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Parashat Mishpatim

"You Shall Not Utter A False Report"

The Nation of Israel is holy. On Yom Kippur it is forbidden to eat, so we fast. On Shabbat work is forbidden, so we refrain from doing forbidden activity. However, there is a pasuk in our parashah which has not merited quite the same level of attention. "You shall not utter a false report," which also includes the prohibition to accept slander, evil talk about another (lashon hara). It is a Torah violation to believe an unverified report or to listen at all to gossip. For example, the grave transgressions of which Jews are accused, which the media reports with such wicked passion and excitement, all the hype generated by the press over unconfirmed rumors and allegations, as they pass judgment before trial and derisively scorn people for unverified crimes. They claim, like the executioners during the French Revolution, "The public likes it, this is what they want." This brings the ratings higher, it increases their readership. And so, the masses who read the reports are swept into the slander and become participants in this disgrace. We all share some of the guilt. If we bought the papers, and thus increased its readership, we have expressed our acceptance of the way the paper is conducted and encouraged the corruption. If we turned on the radio and paid attention, we have become part of the supporting group of listeners. Not to mention how the slander contaminates the soul, desensitizes our feelings, distorts our peace of mind, and, as Hazal say, "Lashon hara kills the three people involved."

Not to mention also the many Torah violations involved: "You shall not utter a false report."

If we do not have the ability to stop the wave of slander, we can at least close our ears and turn off the radio!


"You revealed Yourself with the cloud of Your glory to Your nation to speak with them...from the heavens You sounded Your voice, and You revealed Yourself to them in Your fog of purity...when You, our King, revealed Yourself at Har Sinai and taught Your nation Torah and misvot." This is how we begin our description of "Ma'amad Har Sinai" in the third berachah of Amidah on Rosh Hashanah, the berachah of "shofarot." The moving, powerful experience which is forever engraved in our national awareness. Benei Yisrael already had somewhat of a feel for Torah and misvot, as they had been taught several of them already. At Marah they learned about such lofty concepts as Shabbat. They had been told the laws of purity when they studied the halachah of the Parah Adumah (red heifer). They were aware of the misvah to honor one's parents whose honor is likened to that of the Al-mighty Himself. They anxiously awaited to hear the details of the misvot, all six hundred and thirteen of them.

With what did the Torah begin its discussion of the details of the misvot? With the punishment for murderers, the punishment for one who beats his parents, the laws regarding kidnappers, and how to deal with barbarians who beat others to death. And so on.

We read about the thief who is caught and the hired watchman who is held responsible when he is lax in his duties.

We are told to be sensitive to the feelings of others. Not to persecute a foreigner, orphans, widows and the poor. Not to accept bribes, not to offer false testimony. Simple, elementary, humane rules which are shared by every upright society. Are these the first misvot which we need to be told? We would have expected to hear about the service of Hashem, prayer and sacrifices, the laws of the festivals, tefillin and sisit. Instead, the Torah focuses first on the "don'ts" rather than the "do's." And even so, it deals not with the more serious transgressions of violating Shabbat, idol worship, or promiscuity. It does not even mention laws of kashrut, shaving with a razor or wearing sha'atnez.

Instead, the Torah opens with "simple" prohibitions and an elementary system of punishment: the punishments for murderers and thieves, for corruption among judges and witnesses. Benei Yisrael must have asked themselves, "For this we stood at the foot of Har Sinai? For this we experienced the wondrous events of Matan Torah?"

But perhaps the most difficult question is, the parashah opens, "These are the statutes which you shall place before them." Hazal add, "Before them - and not before the gentiles" (Gittin 88b). One must wonder, is it not possible to come up with such a system for the other nations, ways of punishing the violent murderer, the thief and the larcenist? It is well understood that the laws of sisit, tefillin, massah and shofar, the prohibitions of kashrut, sha'atnez and laws of agriculture - these are special, and it is well understood, "Before them and not before the gentiles." But can the same be said about laws regarding proper societal functioning?

A good question, indeed, but, sadly, we all know the answer. About one hundred years ago, when the first wave of secularists decided to change the face of the nation and turn us into "a nation like all other nations," the high moral standards of the people bothered them terribly. This is a nation which is not "normal": there are no murderers, thieves, or crime. One of them went so far as to say that he longs for the day when the first Jewish murderer will be imprisoned, for then he will know that his mission has been accomplished, that his life dream has been brought into fruition.

Wherever he and his friends are now, there are probably celebrating. The reality has far exceeded their dreams. Worst of all, according to police estimates in Israel, a murder occurs in the Jewish State every other day. This does not include the murder of fetuses through abortions. Every six hours a robbery is carried out, and every two minutes some form of felony occurs.

