Don Isaac Abravanel (1437-1508) was a preeminent Jewish thinker, scholar, and prolific Biblical
commentator. In the book of Exodus, parashat Mishpatim, it delves into divine, judicial statutes that comprise large swathes of
Jewish law or jurisprudence. This subject matter continues into the upcoming chapters, as well.

“And these are the statutes which you shall set before them.”

For the full discussion of Jewish jurisprudence, see Abravanel’s World. However, for our purposes here,
we touch upon Abravanel’s introduction. He emphasizes one of his guiding principles that he applies
throughout his commentary on the Bible. We speak about the integrity of Holy Writ. Not only must the
words and verses be carefully analyzed and understood, but also their order, sequence, or juxtaposition
illuminate the text.

Let us elaborate. Abravanel writes in his preface to this chapter that he perused his predecessors’
approaches regarding the sequence of the divine commandments pertaining to Jewish law. Does it
matter which statute proceeds another?

To his dismay, Abravanel found that a majority of commentators write that order is inconsequential.
Since they assumed that the organization of the laws were random or haphazard, these commentators
felt no pressing need, for example, to derive clarification or meaning from our chapter’s first
commandment (“If you buy a Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve…”) to the second one (“And if a
man sell his daughter to be a maid-servant…”), or to the third topic (“He who smites a man, so that he
dies…”). For those writers who posit that all of our chapter’s statutes act as independent units, they
failed to grasp minutiae which emerge from a proper appreciation of any given rule’s placement. Put
differently, because they did not connect the dots, they missed the bigger picture.

Indeed, Abravanel leveled sharp remarks regarding such a lackadaisical approach to the Bible’s organic
integrity, let us call it. He had, perhaps, less patience for those commentators who did attempt to derive
meaning from the statute’s sequence, but offered only gibberish. “Accept or reject them at your
discretion,” Abravanel advises.

Abravanel launches into an insightful discourse showing just how crucial juxtaposition is to a precise
understanding of our chapter in particular, and of the Bible in general. How does Abravanel come to this
conclusion, that sequence matters?

It’s plain logic, Abravanel’s advances. Since God Himself is the judge of the universe, will He Himself not
mete out justice? Did He not array His laws according to purposeful sequence? It’s as basic as that: God
did not dictate the Pentateuch in a whimsical fashion to Moses. His design and method run throughout.