Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Sophie bat Bahieh, Sophie Semah A"H, by Charlie & Rickey Semah and Families
Parashat Mishpatim Last week in Parashat Yitro, we learned that Yitro not only heard about the miracles Hashem did for B’nei Yisrael but acted on his inspiration and converted to Judaism. Rabbi Joey Haber spoke about what specifically inspired Yitro to make the change in his life. There were three miracles Yitro heard about: yam suf, the water from the rock and maan from Heaven, and the war with Amalek. Rabbi Haber asks, “It’s understandable that Yitro was inspired by the splitting of the sea and food falling from the sky. But why was a war with Amalek something that impressed Yitro?” He answers, “Hashem was performing miracles for this brand-new nation, and it was beautiful. But through all these miracles, Hashem also sent them an enemy and helped prepare them for battle so they can learn how to overcome adversity. Being the Chosen Nation is not only about blessing, it’s about earning it.” Hardships and challenges will always be a part of life. It is important to overcome them to really be able to enjoy the blessings from Hashem. From Har Sinai 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 teaches us to start learning all the Torah’s laws and ordinances. We learn how to conduct ourselves as the Chosen Nation, both for our 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 given from Hashem by Har Sinai, so too these ordinances are from Har Sinai. Rabbi Twerski writes in his book Twerski on Chumash about how a great rabbi was once challenged by a government official. “Why do your rabbinic courts dispose of a case so quickly? We have lawyers that study both sides of the case and gather evidence. After the court rules, there may be several appeals. That way we know justice is carried out.” The rabbi responded with a mashal—parable. A wolf once made off with a lamb from a flock, but he was accosted by a lion who took the lamb from him. The wolf protested, but the lion insisted that as the king of all animals, he has the right to all prey. The wolf and lion decided to take their dispute to the fox, the wisest of all the animals. The fox ruled that both the wolf and lion had rights to the animal, so he determined they should share the lamb equally, so he proceeded to divide it. He saw one piece was larger than the other, so he ate from it to make the pieces equal. He nibbled a bit too much, so he ate from the other to make the pieces equal. By the time they were equal to each other, almost nothing was left. The rabbi said, “That’s your judicial system. With endless litigation, the lawyers end up receiving most of the money. In a Bet Din, both sides have their say, and the ruling is swift.” This gives us insight into the Torah’s legal philosophy. Be Nice to Others 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! Parashat Mishpatim goes on to discuss fifty-three laws. Thirty of them are negative commandments, and twenty-three are positive commandments. Most of the laws concern human interaction, man-to-man, as opposed to interactions between man and G-d. Why does the parasha found directly after the Ten Commandments discuss 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. The Commandments on the right side of the tablets are between man and G-d, and 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 enough 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 mitzvot, so that we may continue to learn and grow! A man named Hillel Fuld told a story about the importance of hessed. In 1900, there was a very bad snowstorm in a small village near Hungary. There was a woman in a house crying and praying by her fireplace while her baby slept in a crib beside her. She noticed there was a rabbi out in the snow, and she asked him if he wanted a cup of tea and if he needed a place to stay for the night. He thanked her and then noticed her red eyes and asked her why she was crying. She showed him her baby and said, “My husband and I had six children. Five of which passed away from illness at only a few weeks old. I’m praying to Hashem that this boy, my sixth baby will be healthy and have a long life.” The rabbi told her, “In the zechut of you doing this hessed and welcoming me into your home, this baby should grow to be happy, healthy and have a long life. The woman fell asleep, and by the time she woke the next morning, the man was gone without a trace. There were no footprints in the snow. The baby grew up and had a very long life. Hillel Fuld, who told this story, is that baby’s great-grandson. Mishpatim teaches us the importance of being kind, of interacting properly with our fellow man. When we follow the mitzvot between man and man and treat each other with empathy and respect, we can truly excel at the mitzvot between man and G-d, and sometimes, change the course of history. 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 is 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. 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.” Rav Yisrael Salanter was very strict about the halachot of matzah. 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 his stringencies, so that he could enforce them properly. The first item on the Rav’s list was to make sure that his stringencies would not cause any stress or pressure to the women working in the bakery. “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 Torah uses double lashon for “oppress,” “cries,” and “hear.” This is because when the widow or orphan cries out to Hashem, her pain is double, since a widow doesn’t have a husband and an orphan doesn’t have a parent to provide protection. The Rambam and the Sefer HaHinuch all rule that this mitzvah is not limited to widows and orphans. Rather, it applies to anyone who is weak or 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!” 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,” and not “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 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. When you lend it to him, you’ll even get a mitzvah! 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 mitzvah!” The Kli 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 Habah — by giving it away to the poor and the needy.” In the end no matter how wealthy a person may become on Earth, the mitzvot that he earned is the only currency that he’ll take with him to Olam Habah! Soul Snatching “He who strikes his father or his mother shall be put to death. And he who steals a man and sells him… shall be put to death. And he who curses his father or his mother shall be put to death (15-17).” Why does the parasha have a passuk about the punishment for kidnapping right between two pesukim about the punishment for hitting or cursing one’s parents? Rabbi Avraham Bukspan responds in Classics and Beyond. When parents push their own dreams and aspirations on their child, the child’s individual needs are usually overlooked. A child is supposed to be nurtured and his needs are supposed to be met so the child can grow into the best person he can be. If a parent is selfish, more interested in achieving his own goals as opposed to his son’s, the child will resent his parent. That is why kidnapping is in between the sin of assaulting and cursing one’s parents. Because what drives someone to hit his mother or father? When his parents kidnap not flesh and blood, but a young child’s soul—a life that could have been. 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 we aren’t just helping him, he is helping us. Whatever we give to tzedaka in this world is going into our personal account in Olam Habah, which can never be taken away from us — because in Hashem’s eyes that’s all that we really own! May we nurture each of our children according to their individual needs so they can grow and fulfill their potential in this world. Amen! Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:
Are we more careful with mitzvot between man and man, or between man and G-d?
Why does the parasha found directly after the Ten Commandments discuss laws between man and man, rather than the laws between man and G-d? 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.
The Torah goes on to discuss many laws about damages and injury between neighbors, and then singles out the treatment of widows and orphans. We must be extra sensitive to those who don’t have the protection of a husband or parent.
The Rambam says that this mitzvah is not limited to widows and orphans, but anyone who is weak or downtrodden, because no one really knows who is weak or vulnerable.
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.
When parents push their own dreams and aspirations on their child, the child’s individual needs are usually overlooked. A child is supposed to be nurtured and his needs are supposed to be met so the child can grow into the best person he can be. The role of a parent is essential in the personal growth of a child.
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