Mishpatim – Even Common-Sense Needs G-d’s Imprimatur

he definition of something as simple as the word, ‘law’, defies writers of jurisprudence, philosophy, and religion combined. And yet, our Parsha is named Mishpatim – ‘laws’.Interestingly in Hebrew the word for judge ‘Shofet’and for law ‘Mishpatim’ are the same root, indicating that the judge must be of the ‘same stuff’ as the law he pronounces.  The origin of the English word ‘law’ is found in Old Norse as lagu, which means to ‘lay down a rule’, hence the phrase “lay down the law”.  Mishpatim are Jewish laws that arise from common sense, as opposed to laws that are G-d given known as ‘Edut’ such as the Sabbath or Yom Tovim, or to be distinguished from Chukkim which are also G-d given laws but beyond the capacity of human reason.  Common sense and reason go hand in hand. And yet we find often that reason alone can lead to terrible conclusions if the axiom is not moral.  E.g. Jews are vermin, therefore destroy all Jews.  That is why even the supposedly ‘reason-based’ laws, the Mishpatim, which include laws of torts, crime ,and civics, are mandated by G-d-given Torah – for the very reason that human beings distort laws for personal benefit rather than be based on principles of morality.  One only has to look at how the UnitedNations has distorted its own laws to harass Israel, or how people give themselves ‘good reason’ to break the speed limits on the road, to realize that common sense alone cannot enforce reasonable laws.  Mishpatim may be reasonable laws, but they have the sanction of a Divine Torah as their axiomatic base, not just reasonableness, since reasonableness keeps changing from era to era from culture to culture, from political climate to political climate.