Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)
This week’s Parsha, Mishpatim, details many of the laws that the Jews are to follow. This is followed by the famous declaration by the people that they will “do and listen” (24:7) to all these laws. What’s less well-known is the fact that they had already accepted to follow these laws twice before and in this very Parsha. The differences between the first declarations and this third famous one are that 1) the people in unison declared the first two. In contrast, the third was not, and 2) the first two declarations only involved following the laws and not hearing them. What is the reason for these differences?
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks offers a beautiful explanation. While the first two declarations involved strict adherence to a unified code of conduct and behavior, there was no room for individuality or divergence. That’s why the Jews’ confirmation was in unison. However, understanding of those edicts is very personal and varied, as everyone connects, appreciates, and understands them at their level. While everyone affirmed that they would listen to the laws, they did so at their level because Judaism leaves room for such individuality, and that is what makes us unique, as people and as a nation. While our actions unite us, embracing our uniqueness makes us stronger.