In the last part of the previous parasha Yitro, the Torah dictates to us some principles regarding the construction of a temple and an altar. Immediately after parasha Yitro is parasha Mishaptim, the “Laws”, which is about the justice and laws that society should conduct itself and which should be enforced in the courts. These laws of justice describe the smallest details regarding relationships between one person and another, requiring absolute justice.
Then, the Torah continues in the following parasha, Terumah, with more instructions regarding the construction of the tabernacle, the temporary temple which accompanied the Israelites on their journey through the desert and became a prototype for construction of the Temple to be built in Jerusalem hundreds of years later.
The question is, why does the Torah suddenly interrupt the sequence of instructions, related to the construction of the temple, and the altar, to describe the system of justice and judgement?
Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch, (19th century, Germany) explains:
The break between the instructions related to the construction of the altar and the construction of the Temple is not accidental. The Torah intends to transmit a very important message for us. The purpose of our relationship with God is to provide a solid foundation “for building a society in the spirit of justice and humanity”, and the reward for establishing such a society is a closer relationship with God.
Moral interpersonal conduct not only precedes seeking spiritually but it is also essential for its existence. The divine laws refine and strengthen the basics of human morality.
Parashat Mishpatim gives us divine tools to sharpen our sense of justice, and to add to it gentleness, compassion, and social responsibility, and through them to achieve a relationship with God.
Rabbi Refael Cohen