Photo Credit: Jewish Press

The Revelation which took place on the sixth day of Sivan was preceded by a series of events that began on the 24th of Nissan and continued up to the fourth and fifth of Sivan.

In order to be eligible to participate in the Revelation, the people of Israel first had to become Jewish. They had to undergo all of the stages of conversion, just like proselytes do today.


If a candidate for geirus comes to court today, we do not overwhelm him with six hundred and thirteen commandments. Rather, we first inform him of some of the major mitzvos, like the mitzvah of charity, of leket, shich’cha, pe’ah and ma’aser ani (Yevamos 47a). Because charity is in the DNA of Judaism, we want to know whether the candidate is prepared to exchange some of his or her physical wealth for spiritual wealth.

So too, the people of Israel were given a sample of ten mitzvos on the 24th day of Nissan, “sham sam lo chok umishpat vesahm nisahu – there, they were given a statute and an ordinance and there He tested them” (Shemos 15:25).

The ten mitzvos they were given at Marah as a preview of the 613 mitzvos were the seven Noachide laws previously given to humankind, the civil laws known as mishpatim, the laws of Shabbat, and the laws of honoring one’s parents (Sanhedrin 56b and Devarim 5:16 and Rashi there, see also Torah Temima to Shemos 15:25).

The laws of charity are chosen as being representative of the civil laws because they are a central part of mishpatim, they are central to society.

Observing the laws of Shabbat and honoring one’s parents also identify one as a Jew because they are a testament to the fact that G-d created the world. After all, there are three partners to the creation of man (Niddah 31a).

Now that the people of Israel were given more than a month to study these ten mitzvos, they were asked by Moshe on the fourth of Sivan, just like all geirim are asked today, whether they were prepared to accept all the mitzvos. And they responded unanimously, as every ger must do today, “Kol hadevarim asher diber Hashem na’aseh – we will do all that G-d tells us” (Shemos 24:3; Bechoros 30a).

The next stage in the process of conversion for a male is circumcision (Kerisus 9a).

The Israelites who left Egypt were circumcised (Yehoshuah 5:5, Yechezkel 16:6) and had already fulfilled this prerequisite of conversion.

Then there is the requirement to immerse oneself in the mikveh.

This took place on or about the fifth of Sivan, as we are told in this week’s parsha, that Moshe took the blood of the olah sacrifice and sprinkled it on the people (Shemos 24:8 and Shabbos 88a). We know that a prerequisite to sprinkling the blood is immersion in the mikveh (Yevamos 46b and Kerisos 9a.)

The last step in the conversion process was the offering up of the korban olah (24:5) which, due to the absence of the Temple, is not practiced today. But it is something that every convert owes and will be able to complete when the Temple is rebuilt. Until that time, he is a fully-fledged Jew even without it.

Now that the people of Israel had completed all the stages of conversion and had become fully fledged Jews, they were eligible to participate in the Revelation ceremony. Because one of the conditions of conversion is the acceptance of civil law, the mishpatim, the Torah waits until the parsha of Mishpatim, which describes many of them, before it tells us about the conversion ceremony they underwent, even though chronologically all of this happened before the events of Revelation described in Parshas Yisro.

In the opening sentence of Mishpatim, Rashi explains why the parsha begins with the word “and” – Ve’eleh ha’mishpatim.” The word “and” connects the civils laws proscribed in Mishpatim to the Ten Commandments recited by G-d at Sinai.

This linkage between civil law and Revelation tells us that even those laws that society legislates for itself have their source in Divine revelation. There is really no difference between civil law and religious law, between a mishpat and a chok, even though one appeals to our logic and the other does not. For example, we all understand that killing is wrong, even without the Torah telling us so. But what about mercy killing? Is that right even though the Torah does not permit it? That is what Rashi means when he says that the mishpatim are all from Sinai. Our allegiance to them is because they are Divine, not because they are logical.

