Parshat Mishpatim begins, "And these are the laws that ‘tasim’ [you shall set] ‘lifnayhem’ [before them]."1 On the word lifnayhem, there are several different explanations.

One of the explanations of the Talmud2 is brought by Rashi,3 who writes, "’Before them,’ and not before the idol worshippers." When Jewish people have a dispute amongst them, they should bring it before a Jewish court and not before the court of the land. This is true even if you know that in this case, the jurisprudence of the land is the same as that of the Torah. The first explanation of lifnayhem means before a Jewish court.

Another explanation in the Talmud4 is that when you are teaching a student, you need "to show him the panim," the reasons for the laws, and not leave him to figure them out on his own. Everything should be laid out clearly for the student. Panim, which means a face, means that nothing is hidden. The face shows who the person is and what he or she is feeling. The second understanding is lifnayhem, to teach the panim, the reason.

The Alter Rebbe5 tells us the Chassidic and esoteric explanation, that lifnayhem means "lifnimiyutam," that these laws should reach the innermost hidden recesses of the soul. As the Jerusalem Talmud6 translates the word before lifnayhem, “tasim”, to mean sima, a treasure, which is a hidden object. In other words, if you will teach the treasure of the Torah, the esoteric part of the Torah, then you will reach the treasure of the person, the innermost depths of the soul.

When there are different explanations on one word of the Torah, there must be a common link between the explanations.7 What is the connection between these three interpretations?

We also need to understand why G‑d put the teaching of lifnayhem specifically before the laws called Mishpatim?

There are three kinds of laws. The first are decrees, or chukkim, laws that we don't know the reason for. G‑d decreed and we do them because He wants us to, for no other reason. Examples of these laws are kosher, shatnez, and the laws of purity.

Then there are laws called eidut, testimony. These are laws that bear witness to an event, like Shabbat and the holidays, or that remind us of something, like tefillin, mezuzah and brit milah. We wouldn't understand them on our own, but once G‑d told us about them, they make sense.

Finally, there are mishpatim, torts and other laws that make sense, and if G‑d wouldn't tell us them, we would understand them on our own.

Which laws does the teaching of lifnayhem make more sense to apply to?

If you follow Rashi's explanation, that we shouldn't bring our cases before a non-Jewish court, it makes sense to have this teaching by mishpatim, because it is the only kind of laws they adjudicate. They have nothing to do with Shabbat, kosher, etc.

If you go with the Talmud's explanation, that lifnayhem means to teach the reasons behind the laws, mishpatim seem the least necessary to give the reasons for, because they make sense to us. On the other hand, regarding eidut and chukkim, that are unclear to us, it would make more sense to have to teach the reasons.

And if you go with the Alter Rebbe's explanation, that they should reach the innermost depths of the soul, for Mishpatim it seems unnecessary to be inspired to the depths of the soul. On the other hand, eidut and chukkim, that aren't natural to us, for them we need to reach to the depths of our souls and be inspired.

With all this stated, we have to ask: Why is the teaching of lifnayhem specifically taught by mishpatim and not by eidut and chukkim?

"The main thing is the action." For if one studies about tefillin and is inspired to the depths of his soul but he hasn't put on tefillin yet, he has done nothing, and he is considered "a head that has never put on tefillin," which is a very sorry state for a Jewish man. On the other hand, if one knows nothing about tefillin, and is not in the least inspired, but he puts on tefillin, he does the mitzvah and he is required to say the blessing over tefillin, pronouncing G‑d's name.

Nevertheless, what G‑d really wants is that when we do a mitzvah, it should affect our whole person. Not only action, speech and thought, but even the mind, the emotions and even the higher faculties of will and pleasure. This is not only referring to mitzvahs of the heart—like love and fear, belief and knowing G‑d—but also the most simple of mitzvot, the mishpatim, should permeate the whole of the person, that he should take pleasure in doing the simplest action for G‑d.

This works the other way around too. chukkim, that we don't understand, and do out of accepting G‑d's will, should also be accepted by the mind.

This doesn't mean that he thinks, "True I don't understand them, but there is a reason that is above my ability to understand. If someone smarter than me understands them, and G‑d has a good reason for them, I will rely on their understanding." Because we are meant to do them out of accepting G‑d's will, and this way of thinking is not accepting His will, rather it is relying on another's understanding. What we are meant to do is to get to a point where the mind is totally on board and fully accepts that it is good to do G‑d's will, even without understanding. Because of his simple faith, his mind won’t question about the reasons behind the chukkim.

In order to do chukkim in a way that permeates all of the faculties of the person, one would have to reach deep inside, to the depths of his soul. And if he does, he will find pleasure in doing chukkim which don't seem to have any purpose. He will take pleasure in doing G‑d's will. So it seems more important "to show him the panim" of these laws, to give him a deeper understanding, in order that he could attain this great level of service. However, since mishpatim make sense to us, we don't need to reach deep inside or have a deep understanding to find pleasure in doing them.

The question now becomes stronger. Why is the teaching of lifnayhem specifically by mishpatim?

To understand this, let's take a look at another teaching on this verse, "And these are the laws that you should set before them." Our sages8 say, "And these ([means], in addition to the first [laws]." In other words, these laws are in addition to the Ten Commandments in the previous parshah. Just as the Ten Commandments were said at Sinai, these Mishpatim were also said at Sinai.

The Ten Commandments are made up of the most sublime ideas, "I Am G‑d your G‑d..."9 and "You shall not have any other gods before Me."10 And at the same time, it has "do not murder"11 and "do not steal."12 The fact that these laws of stark contrast, the most holy and the most base, are together in the Ten Commandments, shows us that we ought to combine both ideas. The laws that even the simplest of people understand on their own, like "do not murder," and "do not steal," shouldn’t be kept because they make sense, but because of the "I Am G‑d your G‑d," that is hidden in them, that they are G‑d's deepest will.

The same is true for mishpatim. The simple laws that make sense to everyone, they ought to be "in addition," and similar to the Ten Commandments—meaning, that we shouldn't keep them because they make sense, but because they are G‑d's deepest will.

And this is the connection between the three explanations. The Mishpatim should reach the innermost hidden recesses of our souls. That, for a Jew, is step number one. Step two, therefore, is that we shouldn't take our disputes to a non-Jewish court, because although they may rule the same as the Torah, they are not ruling that way because it is G‑d's will. Step three, G‑d also wants us to understand them with our minds, but the understanding works this way. I understand that it is G‑d's will, therefore it makes sense.

And now we can understand why the teaching of lifnayhem is specifically by mishpatim, because for eidut and chukkim we don't need to apply ourselves to know that they are G‑d's will first. On the other hand, mishpatim, we need to put in the effort to see them as G‑d's will. They need to reach the innermost depths of our souls.

May we see G‑d's will in the simplest and most mundane of laws, bringing Him into every aspect of our lives. This way we will make a home for G‑d13 in ourselves, our homes, and our place in the world. This will usher in the time of Moshiach, when the whole world will be a home for G‑d. The time has come.14