Mitzvot, the commandments which G‑d enjoins upon the people, can be classified into three groups:

Mishpatim — social legislation, rulings similar to those every society espouses: a grid of rational social intervention.

Edut — the testimonies of our culture and history, commemorations similar to every society's need to remember and keep alive its past.

Chukim — the supra-rational dictates only the Divine can comprehend, and mortals follow on faith alone.

Our Torah portion's name is Mishpatim; it deals with the first category, the precepts of social legislation that have a basis in logic. "And these are the mishpatim that I place before you," it begins.

It is unusual for a portion to begin with the word "and." The Midrash therefore infers a connection between this Torah portion and the previous one, a connection which is stronger than between other neighboring portions. Yitro, last week's portion, spoke of the Ten Commandments at Sinai. The Ten Commandments juxtapose secular morals and principles of Divine faith. This reminds us that judgments of reason must also be founded upon Divine Will, not upon the dictates of society. "And these are the mishpatim" tells us to expand that idea.

Some sixty years ago the question on the vanguard of social evolution was still: Why do I need G‑d to tell me to be good? I know that myself! I can be my own barometer in life. Society is capable of deeming what is acceptable and what is not. (In Jewish circles the question narrowed to: Can't I be a good person without being a good Jew? Can't I be a good Jew without keeping kosher and Shabbat?) The social justice of Biblical tradition retained some status; it concurred with the spirit of the times. Secular movements advancing social causes abounded and they accomplished wonderful things. Humanity was doing well; Divine instruction, or intervention, seemed redundant.

The question changed during the social upheaval of the Sixties/Seventies. The question was now, "Why be good? Who says what you consider good is good? What you call good is good for you; what someone else calls good is good for him." This challenge reduced the word good to an emasculated state, where it became easily manipulated, judged on a sliding scale and worthless. The previous generation did not realize that this was the logical conclusion of a course they had set in action. Nor did they realize how deeply embedded in (and indebted to) the Biblical traditions they were.

Society judges everything relative to itself: subjectively. No subjective judgment can be unmitigated truth. Even if at times our judgment concurs with truth, we must remember that although now they run parallel, they come from different places and are headed to separate destinations.

It is commendable and necessary to involve intellectual pursuit in Yiddishkeit. But it is mandatory to respect the sanctity, the Divinity, Yiddishkeit possesses. "I am the L-rd your G‑d.... And these are the mishpatim I place before you... If one man hits another ...If an ox gores a man... If a man opens a pit..." All these are laws governing a society; on their surface, they seem mundane. Trace them to their roots, beneath the surface. They are holy, they are just and they endure.