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by Daneal Weiner
Hello everybody! It's going to be a tough one. After Tu B'shvat we enter the 30 day period prior to Purim. There is a custom to begin learning about Purim at this time. That's one topic. It is also Parshas Shekalim. Purim is surrounded by four special Shabboses. Two before and two after. This is the first. We can talk about that too. Needless to say it is
Parshas Mishpatim which is filled to the brim with good stuff. Where to even begin? Like any good American, when the going gets tough, let's go see a movie.
There once was a hungry wolf who happened upon a fox in the woods. The wolf said to the fox, "Alas! Prepare to die!" The fox was quite taken aback by the greeting of the wolf. He asked, "What? What? What? Am I looking sheepish? Am I wearing red? What do you want me for? Wouldn't you prefer something more palatable?"
"I'm so hungry right now I don't care what I eat!" grumbled the wolf only slightly louder than his stomach.
Suddenly, from the distance came a whistling noise. "Oh! Oh! Oh!" said the fox, "I know who that is! It's a nice plump little Jew! Every day about this time he comes walking through the woods on his way home from work. He'd make a much finer meal than a hairy, bony little fox like me!"
"What!?" Challenged the wolf. "Eat a Jew?! Do you think I'm a meshuganer?!" Do you know what kind of sin it is to harm a Jew, let alone eat one???"
"No! You've gotit wrong," insured the fox, "because it just said in last weeks parsha, in the 10 commandments, (20:5) '...a jealous G-d, who visits the sin of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations...' You have nothing to worry about. You have the meal of your life, and some grandchild, who'll just want to put you in a home anyway, will pay the price for your sin!"
"Always did wonder about that verse," muttered the wolf although now his mind was busily imagining his first kosher meal. "You're right, fox! I'm going for him!" And with that the wolf went speedily in the direction of the whistling Jew when suddenly....THWAP, TWANG, THUD!!! The wolf had triggered a hunter's trap and in seconds his leg was bound and a cage fell heavily about him. His hunger pains were now the least of his worries. "Fox!" cried the wolf. "What happened? I never touched him. I never hurt any Jew in my life!?"
"No, you didn't" agreed the fox, "but your grandfather must have!”
G-d visits the sin of the fathers upon the children to the third and fourth generations...when those generations choose to repeat those sins."
My chavrusah over heard this last Shabbos (granted, a less embellished version) and told it to me and I felt it was too good not to share with you. This wonderful parable was heard from a 10 year old Belzer child. Belz is one of the branches of Chassidim. Now that's what I call a Jewish education!
Speaking of the sin visiting the third and fourth generations, anti-Semitism is on the rise in Germany. The way I see it, the US bomber will be on their way to nuke Iraq and the plane will hit some bad turbulence and lose the bomb over Germany. Ta ta dahlinks.
That story also works for what we said last week about those Jews of the tribe of Dan who were 'ejected' from the protection of the Ananay Hakavode, the Clouds of Glory which surrounded the Camp of Israel in the desert. They weren't ejected as a punishment from H' but when they heard the trumpets signal to pack up and ready themselves to leave, they procrastinated. Hashem made their own actions (or lack of) cause themselves to be ejected! Had the wolf not chosen to go after the Jew then he would have not taken the path he did which led him into the trap.
Another good but unfortunate manifestation of this is the situation in Israel, now, regarding Iraq. One Rav asked a Gadol what to tell his boys in a yeshiva in Yerushalayim. The answer was, that everything will be OK. In the name of another Gadol from Bnei Barak I also heard that the masks will be good for Purim but how about praying? Saying a couple extra Psalms? So Jews that have accustomed themselves to hear the words of the Gadolim, the trumpets of Israel, they signaled it's time to get up. Wake up! Pray! Fall in line with the will of Hashem! And it's heard within the protective walls of the Ananay Hakavode.
Jews who've accustomed themselves not to listen to the Gedolim cannot hear the comfort in their words. Their actions have caused themselves to be ejected from the security. As an attempt to avert pandemonium, the Government has everyone busying themselves with masks and sealed rooms. People are standing 7 hours in line for masks. During the Gulf War the scuds killed 'odd echad' and the masks killed 17! H'y! ("Odd echad" is the language used at the end of the 5th plague, Dever (9:7). It's debated if it means 'not one' or 'but one'.)