The Torah institutions bothered them to no end and allowed them no rest. They expanded their own network of schools with some very impressive results: the rampant permissiveness knows no bounds, violence prevails with no restraint, knives and fists have been replaced by sophisticated accessories. Students return home still under the effect of drugs. We have exceeded the hopes of being "a nation like all other nations" - we have become first in the running, leading the race to the lowest depths.

Do not say we weren't warned in advance. Three thousand years ago, when the Torah was given, we were told, "These are the statutes which you shall place before them." Which statutes? The most basic, elementary laws of a just society, laws of relations between people, the most basic guidelines of proper behavior. "Before them and not before the gentiles." Only a life of Torah and misvah observance can prevent rampant crime, dangerous violence, and the corruption of values. The misvot of the Torah sanctify us and cleanse us, they exalt and purify, but, first and foremost, they prevent deterioration down the lowest abyss.

Every parent is faced with the decision to where to send his child. He must choose between ascent or descent, up or down. Torah education, or the absence of values. The responsibility is great, and the first pasuk of our parashah is the warning sign.


Based Upon the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yosef shlit"a
Arranged by Rav Mosheh Yosef shlit"a

One Who Eats Fruits and Vegetables

The Rambam (Hilchot Berachot 8:16) writes, "One who eats fruits of the seven special species, and it is a quantity which requires a berachah aharonah, and also eats with them other fruits which are not of the seven species, he recites one 'berachah me'en shalosh' which fulfills his obligation for both." The Rashba explains that since the individual says in the blessing, "for the trees and the fruits of the trees," this includes all fruits which he ate, even those not of the seven special species. However, Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a in Halichot Olam vol. 2 (Parashat Pinhas, 9) demonstrates from Shulhan Aruch that only the central part of the berachah is the determining factor, not the text of the opening or conclusion of the berachah. Only those foods included in the central, main part of the berachah can have their requirement fulfilled by that berachah. However, foods which are included in a different part of the berachah require a separate berachah. For this reason the Shulhan Aruch (208:13) rules that one who eats vegetables together with fruits of the seven species recites a berachah for each, just as one who drinks a "revi'it" of wine and eats other fruits must recite two separate berachot. However, the Magen Avraham (202:26) brings the opinion of the "Agudah" that if one eats a grain product as well as vegetables, he should first recite "borei nefashot" (for the vegetables) and only then recite "al hamihyah," for it may be that his "al hamihyah" would fulfill his obligation for the vegetables, as well. Therefore, it is best to recite "borei nefashot" first to get around any doubt. Even though the main component of the berachah is "al hamihyah" which refers to grain, nevertheless it may fulfill the requirement for the vegetables, as well. Apparently, he is following the view of the S'mak as cited by the Kaf Hahayim(208:73) that the phrase, "al tenuvat hasadeh" ("for the produce of the land"), recited towards the beginning of al hamihyah, fulfills the obligation for any foods which grow in the field. Other Rishonim express this view, as well, though many others argue. In any event, we never recite a berachah when in doubt as to whether it is warranted, so here, too, we must be concerned for this view. It turns out then, that only when a person eats a fruit such as an apple together with fruits from the seven species can he fulfill his requirements with one berachah, me'en shalosh. But if he ate vegetables with the fruits of the seven species, or if he ate cake together with fruits which are not from the seven species or vegetables, he should first recite borei nefashot and only thereafter recite a berachah me'en shalosh. Despite the fact that berachah me'en shalosh is more specific than borei nefashot and therefore should take preference, nevertheless in these cases we are concerned that maybe "al tenuvat hasadeh" fulfills the obligation for borei nefashot, and the recitation of borei nefashot would then be unwarranted. Therefore, in these cases borei nefashot is recited first. If one did, in these cases, recite berachah me'en shalosh first and, while he did, he intended to fulfill his requirement of borei nefashot through the recitation of "al tenuvat hasadeh," he should not recite a borei nefashot thereafter. In summary, one who eats a quantity of fruits from the seven species which requires a berachah aharonah and, together with the fruit, he ate other fruits, such as an apple, he recites afterward only one berachah, the berachah me'en shalosh. However, if he eats vegetables with cake or he eats fruits from the seven species together with vegetables, he recites borei nefashot followed by berachah me'en shalosh.

