In honor of Israel’s 75th birthday, Israel365 is excited to launch a new series of essays that will unlock the secrets of the Hebrew Bible!
Excerpted from Rabbi Akiva Gersh’s forthcoming book, 75 Hebrew Words You Need to Understand the Bible (available soon!) these essays illuminate the connection between related Hebrew words, revealing Biblical secrets only accessible through Hebrew.
Enjoy the series – and happy 75th birthday to the State of Israel!
“You shall appoint judges and officers for your tribes, in all the settlements that your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.” (Deuteronomy 16:18)
שפטים ושטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך אשר יהוה אלהיך נתן לך לשבטיך ושפטו את העם משפט צדק.
“You shall keep My rules and My laws, by the pursuit of which human beings shall live: I am God.” (Leviticus 18:5)
ושמרתם את חקתי ואת משפטי אשר יעשה אתם האדם וחי בהם אני יהוה.
The Bible categorizes law into two types, chukim and mishpatim. Chukim are laws that cannot be understood by human reason and logic, such as abstaining from pork and the burning of the red heifer. Mishpatim are laws that, though given by God, can be understood through human reason, such as the prohibitions against murder and theft and the obligation to set up courts of law.
The word shofet, “judge,” derives from the same grammatical root as mishpatim. Judges played a central role in the Biblical justice system, serving on three different kinds of courts, each with a different number of judges. A court of 3 judges presided over everyday cases, a court of 23 judges dealt with cases that involved capital punishment and a court of 71 judges was involved with issues that affected the entire nation.
Mishpatim are the backbone of a functioning and flourishing society, so much so that the prophet Isaiah said, “Zion will be redeemed by mishpat” (Isaiah 1:27). By building and maintaining a society of justice and lawfulness, the nation of Israel will merit the final redemption.
Interestingly, the Biblical portion immediately following the powerful narrative of the receiving of the Torah on Mount Sinai begins with the verse, “These are the mishpatim that you shall set before them” (Exodus 21:1) and then goes on to list many specific and detailed laws. This is the way of the Bible, to juxtapose an elevated spiritual experience with laws that govern the everyday aspects of our lives. The Bible both inspires us to reach out to the Divine and teaches us how to sanctify every mundane moment of our lives.