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Parashat Mishpatim

Dedicated In honor of our son Gedaliah Wygoda on his Bar Mitzvah

Parashat Mishpatim

At the end of last week’s parasha, Am Yisrael received the holy Torah on Har Sinai. Immediately following this momentous occurrence in our history, parashat Mishpatim tells us: Now that you have accepted the Torah, get busy to start learning all its laws and ordinances. Learn how you’re supposed to conduct yourselves as the chosen nation, both for your own sake and to set an example for the other nations of the world.

This is the reason that the parasha begins, “ve’eleh hamishpatim asher tasim lefnehem — And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them.” Rashi comments that when the Torah begins a passage with eleh, or “these,” the previous passage is separated from the new one. However, when the Torah uses the word ve’eleh, “and these,” the two passages are closely linked. The Torah is telling us, just as the Ten Commandments were give on Har Sinai, so too these ordinances are from Har Sinai.

The Ramban comments that the laws of Mishpatim, which deal with manslaughter, negligence, kidnapping, bribery, borrowing, damages for accidents, and so on, are all an extension of the Tenth Commandment, “You shall not covet your friend’s house, his wife, his manservant, his maidservant, his ox, his donkey, nor anything that belongs to your friend.” According to the Ramban, if you are envious of your friend’s possessions, that envy could lead to every other sort of transgression against others — like stealing, adultery and even murder has veshalom!

Be Nice to Others...

Parashat Mishpatim goes on to discuss fifty-three laws. Thirty of them are negative commandments, and twenty-three are positive commandments. The majority of the laws concern human interaction, man to man; as opposed to interactions between man and G-d. Why do you think that the parasha directly after the Ten Commandments discusses laws between man and man, rather than the laws between man and G-d?

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, founder of the Mussar movement, teaches us that this is because you cannot be a truly pious person if you just follow the commandments between man and G-d. You must also follow the injunctions to treat your fellow man with justice and kindness. If your friend needs help and you have the ability to help him, then you must find a way to do so! It goes without saying that you must also avoid stealing or hurting your neighbor in any way. The Commandments on the right side of the tablet are between man and G-d, while on the left side, they are between man and man. This teaches us that both are of equal importance. Even if you practice all the strictest chumrot (halachik stringencies), it will not be sufficient if you do not treat others with the proper respect and care. In practice, to be a truly religious Jews, we must concentrate on both types of injunctions, so that we may continue to learn and grow!

At a fundraising dinner for a school that serves children with learning disabilities, the father of one of the students delivered a speech that would never be forgotten by all who attended.

“As you are aware, my son Shay, as many of your children cannot learn things as other children do. He cannot understand things as many children do. The father continued his speech. 'I believe that when a child like Shay, who was mentally and physically disabled comes into the world, it presents a unique opportunity for true human nature to present itself, and it comes in the way other people treat that child.'

One summer day Shay and I were walking past a park where some boys Shay knew were playing baseball. Shay asked, 'Do you think they'll let me play?' I knew that most of the boys would not want someone like Shay on their team but as a father I also understood that if my son were allowed to play, it would give him a much-needed sense of belonging and much confidence to be accepted by others in spite of his handicaps.

I approached one of the boys on the field and asked (not expecting much) if Shay could play. The boy looked around for guidance and said, 'We're losing by six runs and the game is in the eighth inning. I guess he can be on our team and we'll try to put him in to bat in the ninth inning.'

Shay struggled over to the team's bench, and with a broad smile, put on a team shirt. I watched with a small tear in my eye and warmth in my heart. The boys saw my joy at my son being accepted.

In the bottom of the eighth inning, Shay's team scored a few runs but was still behind by three in the top of the ninth inning, Shay put on a glove and played in right field. Even though no hits came his way, he was obviously ecstatic just to be in the game and on the field, grinning from ear to ear as I waved to him from the stands. In the bottom of the ninth inning, Shay's team scored again. Now, with two outs and the bases loaded, the potential winning run was on base and Shay was scheduled to be next at bat.

At this juncture, do they let Shay bat and give away their chance to win the game? Surprisingly, Shay was given the bat. Everyone knew that a hit was all but impossible because Shay didn't even know how to hold the bat properly, much less connect with the ball. However, as Shay stepped up to the plate, the pitcher, recognizing that the other team was putting winning aside for this moment in Shay's life. So the pitcher moved in a few steps to lob the ball in softly so Shay could at least make contact.

The first pitch came and Shay swung clumsily and missed. The pitcher again took a few steps forward to toss the ball softly towards Shay. As the pitch came in, Shay swung at the ball and hit a slow ground ball right back to the pitcher.

The game would now be over. The pitcher picked up the soft grounder and could have easily thrown the ball to the first baseman. Shay would have been out and that would have been the end of the game. Instead, the pitcher purposely threw the ball right over the first baseman's head, out of reach of all his team mates. Everyone from the stands and both teams started yelling, 'Shay, run to first! Hurry, Run to first!'

Never in his life had Shay ever run that far, but he made it to first base. He scampered down the baseline, wide-eyed and startled. Everyone yelled, 'Run to second, run to second! 'Catching his breath, Shay awkwardly ran towards second, gleaming and struggling to make it to the base.