This is true not just for laws but also for ethics. Every nation establishes its own code of ethics. One might think that we Jews also conceived our own ethics. To disavow us of that conceited notion, our Jewish book of ethics, Maseches Avos, starts out by reminding us that our ethics come from Sinai. Rav Ovadiah mi’Bartenura (to Avos 1:1) explains as follows: “The wise men of the nations of the world also wrote books of ethics based on their own notions of proper social conduct. But our ethics were not made up by our Sages. They too come from Sinai.”

“If the servant says, I love my master…I shall not go free, then his master shall bring him to the door or the doorpost and bore through his ear with an awl” (Shemos 21:6). Rashi tells us that the ear is bored through to the door not to the doorpost. What is the significance of the door in this context?

One of the motives for a Jew selling himself into slavery is to escape poverty (Vayikra 25:39). The word “deles” can also be read “dalus,” which means poverty. It seems that in selling himself into poverty, the poor person forgot about the open-door policy of Jewish charity which he could have relied upon instead. After all, as we have seen, charity is one of the flagship mitzvos. It is not only part of our law, it is part of our ethics: “Your door should be kept wide open and the poor people should feel at home in your house” (Avos 1:5).

Umakeh aviv ve’imo mos yumas” (Shemos 21:15). We know that the death penalty is incurred even if the child hits just one of the parents. It is not contingent on hitting both of the parents (Rashi to 21:16). If that is so, why did the Torah not write, “Umakeh aviv o’ immo,” that one who hits either his father or his mother will be put to death? The answer is that there may be situations in which the breakdown of the marital relationship has reached such a low point that the mother condones and is happy with her child beating her husband. The point the Torah is making is that a child who is capable of beating his father will eventually also turn on his mother.

You shall not mistreat a widow or orphan. “Im aneh ta’aneh oso, ki im tza’ok yitzak eilay, shamo’a eshma tza’akaso – If you mistreat them and they cry out to me, I will hear their cry” (22:22).

Why does the Torah use the double expressions “aneh ta’aneh,” “tza’ok yitzak” and “shamo’a eshma”?

The point is that it may well be that the widow and the orphan, due to their unique circumstances in life, are much more sensitive to abuse than others. Words that might roll off another’s back, may cause them internal bleeding. Whereas the average person might only cry out once in pain, they cry out repeatedly. The perpetrator might plead in his defense that the standard of care required in not abusing others should be linked to the pain of the average person, not to the pain of the over-sensitive person, like the orphan and the widow.

The Torah teaches us, therefore, that you have to watch whom you are talking to or interacting with and adjust your words and actions in accordance with the thickness of that person’s skin. If you don’t and the thin-skinned person cries out repeatedly in pain at the slightest abuse, G-d’s ears will be equally sensitive and pick up repeatedly on their slightest murmur, because after all, G-d is the father of orphans and the protector of widows (Megillah 31:1).

Elohim al tekallel venasi be’amchah lo taor – Do not curse the judges and do not curse the leaders of your people” (22:27).

Why are these two singled out? Is it permitted to curse others?

It isn’t, but judges and leaders are particularly vulnerable. After all, in every judgment there must, by definition, be a loser. And it is human nature to feel that you were misjudged and that you were right all along. Who else is there to blame for the “miscarriage of justice” other than the judge? And why is it that leaders are always blamed for all the nations’ misfortunes, even the weather, just because things went wrong under their watch? But even judges and even leaders are humans who are just doing their job to the best of their ability and they deserve our compassion no less than anyone else.


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Raphael Grunfeld received semicha in Yoreh Yoreh from Mesivtha Tifereth Jerusalem of America and in Yadin Yadin from Rav Dovid Feinstein. A partner at the Wall Street law firm of Carter Ledyard & Milburn LLP, Rabbi Grunfeld is the author of “Ner Eyal: A Guide to Seder Nashim, Nezikin, Kodashim, Taharot and Zerayim” and “Ner Eyal: A Guide to the Laws of Shabbat and Festivals in Seder Moed.” Questions for the author can be sent to [email protected].