This dvar Torah is based on my notes of shmuzzin I heard from Rav Moshe Chait zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Chofetz Chaim Yerushalayim.
The beginning of this week’s Torah portion starts: “And these are the laws that you shall set before them” (Shemos 21:1).
Rashi points out that “whenever the word ‘these’ is used it specifically excludes that which preceded it but the word ‘and these’ is inclusive of what preceded it. Here to ‘and these’ conveys that just as the preceding words (i.e. The Ten Commandments) were received from Sinai these following laws also were received from Sinai.”
There are certain laws which, even if they were not written in the Torah, would still exist. No society could exist without these basic laws, which include laws of ownership, damages, etc.
These laws have a rational behind them that can be logically understood by the human mind; yet the Ten Commandments can also be rationally understood. So why does the Torah specifically emphasize to us that these laws were also from Sinai; what is the difference?
The Ten Commandments were understood to the level on which an angel understands; and even the angels questioned why G-D was giving the Torah to physical human beings. However, by the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai the Children of Israel reached a spiritual level equal to that of the angels. If these laws of damages, ownership, etc. were not given at Sinai then they would have been understood differently than the deep levels at which the Ten Commandments were understood.
We see from this that people disagree on what is ethical and what is not. There is a famous Medrish, in which G-D went individualy to each nation and asking them if they wanted the Torah. They each rejected it in turn for different reasons; one did not like the prohibition of “do not steal.” Another didn’t like the prohibition of “do not kill.” Indeed, in the city of Sedom, it was ruled that acts of kindness were unlawful.
When the Jews said “We will do and then we will listen” (נעשה ונשמע) it was because they realized that people could be biased to ethical laws and have their own forms of judgement. So the Jews decided to rely on G-D to provide a unified system of how to live. The angels, shocked at the level of realization the Jews reached, said: how could they arrive at such a high level of insight but still be feeble in their normal everyday thinking? This proves that the Jews must have been on the level of angels at Mount Sinai.
When Rashi mentioned “just as these [the Ten Commandments] were given on Sinai so too these were given at Sinai” he meant that just like by these laws [the Ten Commandments] you think you can make them up on your own but in actuality they need to be accepted from Heaven, so too these laws, even though man could probably figure them out, are still given by G-D, to ensure they are followed.
An example of the depth and profundity of the Torah is the mitzvah of not mistreating a widow and orphan (found later in the Torah portion in chapter 22 verse 21). The Talmud teaches us that if one does mistreat an orphan or widow, in any way shape or form, then that individual’s children will be orphans and wife, a widow. This sounds very extreme; what is the implication of this mitzvah?
When ten sages were gruesomely murdered by the Roman Empire, Rebbe Yishmael said: “I know this is all from Heaven but I do not know the reason why I am being killed.” Rabban Gamliel turned to him and sai:, “Did you ever have someone come up to you and ask a question and you were in the middle of drinking or putting on your shoes and you asked them to wait a moment?” The mitzvah of “Don’t mistreat, [or cause pain and suffering]” even applies to a miniscule feeling of pain, [at least depending on each person and the status level they are on.] Rebbe Yishmael said back to Rabban Gamliel, “I feel comforted now that I know why I am dying.”
A widow and an orphan are all alone and have no one to turn to for support. To hurt an orphan’s feelings, even on a minuscule level, is forbidden. Would anyone logically think that not causing an orphan or widow pain and suffering goes to this extent? That is why the Torah says: “Just as these were given at Sinai so to these were given at Sinai.” You, yourself, would never arrive at something that only angels are able to understand.
Even in today's day and age, we have the opportunity to achieve a depth and profundity of understanding into G-D’s instruction booklet. Through much toil and sweating, we can come to a profound clarity of understanding of our Torah and Talmud, with all their commentaries. With G-D’s help, the world will become a better place through our enlightenment.