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l

Rosh Hodesh Adar marks the anniversary of the death of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l, who passed away eight hundred and thirty-four years ago. The Rambam zs"l, in his famous letter, wrote to his son Rabbi Avraham, "You, my son, I command you not to study any commentaries or works and do not bother your mind except with the commentaries of Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, his essays and books. They are very good and help anyone who reads them with intensity, purity of mind, and meticulous concentration. They are not like other works, for he was like Avraham our patriarch in spirit. Everything that you read from his words and his allusions which he speaks, study thoroughly, and pay very close attention to it with clarity of mind and pure concentration. For this scholar was afraid of nobody and showed no favoritism to any creature...I was told about him that he composed commentaries on the Torah in which he reveals deep, powerful secrets, to be understood only by those on his level, the remaining few to whom Hashem calls...The commentary on Mishnah, the Mishneh Torah, and Moreh Nevuchim was arranged on his secrets to which he alludes in his works and books." Rabbi Zecharyah Ben Saruk zs"l writes in his commentary to Megilat Esther about Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, "Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, after the compilation of the Talmud, was as great as all the geonim despite the fact that he was not one of the geonim of Bavel. He was a comprehensive, complete scholar of all fields of wisdom. I saw his works on Masechet Kiddushin and they are written with the utmost depth and truth." Rabbi Yedayah Hapenini zs"l writes, "The scholar, Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra, rises above all scholars in the understanding of truth and his diligence in the pursuit of wisdom, the distancing of all distortions of understanding in that which is written in the Torah and the Prophets." Rabbenu Tam zs"l, the greatest of the Tosafists, also held Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra in very high esteem. They met and even continued a correspondence. He composed many works, over twenty of them. The most famous is his commentary on the Torah, and the Ramban zs"l deals a lot with his writings. He was seventy-five years old when he died, and he said about himself before his death, "Avraham was seventy-five years old when he left 'Haran' -referring to the anger ('haron af') of the world."


"And these are the statutes which you shall place before them"

Hazal note that the extra letter "vav" ("and") in the beginning of the pasuk means that this parashah continues last week's parashah, the account of Matan Torah. Rashi adds that it teaches us that just as the Ten Commandments were given at Har Sinai, so were these misvot of behavior among people are not just sensible, pragmatic laws. They, too, were given to Moshe at Har Sinai.

Rabbi Ovadyah Seforno zs"l writes that this parashah flows naturally from the end of last week's parashah. The last of the Ten Commandments is "You shall not covet...all that belongs to your friend." It is only natural to then proceed to present the laws governing property so that everybody knows what belongs to them and what belongs to other people.

"And these are the statutes which you shall place before them"

The Gemara (Sanhedrin 7a) asks, what does it mean, "...that you shall place before them?" Shouldn't the pasuk be written, "...that you shall teach them"? The Gemara answers that the pasuk refers to the various means of punishment which the leaders use to enforce their rulings. Rabbi "Abir Yaakov" Abuhassera zs"l adds that the first letter of the words in this pasuk spell, "leta'avah," desires, suggesting that a person whose desires begin overpowering him should remind himself of these whips and rods ready to deal with the sinners in Gehinnom. The individual will then prevent himself from following his desires and will improve his spirit.

"And these are the statutes which you shall place before them"

The Gemara (Gittin 88a) explains that "before them" implies that we should not settle our disputes in non-Jewish courts, those who rule according to legal systems other than Torah law. It further indicates that we should not bring our cases before judges who rule not based on any legal system but according to their own intuition. It is therefore forbidden for a Jew to bring another Jew to a court which does not rule according to the Shulhan Aruch. However, writes the Ramban zs"l, there is a difference between these two rules: If the two litigants agree, they can bring their case before those who rule based upon their intuition, but to bring it to a non-Jewish court is forbidden even if they both agree.


The Heavens

The world was created with ten proclamations of Hashem, culminating with the creation of Man. Everything is created for the human being and he is the most important creature of them all - the crown of creation.

On top of our heads are intricate systems of stars, stars which, miraculously, revolve one around the other. There are stars which exist relatively close to us while others lie hundreds of millions of miles away. There are stars whose light and heat far surpass that of the sun, but the vast distance between them and us cause them to appear like tiny speckles of light. Earth, one of the planets, rotates around its own axis with tremendous speed which causes the difference between day and night. If the Earth would rotate just a bit slower, the days would be much, much longer and many things would burn from the scolding heat of the sun, and we would freeze from the long, cold nights. It is difficult to describe what would happen if the distance between us and the sun would shrink by just a few thousand miles (a very small amount in relation to the distance between Earth and the sun). In the center of all this stands the human being, and the creation supplies him with everything he needs. He receives his food and clothing from the animals and vegetation, as they all stand prepared to serve his needs. Regarding this Hazal write in the Midrash (Kohelet Rabbah) that when Hashem first created man he took him to all the trees in Gan Eden and said, "Look how beautiful My creation is. Everything which I created, I created for you. Be careful not to become corrupt and destroy My world."


The Repaid Debt (5)

Flashback: Young Naftali, during a game with his friends, threw a rock into the officer's chariot and injured him. The angry officer threw Naftali into prison. After a lot of effort by the community, the boy was taken by a guard to stand trial in the capital city. On the way, they encountered a terrible storm and lost their way. At nightfall they came across a small village. As the guard knocked on the door, Naftali felt a mezuzah on the door post, indicating that this was the home of a Jew.

