Rabbi Shua Solomon
Parashat Mishpatim, after bringing a wide and diverse range of laws, ends with a description of the covenant made between Moshe and Hashem. Moshe then proceeds to ascend the mountain and spend forty days and forty nights learning the Torah from the mouth of G-d. It is in this passage that the Jewish people accept upon themselves to do everything that Hashem had spoken.
Reading this passage, one could be forgiven for being confused. Did we not read about the giving of the Torah in last week’s Parsha? Why is Moshe only now going up the mountain to receive the Torah?
Two classic commentaries on the Torah take two different approaches to this seemingly out of place passage. According to the Ramban, everything in the Torah is in chronological order. The Jewish people first heard about the Mitzvot (in Parashat Yitro and Mishpatim) and then accepted them as part of the covenant Moshe made with the Almighty. Moshe then ascended the mountain to continue his learning of the Torah.
However, according to Rashi, the Torah does not necessarily tell us everything in chronological order. Rashi tells us that this passage at end of Mishpatim actually happened before the Jewish people received the Torah in last week’s Parasha. Immediately after the Ten Commandments, Moshe and the Jewish people accepted the Torah and Moshe went up the mountain.
I believe that behind this seemingly technical argument between Rashi and Ramban is a much deeper idea. According to the Ramban one cannot accept something without understanding it properly. The Jewish people did not accept the Torah on a whim or in a state of emotional ecstasy but rather out of a deeper understanding of what that acceptance meant to them.
Rashi, however, believes that the Jewish people took a giant leap of faith in accepting the Torah. They knew very little about its Mitzvot and details but accepted it in a state of pure faith and trust in HaShem.
The Torah intentionally leaves the order of events unclear and maybe through these two opinions we can learn more about our own service of Hashem. In our own lives we need to use our heads and our hearts. We need to try and use our intellect in understanding the Torah but also be prepared to use our hearts and raw emotion in expressing a love and joy for G-d’s commandments.