This week’s parasha opens with the people of Israel gathered around Mount Sinai. Moses presents a large number of God’s rules to them; hence the name of this parasha – mishpatim (rules). The slavery of the Israelites in Egypt is recalled by Moses to remind the people not to treat strangers, widows and orphans unfairly. Moses repeats all of the rules to the people and then writes them down. Offerings are made to seal the covenant with God and the people accept the law saying, “All the things God has commanded we will do.”
When the Israelites are gathered around the mountain God begin by telling Moses: “And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them”. What do the words “that you shall place before them” mean? Rashi states that Moses was commanded to teach not only the rules, but their underlying principles and reasoning, so that the people would understand them fully and be able to apply them properly. The rules must be “placed before them”, in their fullness, like a table that is set and ready for a meal.
From this we learn how we are obligated to teach others. It is not sufficient to merely repeat a lesson two or three times. Rather, a teacher must relate the ideas to the student with their complete explanation, so that a student will not only know the information, but that they will take it to heart as well.