This week we read Parsha Eikev. The Parsha begins with the beautiful promise: “And it will be if you listen to these mishpatim (logical commandments), and you will watch them and do them, and Hashem will watch for you the covenant that He made for you with your forefathers. The Parsha begins with a beautiful promise: “And it will be if you will listen to these mishpatim (laws), and Hashem will watch for you the covenant and the kindness that He swore to your forefathers. And He will love you, and He will bless you, and He will bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your land, … on the land that Hashem swore to your fathers to give you.”… (Deuteronomy 7:12) The Hebrew word mishpatim (laws) does not refer to general undefined laws. Rather, it refers to a specific type of law – to those laws which have a logical reason. Examples of this are Don’t murder, Don’t steal,… We know that there are two other types of commandments in Judaism. We have chukim (decrees) – that is commandments for which we know no logical reason. (For example keeping kosher, not to wear garments of shatnez – mixtures of wool and linen,…). We also have ediyos – testimonial commandments (such as keeping Passover, Succos, the Sabbath – Commandments that bear testimony to miracles that Hashem performed for us.) Why, when the Torah wants to promise us this great reward for keeping the commandments, is the promise of Hashem’s help and love given for observance of the mishpatim (logical commandments)?
The classic commentator Shem M’smuel offers the following thought: Mishpatim can have two meanings. It could mean a logical commandment. However, it can also come from the Hebrew word Mishpat – judgment. The Talmud (Megillah 15b) tells us that the phrase ruach mishpat –refers to a person who “judges” himself. When a person does that, and forces themselves to improve, they are truly worthy of blessing. This, explains the Shem M’shmuel, is the meaning of the beginning of our Parsha. When a person keeps the mishpatim – when a person is able to live a life that allow themselves to reflect on their own behavior and improve, Hashem says that He loves that person. When a person has enough humility to be able to be honest enough to acknowledge that he has to improve, Hashem says I will rest My presence with such a person.
The Shem M’shmuel adds one more thought to this. The work of a person to improve and find their faults is all the daily routine we must do before Shabbos. On Shabbos, the day of delight, we focus on strengthening the good, rather than destroying the bad. The delight we give Shabbos, the pleasures that surround us on Shabbos, are to lift the positive parts of our service of Hashem. Whether it is study of Torah by the Shabbos, table, singing Shabbos songs by the Shabbos table, or the Shabbos prayers, these hopefully compliment the taking away of bad that we focus on during the week, and help us to build good on the Shabbos.