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PARSHAS MISHPATIMWhen you will buy a Hebrew servant. (21:2)
Parashas Mishpatim deals primarily with civil and tort law. It begins with the laws regarding the eved Ivri, Hebrew slave. The Sefer HaChinuch explains that as a preamble to the laws of social justice, the Torah details the laws concerning the eved Ivri. We are to derive from here that, in order to achieve the necessary level of sanctity, the citizens of our emerging nation must exemplify compassion and act with kindness towards our fellowman. This begins with the slave whom we are to treat with extreme kindness, according him the respect a descendant of Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov deserves. Indeed, Chazal teach us that he who purchases a Hebrew slave is actually purchasing a master; so stringent are the laws regarding the self-respect and welfare of a Hebrew slave.
Horav Eliyahu Lopian, zl, asserts that the master must be sensitive to the eved's feelings. At no time should he feel degraded or any less important than his master. If the master has just one pillow, he must give it to the slave, while he sleeps without a pillow. Otherwise, the slave might feel that he is of a lesser stature than his master. In contrast, the master will feel only a lack of physical comfort as a result of not having his pillow. His self-esteem, however, will not be affected. We are to be "nosei b'ol im chaveiro," carry the yoke with our friend, sharing in his physical and emotional pain. There is one area in which the Torah seems to distinguish the slave and master. The Torah permits the master to give a shifcha Canaanis, gentile slave, to a nimkar b'geneivaso, slave who is sold because he has stolen. This is enigmatic. Until now, we have gone out of our way to circumvent any negative impact on the slave's self-esteem. Yet, we permit him to marry a gentile slave for the purpose of producing children who will also be slaves. Is there a more degrading message than this?
Horav Mordechai Miller, zl, quoted by Horav Matisyahu Solomon, Shlita, explains this based upon the Ralbag's reasoning for giving a gentile slave to the eved Ivri: He says that it will bother him greatly to know that the children which are products of his marriage will not be considered his. He is separated from them when he is liberated.
Horav Miller explains that there are two aspects to an act of theft: First, the material loss which the thief incurs for the owner/victim; second, the emotional pain sustained upon losing something to which one has become attached. The thief sometimes validates his act of stealing with the notion that he is poor and the owner is rich (i.e. "He deserves" to have the stolen article). If the thief were sensitive to the owner's feelings, if he were to feel the pain and anguish that the owner experiences with his loss, then he would not steal. The Torah, therefore, gives him something - a wife and children - and then takes them away. Let the thief experience a taste of the bitterness which had been catalyzed by his cowardly act of theft.
The laws of eved Ivri are a lesson in chinuch, education, to train and refine the Jewish mind and heart, to sensitize them towards one's fellow man. This underscores the Torah's underlying motif - nosei b'ol im chaveiru. As Hillel told the ger, convert, loving one's fellowman is the primary essence of the Torah; the rest is explanation - to study (Torah). If one is not sensitive to another's needs, he will not comprehend the profundity of nishmas ha Torah, the soul of the Torah.
To bear the yoke with his fellow is one of the forty-eight levels of achievement that one must attain in order to "acquire" Torah, to make it an integral part of himself. To bear the yoke together means one sees and feels everything his fellow does. He shares his burden, senses his pain and suffering, because he has made his friend's plight his own. This profound form of kinship is endemic to the Torah world. Veritably, it is one of the basic reasons why the world of Torah has endured for so long.
You shall not persecute any widow or orphan. (22:21)
One tear. Who can estimate the value of a tear shed by a lonely man, weeping over his sorry lot in life? Who can imagine the power and influence of a tear shed by a poor widow, bemoaning her fate, grieving over her loss, which is magnified every time she senses that vacuum in her life, the loneliness and feeling of helplessness that have now become her partner? Indeed, we cannot begin to calculate the value, the power and the influence which tears of the broken-hearted generate. Every tear pierces through the heavens and is gathered before the Heavenly Throne where Hashem holds it near to Him, cherishing every drop.
Horav Yitzchak Zilberstein, Shlita, relates a poignant story that illustrates the value of a tear: It was time to elect a Chief Rabbi for Yerushalayim. The people were encouraged to vote for Horav Chaim Yaakov Levine, a very suitable candidate for the position. When Horav Levine heard this he made it a point to see who else had been nominated for the position. He noticed that Horav Betzalel Zolty, zl, was also a candidate for the position. He immediately said that under no circumstances would he run for the position. Even after a number of great rabbonim attempted to dissuade him, he remained adamant - he would not compete with Horav Zolty for the position of Chief Rabbi. After awhile, he explained the reason for his refusal to his close friends.
