Chazal tell us that Matan Torah was in the morning and the next night the Parsha of Mishpatim was given to Am Yisrael. This is why Parshas Mishpatim is in juxtaposition to Parshas Yisro. What is so special with Mishpatim that is was chosen to be the first laws learned after Matan Torah?
The Darchei Noam of Slonim answers the following. Chazal say at the end of Meseches Makkos that Michah the Prophet categorized the Torah into three principles: עשות משפט אהבת חסד והצנע לכת עם ה’ אלקיך. Parshas Mishpatim personifies all three fundamentals. Civil judgments between man and his fellow Jew are an integral part of one’s responsibility. If you did not watch your possessions from doing damage to another Yid you are responsible. If your ox kills a person three times then the next time you will punished by death in Shamayim. If you embarrass someone you must pay for the damage of embarrassment. You cannot free yourself by saying I was only joking! If you accidentally spilled soup on someone you are obligated to pay for the cleansers. You cannot exonerate your obligation by merely saying Oh I am so sorry. All these mitzvos demand refinement of middos.
The parsha is replete with the obligation to pursue acts of chesed. When someone’s burden is too heavy to carry you must help him. When you loan money to another person don’t be aggressive or nasty to pressure him to pay. When you take his pajamas as collateral for a loan make sure you return it to him every night so he has clothing to sleep with. Fulfill the mitzvah of Shemitta and allow the poor and needy to freely take from your produce. The mitzvah of Bikkurim is for the owner to show his gratitude and thank you to Hashem. These mitzvos just to name a few deal with character development.
The third fundamental in this parsha is modesty. This middah is not only how one dresses but also how one acts, speaks, eats etc. How lavish and ostentatious does one make his simchos. The passuk says מדבר שקר תרחק. when one is modest and doesn’t flaunt his accomplishments or wealth he has a better chance to cleave to the emes, to be motivated for the sake of Hashem rather than to feed his own ego and display power.
All three fundamentals are concerned with tikkun of the middos. This tikkun of characteristic traits are a necessary factor in order to become a passionate servant of Hashem. The Rabbeinu Yonah in Pirkei Avos writes (3,17) אם אין דרך ארץ אין תורה . Torah can never enter the rest of one’s body from his head without the striving to perfect middos. The passuk in Tehillim 40,9 לעשות רצונך אלקי חפצתי ותורתך בתוך מעי. When Torah is in my intestines then I have a passion חפץ, to fulfill your רצון will. The reason being, that Torah is compared to a fire and heat. If Torah enters one body it will heat up your heart and your body with a passion for Hashem, Shabbos, learning, tefillah etc. The only way that one can activate this passion by being infused with Torah is as the Rabbeinu Yona says only with Derech Eretz which creates one’s body to be a vessel for Torah to go from your head into your heart.
The difference between an individual who serves Hashem with passion and one who just serves Hashem are understandably light years away. If one is driven by passion one will go the extra mile and beyond the call of duty. This is the difference between fulfilling the word of Hashem or following his will רצון. One is the letter of the law and the other is the unspoken word or the spirit of the law which was not openly revealed. This difference is also stated in Dovid Hamelech’s passuk above לעשות רצונך אלקי חפצתי to fulfill Your will I have a passion חפצתי. The reason is because the Torah of fire is in my heart which is drawn inside by the middos tovos the דרך ארץ that one possesses.
Now we can understand why the parsha of Mishpatim was given immediately the night after Matan Torah. רחמנא ליבא בעי the fulfillment of Torah requires also heart not just action. The first letter of the Torah is ב and the last letter is ל together spelling לב. The formula for this is found in this parsha with the three fundamentals that Hashem asks from man, middos middos and more middos. The acronym of the three middos described by Michah is צניעות חסד משפט which spells the word חמץ and מחץ. One can learn Torah and still be controlled by his yetzer harah which is symbolized by chametz which creates a מחץ a separation between the head and the heart. Or one can possess middos tovos through which the Torah that is learned enters the heart creating a passion to fulfill not only the mitzvos but also the will and unspoken word of Hashem. Without the דרך ארץ there is no תורה , one cannot reach the ideal of Torah which is to fire up the heart in the service of Hashem and to fulfill His רצון not just His דיבור. Yisrael at Matan Torah committed themselves to fulfill Hashem’s dibbur His עשרת הדברות, the direct clear message כל אשר דבר ה’ נעשה ונשמע. After hearing the spoken word of Hashem, we immediately received the Mishpatim which concerns the tools and obligations to attain דרך ארץ which is the acceptance of fulfilling Hashem’s will and unspoken word such as ועשית הטוב והישר to go beyond the letter of the law (Devarim 6,18 Rashi). One without the other is an incomplete Torah. As we daven in ובא לציון that הוא יפתח לבנו בתורתו וישם בלבנו אהבתו ויראתו ולעשות רצונו ולעבדו בלבב שלם only when the Torah enters our hearts through middos tovos then we ask Hashem that we should attain the level of performance to fulfill your רצון the unspoken law with which our service of heart will be complete.
This concept is hinted in the gematriahהישר which is equal to דרך ארץ. Once a person has דרך ארץ which are middos tovos then he has the tools to achieve הישר בעיני ה’ the unspoken words of Hashem.
צדיק כתמר יפרח the tzadik is compared to a date tree upon which Chazal say it has one straight heart to Hashem. In Berachos 57 Chazal say
כפות תמרים הרואה לולב בחלום אין לו אלא לב אחד לאביו שבשמים. The entire mamar is hinted in the תמר which represents the fired up heart towards Hashem. The letter ת of תמר is the acronym of תורה which because of one’s מדות טובות ,enters the מעים the body of a person. When one’s heart becomes passionate for Hashem and his Torah, he then is able to serve Hashem not only concerning His dibbur but also His רצון.
Moshe Rabbeinu when he was born is described as טוב . The sefarim write that משה is gematriah רצון . Our understanding of this gematriah means that Moshe who led a life of טוב beyond the letter of the law, therefore fulfilled also theרצון of Hashem not only His word. Therefore Moshe merited to give the Torah to Yisrael. He personified both the רצון ודיבור of Hashem found in the Torah.
If a person wants to grow and develop spiritually to be aצמח and bring the Moshiach, as we say in davening את צמח דוד עבדך מהרה תצמיח then he must study this parsha of Mishpatim. For as Michah told us, the acronym of three fundamentals of middos is the same as צמח צניעות משפטים חסד.