A large part of the story of the Jews' acceptance of the Torah is actually found at the end of this week's Torah portion—Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24). This includes the famous statement by the Jewish people, Na'aseh venishma—"We will do (first) and (then) we will hear and understand"—a complete acceptance of G‑d without caveats.

But why is this important element not included in its seemingly proper place in the Torah reading of Yitro (Exodus 18-20)—which tells the story of the Giving of the Torah?

I believe the answer lies in a concept expounded by Rabbi Judah Halevi in his great work, the Kuzari. He discusses the statements by prophets such as Jeremiah, Isaiah and Amos, apparently denigrating and belittling the sacrifices offered by many of the Jews at the end of the First Temple period. How are these statements reconciled with the explicit commandments in the Torah regarding offering sacrifices? And after all, we pray thrice daily for the restoration of the Holy Temple and its sacrificial service!

If we care about G‑d we do not trample those created in His imageThe Kuzari posits that the Torah was given to a nation comprised of whole, decent human beings. Otherwise, we would not have been worthy of receiving this precious gift. This is why the prophets criticized the sacrifices of those who did injustice to others. They were not opposed to the sacrifices; they recognized that a korban – which in Hebrew literally means to "draw close," not "sacrifice" – is about coming closer to G‑d. If we care about G‑d, however, we do not trample those created in His image. And if we do not care about G‑d, why bring a sacrifice? Can He be bribed? G‑d derives pleasure from our sincere desire to draw close to Him—not a holy barbeque. If we are stuck in moral mire, we cannot rise to the heights of heaven.

So too in our case: the Torah reading of Mishpatim discusses the basics of civil law. How we treat each other, how we fulfill our financial and fiduciary obligations, etc. It is about justice and equity to other human beings.

G‑d inserted the reading of Mishpatim before going back in time to discuss key elements of the narrative of the giving of the Torah. This is His way of saying: "Before you can receive the Torah fully—study Mishpatim! Be good, decent, upright human beings who respects others' selves, dignity and property. When you have done that, then I can give you the Torah and uplift you to be a 'goy kadosh,' a holy nation."

If we are not properly developed human beings, "mentschen," there is no vessel for the Torah to rest upon—we cannot build a lasting building on swampland.

But if our humanity and decency and honesty are present, then we are a solid foundation upon which we can build the edifice of Torah and Judaism.