New comers to the Ba'al tshuva Yeshiva can't help but be swept up in the calm! Why isn't everyone scurrying? Pacing? Worrying? Everyone is just sitting and learning like they were yesterday when there was no threat of mass destruction. These new guys walk around making conversation, "So, uh, you have your mask? Are you gonna get one?" To one such young man I answered, "No." He said, "I have a friend..." (obviously meaning outside of yeshiva and most probably meaning non-religious) "...who went and got his." I asked, "He waited in line 7 hours?" He said, "Not that long." I said, "He probably has more time on his hands." He thought for but a second and couldn't hold back the smile, "Yeah. That's true!" as he turned and walked away.
There is a lot of hearsay on the streets and rumors and 10th party information. The one thing you can believe that is absolutely true- America won't do anything till after the Olympics! The world can't be saved from the threat of a mad dictator until after all the $500,000 per 30 second commercials have all aired. “Gulf War II- The Sequel” caters to a different audience entirely.
Speaking of something completely different, the Parsha starts (21:1), "V'aileh hamishpatim"- And these are the ordinances. When definitions are asked for ‘mitsvos’, ‘mishpatim’, and ‘chokim’, the three basic categories of commandments from Hashem, ‘mishpatim’ are those laws that any society would legislate for the sake of social order. The definition usually stops there. Along comes Rashi quoting a Midrash and says the reason the verse begins with, "And" is to connect this parsha with the last regarding the revalation at Sinai. Even though these may be laws which any society would legislate, they aren't! They are completely different. They are the will of Hashem! They are all part of the living Torah!
A newer ba'al tshuvah once asked me about a feeling of spirituality. Our actions are governed, so to speak, from morning till night. A bracha here, wash hands there. Not to much is different. Where is the hike into the woods or sitting on a mountain top or standing out in a field where we meditate and touch base with our karma and synergize with all Jews having transcended our corporeal existence's and finally becoming one with the universe which is becoming one with G-d? I said- OK, first I slapped him to snap him out of it and then I said, "V'aileh hamishpatim!" He's been programmed by society to think there are the do's and there are the don't's and spirituality is something else. A box to step into or avoid. If he doesn't feel like shaving his head, dancing in an airport and swearing off all worldly possessions to Ramalamadingdong he thinks he's missing out in the connection and therefore the spiritual high. Those guys really look happy. I tried explaining to him that in Judaism, EVERY action is either spiritual or non spiritual. Even putting on shoes, if it’s done the way Jewish law prescribes then the mundane has been made holy! It's his job to get the high from it. He has to unlearn his emotional detachment from 'following the rules' and attach himself to the idea that every minute of the day he can absolutely know he is doing the will of Hashem. There is no greater connection and no greater feeling in the world!
I was certainly talking to myself as well. I may put on the right shoe first and my day may be filled with more prayer and blessings and learning then his is, but has any of it become rote? And if it's not rote but willing fulfillment of Torah and mitsvos, am I getting a high from it? A low, at least? Do I need that? With current events as they are and with the trumpets sounding for getting up and moving forward, it's certainly something for me to think about. Thanks, Rashi, for the insight.
This is the last parsha of the 6 parshas of ‘Shovevim’, an acronym of the first letters of the first 6 parshas of the book of Shmos. Just as these parshas describe the time when G-d took Bnei Yisrael from the spiritual depths of Egypt to the heights of the Revelation, so too is this time of the year 'charged' with such divine inspiration for those who want it. And after all the unimaginable spiritual heights reached from all the wonders and miracles, of the first 5 parshas, this last parsha says, "Hey, as you now go back into the routine, don't forget, non of it is routine. Even the 'law of the land' is all part of the wonders and miracles of Hashem."
And speaking of the law of the land, our verse (21:1) ends with a very relevant second message. "And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them." “Before them,” Rashi says, "And not before the gentiles!" Even though their laws may be the same it is a disgrace to Hashem to go to the civil courts. It’s declaring openly that the civil courts are preferable to a Torah court. So now that the message is clear, what is the first 'law of the land' which the Torah wants us to hear?
(21:2) "If you buy a Jewish bondsman, six years he will work and for the 7th he'll go free, no charge." An interesting opener. The Torah continues that if he came into service alone, he leaves alone. If he came married he leaves with his wife. (meaning the master has to support her plus any children they have and they do not serve with the father!) If the master wishes, he can force upon a married bondsman a non-Jewess slave as a 2nd 'wife' but in the 7th year, when he walks, the non-Jewess and her children stay with the master. If the bondsman claims he loves his new wife and children and wishes to stay a bondsman, the master brings him to the Jewish court. The Rabbis try to talk him out of his foolishness. If they can't, they pierce his ear and he is a bondsman forever. Rashi explains 'forever' means until the 'Yovel', the Jubilee year. Rav Wolfson questions what the connection is between the courts and this bondsman?
