I think this gemara is a good introduction to parshas Mishpatim, the parsha more than any other devoted to civil law. What the gemara seems to be saying is that for us there is really no such thing as civil law, i.e. as google defines it, law "concerned with private relations between members of a community rather than .... religious affairs." That's "shlama b'alma." Mishpatim are torah too, as nothing for us is devoid of religious meaning.
I recently saw a Rabbi write in response to the OU policy statement on women rabbis that in his shul the woman rabbi [or whatever she is called] would give the derasha that Shabbos as an act of "sacred civil disobedience." I thought that was a funny expression. Can you have "civil disobedience" when the issue is a matter of religious law?
The Midrash (30:11) writes that Torah was given to Bnei Yisrael in the morning, but it was only in the evening, "erev," that mishpatim were given. What's the significance of morning vs. evening here?
The Sefas Emes in last week's parsha asks a great question: Yisro said to Moshe that if he, Moshe, is the only judge in Klal Yisrael, he is going to wear himself out, as the people are standing and waiting for him "min boker ad erev," from morning till evening (18:14). Rashi comments: it's impossible that Moshe sat in judgment that long [see Sifsei Chachamim]. The pasuk uses that expression, "boker at erev," to echo the words of creation, "va'yehi erev va'yehi boker," to teach us that a judge who sits and judges honestly even for one hour gets credit as if he participated in the creation of the world. If that's what the pasuk means, says the Sefas Emes, then what was Yisro so concerned about? Moshe wasn't there literally all day-- it's just a figure of speech!
Explains the Sefas Emes (5635), "boker," when the sun is rising and everything is bright and fresh, alludes to clarity. "Erev" is when things are mixed up (ta'aroves = mixture) and muddled. A judge has to take the ideal abstraction of law, which is so clear and refined, and apply it to the messy muddle of contradictory facts and stories that come before him. A judge has to act as the bridge between "boker" and "erev." Whether you are sitting on a case for an hour or for months, makes no difference -- spanning that gap is hard work. That's what Yisro was so concerned about.
This explains why Moshe didn't come up with the idea of appointing judges himself. Moshe saw everything with perfect clarity -- nothing was ever muddled in his eyes. "Kol aliyosav b'hashkama" -- the literal meaning is that he always ascended Har Sinai in the morning; the figurative meaning is that when Moshe approached the law, Har Sinai [yikov ha'din es ha'har], it was always morning, "hashkama," "boker," a time of clarity. There was no gap in his eyes that needed to be spanned.
The Ishbitzer in Mei HaShiloach writes that coming from Parshas Yisro into Mishpatim is like going m'igra ramah l'beira amikta, from the heights of a mountain to the depths of a pit. In other words, it's going from boker to erev.
Our Midrash perhaps reflects the same idea. Torah was given in the morning -- there is clarity in abstract principles. Mishpatim are for the evening, when two ba'alei din are standing before the judge offering competing versions of events, competing versions of truth and justice. Suddenly the truth is not so clear.
The Beis Ya'akov of Ishbitz goes a step further and writes that the true test of whether Parshas Yisro has been internalized only comes this week when we read Mishpatim, when the ideal principles are tested in the real world.
One last point -- were it not Parshas Shekalim we would be reading machar chodesh this week. Since I will probably forget to link to it the next time that comes up, let me give you the link now to a vort on the haftarah from R' Meir Bloch, the Telzer R"Y, that R' M Sorotzkin said in his hesped for R' Moshe Shapiro, at the 7:00 minute mark: