The Hebrew word מִשְׁפָּט comes from the shoresh (root) שָׁפַט (to judge), so the most logical and common translation is “judgment” or “ruling”. It can also convey the nuance of “justice” and is so used in:
- לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט לְמַ֗עַן הָבִ֤יא (Genesis 18:19)
- לֹ֥א יַעֲשֶׂ֖ה מִשְׁפָּֽט׃ (Genesis 18:25)
- … and often.
Another nuance is the idea of “regulation” or “ordinance,” as seen in:
- ל֛וֹ חֹ֥ק וּמִשְׁפָּ֖ט וְשָׁ֥ם נִסָּֽהוּ׃ (Exodus 15:25)
- וְאֵ֙לֶּה֙ הַמִּשְׁפָּטִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר תָּשִׂ֖ים (Exodus 21:1)
- … and often.
Looking at the specific construction of the word classes it among other words of the same mem-hiriq (מִ) + shoresh pattern, where the mem-hiriq prefix often means “point or place of,” e.g.:
- מִקְדָּשׁ (sanctuary; lit. “point or place of holiness”) results from the מִ prefix attached to קֹ֫דֶשׁ (holy, set apart).
- מִזְבֵּ֫חַ (altar; lit. “point or place of sacrifice”) comes from attaching the מִ prefix to זָבַח (to sacrifice).
- מִדְבָּר (wilderness; lit. “point or place of the Word”) is derived from the מִ prefix attached to דָּבָר (word or speech) to describe the place where Hashem took Israel to “school” her for 40 years, i.e. to refocus her on His Word, before allowing entry into the Holy Land.
… so, perhaps the plainest meaning is that a מִשְׁפָּט (judgment) is where a person can find justice after being victimized by a Torah-breaker… an ordinance or ruling that serves as a “place or point (or means) of justice.”