The name of our parshah is Mishpatim, which means "laws." There are several words for "law" in Hebrew. All have a similar meaning, but a slightly different nuance.

Mishpatim, or "judgements," means laws which can easily be understood, such as not to steal and not to kill. In fact, most of the laws in our parshah are of this nature.

Another term--chukim, or "statutes"--means laws which cannot be understood by ordinary human intellect. An example of these is the law not to mix milk and meat, which is also written in this parshah. Many times in our history the laws of this kind have presented a challenge to us. In some epochs the non-Jews mocked us for adhering to them. In our own age, governed by rationality, many Jews wonder why they are necessary. Nonetheless, the chukim are an important aspect of our bond with G‑d.

A third kind of law is called edut, "testimony." The command to observe Passover is in this category. We keep this festival as a testimony and a sign of the fact that G‑d took us out Egypt. Without the Torah we would not have thought of this law, but now that we have it, it makes sense to us.

It is interesting that the totally miraculous atmosphere of last week's parshah, in which G‑d spoke to the entire nation from Mount Sinai, is followed by the comparatively ordinary and down-to-earth laws of this week's parshah, which is aptly called Mishpatim. We might have expected a demand for a more intense aspect of our relationship with G‑d, such as that expressed in the beyond-rational "statutes" or at least the "testimonies." Why is the emphasis rather on simple laws of justice between man and his fellow?

The answer is that this fact itself helps us understand something about the Torah and its purpose. There is a physical dimension to life: the material world of everyday affairs. There is also a spiritual, Divine dimension, a realm of infinite purity and holiness.

The purpose of the Torah is to join these two dimensions together. Through obedience to the Torah, our normal everyday lives can become an expression of the Divine.

This point is emphasised by the juxtaposition of the two parshiot. Last week was the parshah which spoke of G‑d's revelation. This week is the parshah which concerns the everyday, the simple laws which anyone can understand. Due to the power of the Torah, the inspiration of Sinai becomes comprehensible and meaningful on the level of daily life. Through this the two realms are joined.

In the details of the practical world, lived in accordance with the Torah, we discover the Presence of the Divine.1