By the time Shay rounded towards second base, the right fielder had the ball and had his first chance to be the hero for his team. He could have thrown the ball to the second-baseman for the tag, but he understood the pitcher's intentions so he, too, intentionally threw the ball high way over the third-baseman's head. Shay ran toward third base deliriously as the runners ahead of him circled the bases toward home. All were screaming, 'Shay, Shay, Shay, all the Way Shay'

Shay reached third base because the opposing shortstop ran to help him by turning him in the direction of third base, and shouted, 'Run to third! Shay, run to third!' As Shay rounded third, the boys from both teams, and the spectators, were on their feet screaming, 'Shay, run home! Run home!' Shay ran to home, stepped on the plate, and was cheered as the hero who hit the grand slam and won the game for his team.

"That day', the father softly spoke with tears rolling down his face, 'the boys from both teams helped bring a piece of true love and humanity into this world'.

Shay unfortunately didn't make it to another summer. He died that winter, having never forgotten being the hero of the game that day and making me so very grateful to those selfless boys at the park that very special summer day. Those boys put aside their needs during their baseball game to do a tremendous act of kindness by emulating Hashem. They decided in the middle of their intense game to show a special act of chesed to a little boy and his father who needed it most at that moment! As we’ll see later in the parasha how important it is to defend the widow and the orphan, the Torah also wants to teach us that we have to be especially sensitive to anyone who needs it due to their special circumstances, like Shay in the story!

Be Extra Sensitive to the Widow and the Orphan

The Torah goes on to discuss many laws about damages and injury between neighbors. It then singles out the treatment of widows and orphans: “If you oppress [the widow or orphan], for if he cries out to Me, I will surely hear his cry. My wrath will be kindled, and I will slay you with the sword, and your wives will be widows and your children orphans.”

The Torah uses double lashon for “oppress,” “cries,” and “hear.” This is because when the widow or orphan cry out to Hashem, their pain is double, since they don’t have a husband or a father to protect them. The Rambam and the Sefer HaHinuch all rule that this mitzva is not limited to widows and orphans. Rather, it applies to anyone who is weak and downtrodden. Widows and orphans are vulnerable by nature. Still, we should worry about hurting any person, because no one really knows who is weak or vulnerable. Every word we speak could possibly be another indictment against us, as the verse concludes, “and should the [the widow or orphan] cry to Me, I shall certainly hear him!”

Today the world’s view of religion is that it is a distinct and isolated aspect of life, comprised of rituals and spirituality. The rest of life is focused on living in “the real world” and relating to others. For Jews, however, there is no such distinction. Every moment of our lives is both practical and spiritual. The idea that Hashem exists only in the synagogue should be alien to us as Jews. Every experience, be it prayer or just paying our bills, can be infused with the recognition that we’re serving Hashem. A Jew serves Hashem wherever he goes. There is no difference between laws between man and G-d, and between man and his fellow. Every action we take is simply another way to fulfill Hashem’s will.

Rav Yisrael Salanter was very strict about the halachot of matza. He baked his matzot himself, applying as many stringencies as he could. One year, however, he had to travel, and he was unable to bake his own matzot; so he asked one of his students to oversee the baking. The student asked Rav Yisrael to write down all of his stringencies, so that he could enforce them properly. The first item on the list was to make sure that his oversight would not cause any stress or pressure to the women working there. “Be very careful not to upset them,” he warned his student. “Many of these women are widows.”In Rav Yisrael’s opinion, though his stringencies about hametz were a way to draw closer to Hashem, it was a higher religious priority to be concerned about people’s feelings.

The Only Money That’s Really Ours

The parasha also includes an injunction against charging interest when you lend money (22:24). This is one of only three places in the Torah where the word im means “when,” as opposed to ‘”if.” Why does the Torah use the language of “When you lend money,” as opposed to “If you lend money?”

We learn from this that to assist a poor man with a loan is not optional, it is obligatory, providing that you have the extra money to lend him. The Or HaHayyim explains: “When you realize that Hashem has blessed you with a good parnassa and more wealth than you need to live, you must understand that a percentage of that money actually belongs to the poor man, and Hashem gave it to you to hold for him; and when you lend it to him, you’ll even get a mitzva! So that’s why the money of the poor man is ‘with’ you. In addition, this becomes a great opportunity, for when you give tzedaka to a fellow Jew, it’s as if the lender is benefiting even more than the borrower, by means of a very big mitzva!” The Keli Yakar goes even further, saying that when the poor man comes to you, it should be perceived as if he’s doing more for you, than you’re doing for him!

In Baba Batra (11a), there is a quote by King Munbaz, a righteous convert who moved his royal estate to Yerushalayim in the time before the destruction of the second Bet Hamikdash. During the years of famine, he used the contents of his royal storage houses to feed the poor. When his family protested, he said, “My father hoarded money in an insecure place here on Earth, but I want to protect my wealth much more securely — in Olam Haba — by giving it away to the poor and the needy.” In the end no matter how wealthy a person may become on Earth, the Tzedakah that he gave away is the only money that he’ll take with him to Olam Habah! Amen!

May we all act only in a way that’s befitting a Jew, and may we always be conscious of the laws between man and man, as well as the laws between man and G-d. May we also be considerate of the poor man among us, and understand that more than we are helping him, he is helping us. Whatever we give to tzedaka in this world is going into our personal account in Olam Haba, which can never be taken away from us — because in Hashem’s eyes that’s all that we really own! Amen!

Shabbat Shalom!

Discussion Points:

· Are we more careful with mitzvot between man and man, or between man and G-d?

· How much of what we own have we used to help others, making it “truly ours?”

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

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