Givat Shaul: Mishpatim: Heaven on Earth
The 24th of Shevat is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Shaul Halevi Mortorah (Mortira), Av Beis Din of Amsterdam, author of Givat Shaul (1660) “And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them.” Moshe was willing to give up his life for three things, and, in this merit, they are called by his name: Israel, Torah and the Laws. He suffered greatly for Israel and the verse attests, “They remembered the days of old, of Moshe and his people.” (Isaiah 63:11) Torah, as it says, “Remember the Torah of Moshe My servant.” (Malachi 3:22) The Laws, as it is said, ) “And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them.” – Shemot Rabbah 36.
It is in the nature of human beings to crave and strive for eternal life and to use every ounce of strength to avoid loss. Our intellect directs this drive as we see that people always search for new cures, to have much more than they need, to build great homes, and to gather whatever possible to protect themselves and extend their lives. We despise anything that will cause loss, and yet, our intellect also constantly reminds us that we cannot avoid the ultimate loss, namely, death.
Even the righteous fear death, as we learn that even three of the giants of this world, Moshe, David, and Chizkiyahu prayed for extended life, each fearing death for a different reason.
The first reason is that a parent does not want to leave his or her children before being able to give over all the important lessons of life, especially if they are not yet fully formed as human beings of growth.
The second reason is the awareness that death means that a person can no longer grow and increase his merit.
The third reason is that even the most righteous fears the judgment upon death and does not rely on what he has accomplished.
Moshe prayed for extended life because he felt that the nation was immature and needed guidance from their father. David prayed for more life in order to have the opportunity to increase his merit, and Chizkiyahu prayed because he was terrified of his sins.
We find that accomplished people struggle to extend their lives either by constructing monuments so that they will be remembered, great palaces and edifices to be called by their names, or even declare holidays in their names. Such attempts to be remembered are reserved for the powerful and wealthy.
We know that monuments and palaces can be destroyed and festivals forgotten. This strategy does not work even for the few who have the power and wealth.
Moshe achieved his eternal legacy through his willingness to commit his entire being to Israel, Torah and the Laws. The three are eternal and will always be known by his name.
The battle was not to defeat loss and death, but the battle to live with a commitment that this is my life and I will dedicate my entire being without fear of loss to maintain and protect it.
The Givat Shaul continues by explaining how each law in this portion corresponds to an event in Moshe’s life: the laws of a slave because his brothers were slaves. The laws of maidservants because of what he saw with Yitro’s daughters. Moshe wanted the people to see that the laws of the Torah address and direct every detail of life, and protect us from the type of suffering the people had experienced. This was his life. This is how he placed the laws “before them,” in an accessible manner that would speak to each on a personal level.