The door opened before them, and a wave of warmth burst forth from the home and enveloped them. An older Jewish man appeared and said, "Please, come in." They entered the house and stepped into the sitting room. An old book was open on the table by the light of an oil lamp which stood nearby. "Sit by the oven," suggested the host. "I will set the table for you to eat." He kissed the book and closed it. He brought out bread and put a dish on the fire. "You will have to undo his chains," he told the guard. The guard refused. "I was instructed to guard him so he does not escape. If he escapes, my head will be severed instead of his!" The host smiled. "Escape? On such a stormy night? I accept the responsibility for him. You can undo his chains." The guard agreed. As he was busy unlocking the chains, the host brought a bowl full of water for netilat yadayim. The guard grumbled that his hands had been washed thoroughly by the rain and frantically attacked his food. Naftali washed his hands, recited the berachah, and dried them with the dry towel which was offered to him. He dipped his bread in salt and ate graciously. The man looked at him compassionately and sighed. "Why was chained up?" The guard's answer burst out of his mouth which was still busy eating: "For rebelling against the government. He led a youth revolt and the group of youngsters attacked an officer's carriage. He succeeded in seriously wounding the officer before he was stopped. He is being escorted so he can stand trial in the capital city." Despite all his effort, Naftali could not help but break out in a smile. Throwing a small pebble during a throwing contest was suddenly turned into leading an organized revolt. But the host did not share in Naftali's laughter. "Rebellion, that is a very serious crime. After the meal you must chain him up again so he does not escape!"

to be continued...


"Be As Careful With Light misvot As With Serious misvot"

"Suf Devash" is the important work by Rabbi Vidal Hassarfati zs"l, among the great Jewish leaders of the west four hundred years ago. Commenting on our parashah, he asks, why does the section after Matan Torah begin with the "simple" laws involving monetary matters, rather than the more exalted laws of sisit, tefillin, shofar, lulav, sukkah, massah, Shabbat and Yom Tov? He answers based upon a beautiful story found in the Midrash. A merchant who dealt with jewels went to the capital city where there lived the king, his officers, and the aristocracy. He expected that they would buy his merchandise and he would make a huge profit. Unfortunately, the road to the capital city passed through a wilderness outside the city, and a gang of bandits blocked his way. "Stop! What do you have with you?" He said, "Please, have compassion. I am a merchant who deals in children's toys. I sell them for very cheap and just barely make a living." They said one to another, "For a just a few coins we won't kill anybody." They left him and he continued along his way. When he approached the city he sold a diamond for a huge profit and bought with the money a magnificent store in the center of town and his business began to flourish. The court supervisor and the highest-ranking officials were among his regular customers. After some time, those same bandits needed some food. They dressed up as respectable people and came into the city. As they passed through the center of town, the beautiful jewel-shop immediately caught their attention. Suddenly, they said one to another, "Wait - don't we know that man?" They went inside and asked, "How much does this stone cost?" He answered, "This one is worth twenty-thousand gold coins, this one thirty-thousand." Their eyes popped out of their sockets. They asked, "Didn't you tell us that all you carry are small items worth just a coin or two?" He said, "Of course, my life was in danger and I had to save myself. But now, if you don't give me the money I am asking I will not sell them to you!" They looked at each other and said, "What a glorious treasure we had right in front of us, and we let it slip." Similarly, says the Midrash, in this world we do not appreciate the full value of the misvot. We trample on them with our feet. However, in the World to Come, our eyes will be opened and we will see how precious each misvah really is, that the whole world could not be worth even a single misvah! Therefore, the Torah begins its discussion of misvot specifically with the "simple" misvot, to teach us not to disregard the value of even the "smallest" misvah. For each one of them is truly a gem, there is no value which we can ascribe to it. Each one is a treasure of which the entire universe cannot be worth even a fraction!

excerpts from
Sing You Righteous...
by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit"a

Five Kinyanim (part III)

Abraham is a Kinyan because his ways and thoughts live on and are emulated forever (Beresheet 18:19), and thereby the awareness of G-d is maintained in the world. The people of Israel have furnished a multitude of righteous and wise men, and their history has supplied so many lessons af G-d's providence, that by studying the history of Israel and by contemplating them today one gains an awareness of G-d. The Bet Hamikdash is a Kinyan; for when one views the house where the Shechinah resides, and when he sees the Avodah performed in the deepest awe by the Cohanim, he learns to fear G-d all his days. The Torah is the first of these five, because it is the most effective teacher of the awareness of G-d, and because the Torah lends effectiveness to all the other Kinyanim. Included in the Torah are the Misvot, of which the Shabbat is one of the most important. The common denominator of these five is Deah.

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