The New Shul

Parshat Mishpatim

This week’s parashah, Mishpatim, begins: “These are the laws that you [Moshe] shall place before them.” The Siftei Kohen interpreted the word “them” to refer to judges who would be responsible for deciding future cases.

The Siftei Kohen goes on to interpret “them” as a veiled reference to the passage in Pirkei Avot that teaches that no judge except God should ever decide a case alone. In other words, the most significant thing about the pronoun “them” is that it is plural. It teaches us that reaching a proper verdict, understanding what is right in any particular case, requires more than one voice. We must listen as well as speak.

The larger point is that, when it comes to making judgments in general, we need each other. It is in dialogue that we find wisdom. Only God is one. The rest of us live and thrive in plurality.

Even in this world of hardened hearts, where it is difficult to hear each other’s voices – or rather especially in this world – we must try to learn from those who do not see the world as we do. By stretching ourselves to listen, we invest our words with greater meaning when we speak. By hearing others’ truths – even those that we will never agree with  – we deepen our own.