The Rav starts with a Gemorah in Megilla. Perfect for this time of the year. The students of Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai asked why that generation, in the time of Mordechai and Esther, deserved to be destroyed? Rebbe Shimon b.Y. responded, "You tell me." They said, "Because the Jews participated in the celebration with the wicked Achashvairosh." The Rebbe questioned, “Then only the Jews of Shushan should have been guilty and condemned. Not all world Jewry?” The students again asked their Rebbe to tell them why. He now answered it was because all Jews had bowed down to the image. Rashi, in the Gemorah, explains he meant an engraved image in the time of Nebuchadnetser. The students asked, "That crime is so severe! How did Bnei Yisrael merit the miraculous salvation?" Rebbe Shimon b.Y. answered, "Bnei Yisrael only appeared to be serving the image (Rashi explains they bowed from fear) so measure for measure Hashem made it appear like they would be destroyed."
Rav Wolfson asks further, it seems that the students did know what Bnei Yisrael did wrong so why did they ask? And if they just wanted to hear Rebbe Shimon barYochai's opinion, why didn't he answer directly. His answers always require a little background information.
Rav Wolfson touches upon this first of four special Shabbos' which surround Purim, as I mentioned way back when. If Rav Wolfson and the number 4 are involved, the 4 letter name of Hashem is on it’s way. This weeks Parshas Shekalim parallels the first letter which is the Yud. The yud represents spirituality since it has the least physicality, meaning, it takes the least amount of ink to write the yud. As we've mentioned in the past, this four letter name has a fifth element, the yud is inscribed with a crown. Unlike the letters which are tangible, part of this world, therefore they fall subject to our shortcomings- the crown is intangible. It is not subject to our shortcomings. Attach this crown to the 'spiritual' yud and it symbolizes an idea of spirituality that can not be touched by sin. It can’t be tainted. It is the pure spiritual source of every soul which will bring them to tshuva.This is what the Yovel year is about. This is what Parshas Shekalim is about. This is what the Hebrew bondsman is about. This is what Purim is about.
There are two ways a Jew becomes a bondsman. Either he is caught stealing and can't afford the penalties or he sells himself due to poverty. Appropriate to this parsha on ordinances, our verses are talking about a bondsman by way of theft. Elsewhere in the Torah it talks about the latter case. Every sin has in it an element of stealing because Hashem gave us life and strength to walk in His ways and we take these gifts and use them against His intentions. (Stealing is what brought the flood upon the world back in the days of Noach. Not a good thing.) For this lack of respect for property, a Jew can become like property. Yet another situation where a Jew has allowed his actions to eject himself from the Ananay Hakavode.
If a Jew chooses to live this non-Jewish life of crime, measure for measure he can be given a non-Jewess wife and have non-Jewish children. The Torah only allows the master to force this relationship if the bondsman is already married. The main goal is reparation. Unless this man is well grounded with a Jewish family, the attachment to the non-Jewess would be too strong. This man was forced into this position and at the end of 7 years it is hoped he has learned his lesson and desires to serve only Hashem and return to his family. Back in the camp.
Unfortunately, not every case is a success. The Torah teaches us, that rather then mending his ways, a bondsman may fall further away and come to want his non-Jewish lifestyle. He says he loves his new wife and children and wants to remain a servant of man. Whereas originally he was forced into this lifestyle, now he freely chooses, even insists against the encouragement of the court to remain what he's become. The attitude the Torah seems to take is "You want out? You're out forever!" But there is that crown of the Yud. Rashi say 'forever' is until the Yovel. The 50th year. (A cycle unrelated to the 6 year count of the bondsman.) In the Yovel year, all lands return to their ancestrial owners and all bondsman go free. No matter how low one has sunk, there is always a spark in him that is pure Jew. Even if he wants to stay he is forced to go free.
The actions of the Jewish people put us into exile. If we repent and chose the ways of Hashem, the Mashiach will come early and bring the Jewish people and all the world to that level of total reparation that is the crown of the yud. But if we chose to cling to ways of the gentiles then the Mashiach will come in his time and our reparation will be by force if it has to be.
