The Medrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:3) states that prior to Sinai and subsequent to Sinai the Torah discusses משפט, judgments.
How do we define משפט? One translations in judgments. Alternatively, the word משפט means justice, specifically harsh justice. Yet, we must wonder why the basic laws of the Torah are referred to as harsh judgments?
I once heard someone say that דין, also defined as justice, and particularly harsh justice, is the biggest רחמים, mercy, that HaShem can offer us. We beseech HaShem every day in the blessings of Shema to have mercy upon us and to place in our hearts the understanding of His Holy Torah. Clearly to study and understand HaShem’s Torah we require mercy, but how can we ask for mercy to engage Torah if the study of Torah itself is a matter of justice?
I believe the answer to this question is similar to the Gemara (Shabbos 88a) that states that at Sinai HaShem held the mountain over the Jewish People’s heads and said, “if you accept the Torah, fine. Otherwise, here you will find your burial spot.” Tosfos wonders why this was necessary if the Jewish People had already declared נעשה ונשמע, we will do and we will listen. The Maharal answers that HaShem was demonstrating to the Jewish People that even if they chose not to accept the Torah, they really had no choice, as Torah study and mitzvah observance is the reality of this world. Thus, we can suggest that while HaShem certainly sweetens our Torah study by granting us a personal sense of accomplishment, we are forced to study Torah because that is our life. Indeed, Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai declared (Avos 2:8) if you have studied a lot of Torah, do not pride yourself on this, because it was for this that you were created.
Now we have a new understanding of the terms justice and mercy. Justice means our purpose in this world, whereas mercy is a temporary respite from the apparent harshness of that pursuit. The ultimate goal, however, is to be constantly engaged in Torah and to remain in what is euphemistically termed the ארבע אמות של הלכה, the four cubits of halacha.
HaShem should allow us to understand our purpose in life, which is total preoccupation in Torah study and mitzvah observance, and then we will merit what the prophet declares (Yeshaya 1:27) ציון במשפט תפדה ושביה בצדקה, Tziyon will be redeemed through justice, and those who return to her through righteousness.
Have a Merciful and Purposeful Shabbos!