Apparently, his father, the venerable Horav Aryeh Levine, zl, once related that he was walking through the alleyways of Yerushalayim at night when he came upon a woman who was mending socks by the light of a small torch. Perhaps today we cannot relate to this profession, but seventy years ago, when one's socks had a hole in them, they were repaired. Usually, it was some poor woman who darned these socks for the meager pay it generated. "Why are you doing this?" asked Rav Aryeh of the woman, "and especially with so little light." "I am a poor widow. With the few coins I make, I am able to pay the rebbe that learns Torah with my orphaned son." The woman kept on sewing, as her tears trickled down on the socks that she was repairing.
"Do you know who this widow was?" Rav Chaim Yaakov asked. "She was Rav Betzalel Zolty's mother! Is it possible to estimate the value and effect of her tears? Rav Zolty should become the Rav of Yerushalayim. His spiritual growth was catalyzed on a field irrigated by the tears of a widow!"
You shall not revile G-d, and you shall not curse a leader among your people. (22:27)
Words are cheap, and emotions, at times, run high. We might accidentally say something that we regret later on. What we do not understand is that words have an effect and they might cause irreparable damage to another person, as the following story illustrates. A certain rav in Yerushalayim, a Slonimer chasid, did not have children for twenty-four years after his marriage. Ultimately, in a miraculous incident he and his wife were blessed with a child. He related that as a young man he was a student at Yeshivas Slonim in Yerushalayim. The woman that came nightly to clean the floor would come with her children, who, because of their young age, could not be left at home alone. The children, of course, did not comprehend the importance of the Torah study that was going on in the bais ha'medrash. Thus, the noise level of these children often disturbed those who were learning.
It happened that one night the noise level became intolerable for this young man, and he remarked to the woman that it would be a good idea for her to discipline her children. The woman who was beset with enough headaches remarked, "Would that you not merit to have the taste of tzaar gidul banim, pain of raising children." At the time, the young man felt that the woman was, in effect, blessing him to have an easy time raising his own children. Undoubtedly, this was her true intention. These words, however, were issued during a moment of anger and the effect was tragic.
Years went by. The young man forgot the incident. He met his bashert, intended mate, and entered into matrimony. They had a blissful marriage - except for one serious concern - they had not yet been blessed with children. They traveled all over the world in search of the doctor, the drug - the miracle that would grant them progeny. It was to no avail. They were rapidly approaching middle age, and no child.
For some reason, the man remembered the incident that had occurred many years earlier concerning the cleaning woman, her children, his derogatory rebuke and her response. Suddenly, he realized that what he had understood as a blessing was actually a curse. Immediately, he went in search of this woman. With luck, he was able to locate her. He quickly went to visit her, to beg her forgiveness for his impatience and for the impudent remark he had made many years earlier. She was happy to forgive him and even added that those wild children were today great Torah scholars serving in positions of distinction throughout Eretz Yisrael.
Nine months later - twenty-four years into their marriage, they were blessed with a child. Yerushalayim clamored; everyone was overwhelmed with excitement. They all took heed of the lesson: the impact of every single word, its far -reaching effect and consequence. No one meant any harm, but words were said, and the consequences had taken effect.
Distance yourself from a false word. (23:7)
Integrity is much more than a virtue, a good character trait, it defines a human being. Indeed, there is no other negative command/transgression in the Torah where there is a special warning to distance oneself. Falsehood swallows up a person as he becomes sucked into its grasp. We try to justify our lack of integrity: saying it is not really a falsehood; it is for the purpose of a mitzvah; nothing really bad will come out of it. While all this may be true, the end result is that the person has lied. A white lie today becomes a major falsehood tomorrow. Horav Zisha, zl, m'Annipoli once rendered this pasuk homiletically. "From a word of falseness, one becomes distanced from Hashem." When one stretches the truth he is not only transgressing the principles that govern man's relationship with his fellowman, but he is also transgressing the principles that define man's relationship with the Almighty. The effect of a lie is all-encompassing. Not only does it lead to other sins, it also has a double effect on our children. First, they see and hear our bending of the truth. Children tend to outdo their parents. What is a white lie that a parent might erroneously justify, will, years later, become the foundation for a child's total lack of integrity. Parents that maintain a sterling character will hopefully see it manifest in their children's behavior. Second, Horav Yehudah Zev Segal, zl, often cited the following from Horav Mendel, zl, m'Rimanov, who wondered why we notice sweet and innocent children straying from the Torah when they become older: he attributed this phenomenon to timtum ha'lev, numbness of the heart. When parents feed their children food that has been purchased with money earned illicitly they are, in effect, giving them maachalos asuros, forbidden foods. These forbidden foods take their toll on a child's neshamah, soul, diminishing his chein, pleasant, sweet demeanor.