We learned not to go to the gentile courts because it says their ways are better than Hashem's. Obviously the Torah doesn't mean just courts. Any participation in the ways of the gentiles, be it their clothes, their foods, their pass times, most certainly their philosophies and ideologies it is all disgraces to Hashem and to the ways of His Torah. Our holy Sages, who's only concern is the well being of every Jew, did what they could to insure our safety. If a gentile touches your wine, don't drink it. If he cooks your food, don't eat it. If a gentile just offered a sacrifice in the holy Temple in Jerusalem- and it was slaughter by the kohanim, prepared by the kohanim, cooked by the kohanim, served to him by the kohanim- and he says to you "Come and join me," the Rabbis say, “DON'T!” The greater the gap, the better of we are.
The Torah chose to represent this idea with ‘courts’ because there is what else to learn. Just as there are heavenly courts which parallel our earthly courts, so too do the gentiles have heavenly courts paralleling their earthly courts. And when a Jew walks into the civil court, he walks into their heavenly court. There he'll encounter 70 judges by whom the word 'mercy' is not in their vocabulary.
Finally we can come back to the Gemorah Megillah. The students certainly knew the opinion of their Rebbe, that the Jews bowed to the image in the time of Nebuchadnetser. But idolatry is punishable by death and the Jews weren't destroyed. They reasoned it must have been for the crime of joining Achashvairosh. Their question to Rebbe Shimon b. Y.was, why was THAT generation, in the days of Mordechai and Esther, condemned to death if he felt the crime was committed generations before? Understanding the emphasis, that they questioned his opinion, Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai asked them, "If you think you have a better answer let's hear it. We'll see if it holds water?" They said the Jews participated in the feast. It was a celebration of the end of hope for the Jews return from exile. They knew the exile would be 70 years and according to Achashvairosh's count, time was up. The Jews participation was a tremendous chilul Hashem- disgrace of G-d's name, which is punishable by death. Rebbe Shimon bar Yochai said according to that, only the Jews of Shushan should be condemned. The Chasam Sofer on the Megillah says even the distant Jews lived vicariously through the ones who ate and drank but they couldn't be condemned to death for that. So the students again asked what the answer was?
“Both!” At the time of Nebuchadnetser they did bow but in heaven the Jewish people stood in the court of Israel. The mercy of the court gave them the benefit of the doubt that it was against their will and gave Bnei Yisrael time to do tshuva. But then, years later, some went and joined in Achashvairosh's feast. The wine may have been kosher and the meat all slaughtered but even if the gentile who offers of his sacrifice says come and eat, don't! They did. They put themselves in the court of the gentiles. Their past crime was still on record and it was a crime all Bnei Yisrael partook in. There was no mercy. Bnei Yisrael was condemned to death.
What saved them? An untainted spark of holiness. Whereas all the Jews bowed to Haman, Mordechai stood tall. The Gemorah Megillah asks, "Where is Mordechai in the Torah?" It answers from Shmos 30:23 where it says, "Mar dror." Onkelos translates in Aramaic, "Mairah dachia." ArtScroll translates it, "pure myrrh." Pure! Untainted! That's Mordechai essence! And when Haman made the gallows 50 meters high from a wood beam said to be taken from the Holy of Holies, a place representative of the purity of Israel, the force of the 50 (the Yovel) and of the Holy of Holies and of Mordechai all came together to put Bnei Yisrael back in the jurisdiction of the heavenly court of Israel. Back in the mercy of Hashem. Since the Jews bowed only superficially, their sentencing to death will be only superficially.
A last point is that Parshas Shekalim is about the half Shekel which was donated to the building of the Mishkan. A half was donated, rather than a whole, symbolic of the many ways in which Jews need each other to be complete. Along these lines, although I've been mentioning only Mordechai, he obviously couldn't have done what he did without Esther, his other half. Together they became Hashem's whole means of saving Bnei Yisrael.
We could very well be standing in judgement in the court of the gentiles right now, r'l. You can be the one who brings all Bnei Yisrael back under the mercy our heavenly court. Back in the protection of the Ananay Hakavode. Put away the backgammon, the newspapers, the magazines, the cards. Don't talk about school or business. Cancel Shabbos lunch at the O'Malley's and throw on a cholent. Spend time with the family. Sing Shabbos songs. Learn some Megillas Esther. Have a pure and Jewish Shabbot Shalom.
I have nothing witty to put here but why waste a perfectly good option?
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