Parashat Mishpatim: The Prerequisite to Success in Torah
Parashat Mishpatim consists of many complex, intricate laws, and in the first verse of the Parasha, G-d instructs Moshe to "place" these laws before Beneh Yisrael. Rashi explains that Moshe was to present these laws in a clear, organized fashion so that they could easily absorb the information.
An important aspect of this process of Torah learning is alluded to by the juxtaposition between the beginning of Parashat Mishpatim and the end of the preceding Parasha, Parashat Yitro. The final verses of Parashat Yitro speak about the laws of the altar in the Bet Ha’mikdash. The last of these commands is "Asher Lo Tigaleh Ervatecha Alav" – the altar must be protected from immodesty and impropriety. The altar, the service in the Bet Ha’mikdash, represents the highest levels of Kedusha, and it is thus associated with purity and refraining from "Erva" – unclean matters.
This command immediately precedes the command to teach the "Mishpatim," the laws of the Torah, to indicate to us that the purity embodied by the altar is a prerequisite to successful learning of Torah. The opening verse of Parashat Mishpatim speaks of the successful transmission of Torah knowledge, and it is therefore preceded by the warning of "Asher Lo Tigaleh Ervatecha Alav," the need to remain pure of spiritual contamination, as this is a necessary precondition to mastering the Torah.
This answers the question that people often ask: how can we possibly be expected to acquire comprehensive Torah knowledge? Torah is so vast. There is so much to know. How can we master all of Torah?
The answer is that unlike with other fields of study, success in Torah depends on our character. If we work to become pure and holy people, then we will be able to absorb Torah wisdom. If we obey the command of "Asher Lo Tigaleh Ervatecha Alav," then the Torah will be clear and easily accessible, as alluded to in the first verse of Parashat Mishpatim.
Before G-d gave Beneh Yisrael the Torah, He called Moshe to the top of Mount Sinai and instructed him to tell Beneh Yisrael, "You have seen…how I carried you on the wings of eagles" (Shemot 19:4). Rashi (12:37) explains that this refers to Beneh Yisrael’s first journey after being freed from Egypt, when they traveled a distance of some 120 miles in less than a day. As Beneh Yisrael prepared to receive the Torah, G-d assured them that just as they miraculously traveled from Egypt, they could miraculously "travel" through Torah and master it. The only condition is, as G-d says several verses later (19:6), "You shall be for Me a kingdom of Kohanim and a sacred nation." As long as we conduct ourselves with Kedusha, and avoid impurity, we are capable of achieving success in Torah learning and amassing Torah knowledge.
Appropriately, Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim marks the conclusion of the six-week Shobabim period, which is dedicated to strengthening ourselves in the area of Seniut (modesty) and purity. The greater an effort we make to live up to our mission of being a "sacred nation," people of purity and holiness, the more we will be able to achieve and the greater our success in Torah learning will be.