The words we write or speak, the nuances manifest in our emotional expressions, our business dealings with people are all opportunities for demonstrating our integrity and moral stature: whether it is calling in sick when we are not, or putting on a show of emotion during davening when it is not really there, or taking money under false pretenses: these are all examples in which our integrity is challenged.
We live in a society where, to quote a popular American author, "Lying has become an integral part of American culture, a trait of the American character. We lie, and we do not even think about it. We lie for no reason…and the people we lie to are those closest to us." Our Torah's dictate, of course, aggressively deplores such practice. Truth is not just an important Jewish quality. It is called "chosomo shel Hakadosh Baruch Hu," seal of Hashem. It is the emblem by which Hashem is known. One who lies is as if he has worshipped idols. For, without truth, there is no foundation of belief and there can be no true belief in Hashem. It has been said that one who speaks the truth need not have a good memory, since a person does not have to remember what he said. A liar, however, must remember everything he has said so that he can continually cover up his lies.
The Avos, Patriarchs, each possessed a character trait that he personified. While they all were exemplary in their middos tovos, positive character traits, they each had one area which set him apart from the rest. Avraham Avinu personified the quality of chesed, kindness; Yitzchak symbolized the pillar of avodah, worship; Yaakov represented the middah of emes, truth. Undoubtedly, each of the Patriarchs were thoroughly proficient in the other characteristics. His individual benchmark, however, was in one particular trait.Perhaps this is why Eisav's guardian angel, the symbol of the enemy of the Jewish People, chose Yaakov as his adversary - and not Avraham or Yitzchak. Each one of the other two characteristics does not present a long-term threat. They could be minimized, even perverted, to meet Eisav's needs. In contrast, Yaakov's middah indicated a serious threat to the survival of Klal Yisrael's enemies. Avraham's kindness was distorted by Lot, when he was prepared to give up his daughter's virtue and allow her to be violated by the people of Sodom. Too much kindness can undermine the character trait and transform it into an abomination. Yitzchak's middah of worship has been twisted by Eisav's descendants and transformed into their medium for pagan ritual. The only way that the qualities of kindness and worship can be reinforced and tempered, so that they are applied in their proper balance, is through the quality of truth. The overwhelming power of emes pierces through the ambiguities that cloud the essence and true meaning of these values. The angel waited for Yaakov, the representative of emes. Yaakov manifested the greatest threat to the philosophical perspective of the enemies of the Jewish People. The quality of truth, symbolized by Yaakov, would forge the nation to prevail over Eisav. The angel had to prevent this from occurring, because he knew that with the power of emes, Klal Yisrael would triumph over its enemies. As the descendants of Yaakov Avinu, whose name was changed to Yisrael to symbolize his triumph over the forces of falsehood, we must maintain our heritage of truth and impart this legacy to our children, so that we are worthy of the title Bnei Yisrael, the children of Yisrael.
If men quarrel and one strikes his fellow with a stone or a fist, he shall provide for healing. (21:18,19)
Horav Yonasan zl, m'Prague, suffered terribly from contentious factions in his community. He would often say, "If men are involved in a dispute, it is better that they hit each other with a fist than slander him with a mouth." For one can be healed from a physical blow. In contrast, the effect of lashon hora, slanderous speech, can last a lifetime.
For every item of liability…regarding…about which he says. "This is it!" (22:8) Horav Yisrael, zl, m'Modzitz, interprets this pasuk homiletically. Greater than any "pesha," liability, guilt, is he who says "hu zeh," he is it. The sin of arrogance supercedes all others.
Distance yourself from a false word. (23:7)
The Maggid m'Kelm, zl, says he who speaks falsely is more reprehensible than the ganov or gazlon, thief or robber. The ganov steals mostly at night when no one sees him. The robber does not differentiate between night and day. He steals, however, only from the individual, not from a group. In contrast, that shakron, falsifier, speaks falsely against everyone all of the time.
One who hates falsehood hates the entire world, because there is no person who does not have at least a little bit of falsehood in himself. One who loves the truth, loves the entire world, because there is no person that does not have a little bit of emes in his middos, character traits.
Moshe took the blood and threw it upon the people. (24:7)
Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, derives from this pasuk that every drop of Jewish blood that is spilled does not go to waste. It comes back. In accordance to the mesiras nefesh, devotion and self-sacrifice, we put into keeping the Covenant, so do we become stronger.
Hashem said to Moshe, "Ascend to Me to the mountain and remain there. (24:12)
Horav Menachem Mendel, zl, m'Kotzk, was wont to say, "Ascending the mountain, working one's way up on the mountain of spiritual achievement is difficult. Remaining up there, maintaining one's spiritual ascendancy, is much more difficult." Many of us make it up there, but how many sustain our achievements, enduring the pressures and demands that "go with the territory."
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