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Amidah-Mishpatim-God’s Presence in Court

The 19th of Shevat is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Shimon Greenfeld (Grunfeld) of Somihali (Szemihaly), the Maharshag (1860-1930). Born in Chust, he became a student of the Maharam Shick. Married at 16, he became Dayan in Munkacs when he was 34. He succeeded his father as Rav in Somihali in 1908. His three-volume ShU”T Maharshag contains thousands of teshuvos. He also authored Zehav Shva on the Torah and Maharshag al HaTorah. His chidushim on Shas, hilchos mikvaos, and hilchos taaruvos remain in manuscript form. His nephew and talmid, Rav Shmaya, was the first Rav of the Satmar Kehilla in Montreal.


“And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them.” The conjunction “and” indicates that there is a connection between this chapter and the previous, which described the Ten Statements and the Altar. Just as those commandments were given on Sinai, so were these (Rashi).

There is a midrash that connects this verse not to the previous portion, but to, “There He established for the nation a decree and an ordinance, and there He tested it (Exodus 15:25).”

Another midrash connects this verse to the concluding verse of Psalm 147, “He relates His Word to Jacob, His statutes and judgments to Israel. He did not do so for any other nation, such judgments, they know them not.”

Rashi also reminds us that this verse is insisting that the laws must be “placed before them,” before Jewish judges, who will rule according to the laws of the Torah. For Jews to bring their case before a Gentile court, even if their laws are the same in a particular instance, is a desecration of God’s Name because it is tantamount to a public declaration that their system of justice is superior to that of the Torah.

The underlying theme of all these midrashim is that we find the Divine Presence resting amongst the judges. The only reason that judges are successful in reaching the deepest parts of the Law, is not because of their great minds and wisdom, but because God “sits” among them and teaches them and direct them how to determine the law in its truth. If God is not sitting with the judges, they will surely err in their judgment.

This is because we understand that the world is so complex, that every person is an expression of multiple experiences and complicated emotions, with a soul that needs to be directed to be properly repaired so that it can achieve perfection and attachment to God. Only God can have such a clear perspective when judging another human being. These are not laws, they are a system for us to create an environment in which God will sit with us, so that every single ruling will address not only the surface issues, but will hone in on the deepest parts of the souls of all the parties standing before the court. (Zihav Shiva; Mishpatim)

when we ask of God that He, “Restore our judges as in earliest times,” we are asking for judges who merit to have God “sit” among them, and direct their minds and souls to address all the issues that stand before them, the legal and the spiritual.

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