How about an encore?
The end of Parshas Mishpatim has more of the razzle-dazzle Matan Torah experience that we read about last week. Parshas Yisro contains the Ten Commandments and their accompanying sound-and-light-show that literally shook the world (Sh’mos 20:15). The end of this week’s parshah continues that story and describes the eagerness of B’nei Yisrael to accept the Torah, and their famous exclamation of Naaseh v’nishma (24:7). Our sidrah concludes with the Jewish people gaining a peripheral view of Hashem Himself (vv. 10-11), Moshe’s ascent up the mountain, and his disappearance into the clouds (v. 18).
Miracles, drama, direct encounters with the Divine – these Kabalas HaTorah narratives are full of excitement! But what content appears in the Torah between these two monumental episodes at Har Sinai? Mishpatim, laws. Mundane, day-to-day life: Treat your workers well, cover any holes you dig in the street, keep your ox to yourself. Kind of a downer between these two extravagant accounts and displays of Mass Revelation, don’t you think? Why does the Torah interject these everyday laws in the middle of Matan Torah?
Perhaps, with this format, the Torah resembles our own lives. Occasionally, we have a G-dly experience, be it the birth of a child, a near tragedy, or a meaningful N’ilah. But how often do these moments happen? Most of life consists of nitty-gritty, day-to-day jobs and chores, e.g., paperwork at the office, washing dishes at home, sitting in traffic on the Van Wyck, etc. These are the everyday occurrences between our moments of spiritual clarity and connection to the Divine. These are the mishpatim between our personal Har Sinai moments. By splitting the Matan Torah narrative into two sections and including the mitzvos of daily living in the middle, Hashem is teaching us that we can infuse holiness and meaning into the minutiae of our days as we await the next big “revelation.” The ways we conduct ourselves ethically and interpersonally at work, home, and on the streets can be transformed into religious experiences – if we view them as extensions of Kabalas HaTorah. We can use the bursts of inspiration to fuel our avodas Hashem during the long stretches between the high mountains.
With this perspective, we can view our mishpatim as a parshah full of mitzvos!