By the Grace of G‑d
Erev Shabbos Kodesh Yud Shevat, 5734
[February 1, 1974]
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Greeting and blessing:

The highlight of the Sidra Mishpotim is to be found in its concluding keynote, which summarizes the proper approach to all G‑d’s commandments on the principles of Naaseh V’Nishma, namely that Naaseh—the actual doing and fulfillment of the Mitzvoth—must come before V’Nishma—intellectual comprehension.

In light of the above, the contents of the Sidra coming under the heading Mishpotim seem to be in contradiction to the principle of Naaseh V’Nishma, as will be seen from the following:

It is well known that the Mitzvoth are generally classified into three categories: Chukkim, Eidos and Mishpotim.

Chukkim are the Mitzvoth which are purely religious in the sense that they have not been given a “rational” explanation.

Eidos are the Mitzvoth which are “testimonies,” recalling and testifying to certain events, such as Yetzias Mitzraim, etc.

Mishpotim are those Mitzvoth which are “understandable” by human reason, such as laws of social justice, ethics and morality.

Thus, according to the principle of Naaseh V’Nishma, mentioned above, one would have expected that the first Sidra that follows Mattan Torah would deal with Chukkim, rather than Mishpotim, and should have been named accordingly.

The explanation, however, is that a Jew is expected to attain such a high degree of perfection, where his entire life is based on an absolute obedience to G‑d’s Will, so that his fulfillment even of the so-called “rational” Mitzvoth, the Mishpotim, is motivated solely by his desire to fulfill G‑d’s Will, and not by his own “approval” or consent. In other words, the highest expression of Naaseh V’Nishma is to be found precisely in the Mishpotim, the validity of which is not in human reason, but in the fact that they have been ordained by G‑d, from Sinai, just like all other Mitzvoth of the Torah.

If there may have been a time in the past when the need of the Divine origin of the laws of morality and ethics (Mishpotim) in the Torah had to be explained, no such proof is necessary in our day and age, especially after we have seen the total bankruptcy of man-invented ideologies and systems, and when the Prophetic outcry against those who “misrepresent darkness for light and bitterness for sweet” is so much in place.

It is for this reason also that the Ten Commandments, including such “understandable” laws as “thou shalt not steal,” etc., are preceded by “I am G‑d, thy G‑d.”

At the same time, though the principle of Naaseh V’Nishma must apply to all Mitzvoth, it does not, of course, exclude the human intellect from participating in Torah and Mitzvoth. On the contrary, the human intellect and its thinking powers must be engaged in Torah and permeated with Torah. It must not, however, be the arbiter in matters of Torah and Mitzvoth. Indeed, it must recognize its limitations and subordinate itself to Naaseh and in this way the intellect itself is refined and deepened, and can play its full role.

(Excerpt from a letter)