Parshas Mishpatim 5778
This week’s Parsha continues the story of the giving of the Torah to the Jewish people. Shemos 24:3 states that Moshe came and told the people all the words of Hashem, and all the laws. Rashi explains that all the laws refers to the seven mitzvos that Hashem had commanded all descendants of Noach. The Ramban comments that this seems unnecessary as Hashem had already given these commands. Why would He have to repeat them?
Rabbi Eliya Baruch Finkel explains by quoting the Medrash that Hashem went to every nation and offered them the Torah. He went to Eisav and asked if they wanted the Torah. They responded by asking what was written in it. Hashem told them that it prohibits killing. They replied that they couldn’t accept the Torah as their patriarch Eisav murdered. Hashem then asked Yishmael if they wanted the Torah and they also asked what it contained. Hashem explained that it prohibits stealing. They responded that their patriarch Yishmael was a thief and, therefore, they couldn’t accept the Torah.
This Medrash seems puzzling since the prohibitions against killing and stealing are among the seven commandments that apply to all descendants of Noach. If so, what was the meaning of response from these nations that were already commanded in these areas? Rabbi Finkel further questions why these nations would even ask Hashem what the Torah contained before not accepting it. Could they have possibly believed that there was going to be a book of law that was going to permit killing and stealing? If they were not planning to accept a set of laws that included these prohibitions, they should have responded that they were not interested the moment Hashem asked them if they wanted the Torah!
Rabbi Finkel explains there is there a difference between the commands given to the descendants of Noach and those included in the Torah. The commandments given to the descendants of Noach are merely the literal decrees that one shouldn’t steal or kill. The commandments of the Torah which the Jewish people accepted are much more in depth. A person is not only prohibited from killing literally, but from being a murderer in any sense of the word. For example, the Gemara states that when a person embarrasses someone publicly there is a level of murder associated with it, since by doing this one has destroyed a part of his friend. Therefore, from the Torah’s prohibition, a Jew shouldn’t embarrass anyone. This is not a violation for the descendants of Noach.
Hashem had to repeat His commands to the Jewish people to add this level of depth beyond the literal meaning to the commands. This is what the nations were asking Hashem: to what extent does the Torah extend the prohibitions against killing or stealing.
We should recognize that the Torah encompasses not merely literal laws for us but also great depth of direction to guide us.