indicates that the lesson must be set out in a logical fashion for the students” (Eruvin 54b).

Rabbi Akiva illuminated a profound truth about establishing fair rules: it’s crucial not only to establish them but also to educate children about their underlying rationale. Both teachers and parents have significant influence and responsibility in this endeavor. While verbal explanations hold value, we must not only articulate the reasoning behind fair rules through our words but also embody them through our actions.

Shabbat Shalom U’Mevorach,

Moreh Alan