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Parashat Mishpatim


"If you lend money with My people, with the poor among you"

Rashi cites the comment of the Midrash that in this context, the word "im" (if) implies not an option, as it normally denotes, but rather an obligation. Thus, one does not have the option whether or not to lend money to those in need - he must do so. The question remains, however, why does the Torah nevertheless employ "im," the expression generally used for optional activity if, as Hazal note, this pasuk deals with an obligatory requirement?

Rav Ovadia Seforno zs"l answers that this expression implies that when the entire nation properly fulfills all the missvot, it will merit great blessings, to the point of the fulfillment of the promise, "There will not be a poor person in your midst." Thus, there will be no need for money-lending. If, however, we are undeserving of this privilege and, instead, we experience. Heaven forbid, the pasuk "Poverty will not be eliminated from the midst of the land," we will then be required to assist one another, to lend a helping hand and offer our help.

"If you lend money with My people, with the poor among you"

The Or Hahayim zs"l also addressed this problem: "One must ask, why did Hashem speak with an expression of 'maybe' rather than with certainty?" He therefore explains the pasuk in the following manner: "If money" - if one sees that his earnings exceed his needs to live and feed and clothe his family, he must ask himself, for what purpose was he granted this excess wealth? The continuation of the pasuk then provides the answer - "you shall lend with my people." He was granted his wealth in order to assist the underprivileged. Therefore, he should not wait for them to come to him; he must go after them and offer his help. Furthermore, "with the poor - with you." Meaning, one must see himself on the same level as the poor, for their money has been kept with him temporarily by divine decree. A person cannot pride himself on being the benefactor for others - for he is merely providing them with their own money which by chance happened to be in his possession.

"If you lend money with My people, with the poor among you"

Hazal prohibited lending money without witnesses or the signing of a document by the borrower, in order to avoid problems caused by forgetfulness and absent-minded mistakes. The Hid"a zs"l cites from earlier sources that this principle is alluded to in our pasuk: "If you lend money - with My people, with the poor among you." Meaning, in addition to the poor person himself, two witnesses should be present at the time of the loan.

Furthermore, the numerical value of the first four words of the pasuk ("Im kesef talveh et" - If you lend money with) is the same as the word "ketav" (writing), implying that one may lend money in exchange for a written deed requiring the borrower to return the money.

In a similar vein, some have understood the pasuk "A person who is gracious and lends is good," meaning, that lending in a respectable manner is the highest level. However, says the second half of the pasuk, "he will sustain his words through justice," meaning, he should do so with witnesses and a legal document, and then, continues the chapter, "for the memory of eternity he will be a ssadik" - he will always be praised for his good deeds, rather than being accused of demanding the return of a loan which he never gave; "for he will never collapse" - he will be able to verify every demand he makes for the return of his money.


A Series of Halachot According to the Order of the Shulhan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
by Rav David Yossef shlit"a, Rosh Bet Midrash Yehaveh Da'at

Chapter 4: The Laws of Washing One's Hands in the Morning
continued from last week

Washing Into a Utensil; The Water After Washing

One may wash his hands in the morning into a drain over which nobody will walk, or into a sea or river. In these cases, one does not need to wash into a utensil.

One should not wash in the morning over twigs.

One may not derive benefit from the water used for washing in the morning. Therefore, one may not even give the water to his animals or use them for his plants or for washing anything.

It is considered a commendable measure of piety not to recite the shema, pray or study Torah in the presence of the water used for washing in the morning. If, for whatever reason, the water cannot be discarded, it should be covered prior to one's praying, etc. Furthermore, if a "revi'it" of water was poured into the water used for the morning washing, one may recite blessings, study Torah, etc. in its presence. If the water was spilled onto the ground and dried up, one may walk over that location in the ground.

Washing Someone's Else's Hands

One may have his hands washed by someone else in the morning, so long as the person washing had already washed his own hands. An allusion to this halachah is found in the pasuk (Bemidbar 19:19), "The pure one shall sprinkle on the impure..."

It is permissible, however, to have one bring the water for washing, even if he had not washed his hands first.

Thus, one should not have a gentile pour the water over his hands in the morning. Furthermore, a woman in a state of "niddah" should not be used to pour the water over one's hands in the morning (be it his wife or another woman). Again, if the gentile or the "niddah" just brings the water without actually pouring it on one's hands, it is permissible.

Although some Ashkenazi communities prohibit a "niddah" to bring her husband water for washing (even though he will pour himself), even these communities may be lenient regarding the water for washing in the morning, if she brings him the water and he washes his face with it.

Washing Without a Utensil

The "evil spirit" is not lifted off one's hands by rubbing his hands together in a utensil full of water, even if he does so three times. The reason is because the water becomes impure the moment the individual touches it. According to the Zohar and the Kabbalists, washing in this manner is ineffective even for tefilah and the recitation of shema, because the "evil spirit" remains on his hands. Thus, he may not even recite berachot. According to the "Hachmei HaTalmud," however, as well as many halachah authorities, such a washing is, in fact, effective for tefilah and shema. Thus, one who has no other possibility than rubbing his hands together in a basin of water, may do so and then recite tefilah and shema, but he should not recite a berachah over this washing.


This Shabbat, "Shabbat Mevarchin" for the month of Adar, is also "Shabbat Shekalim." As part of the special "maftir" reading, we read, "This shall they give, all who pass the census, a half a shekel, of the sacred shekel..." The Or Hahayim zs"l cites the Midrash that the Torah is the delight of Hashem, and it is before Him, as it were, at all times. Mosheh once asked the Almighty, what shall a person do if he violated one of the precepts of the Torah? Hashem pointed to the Torah before Him, to our pasuk: "This shall they give, all who pass the census," which can also be read, "This [i.e., the Torah] shall they give, all who violated the guidelines." In other words, one who transgressed a stricture of the Torah should engage in Torah study. There are so many opportunities for Torah study in virtually every community - everybody who wants could find a Torah class suitable for his level.

The continuation of the pasuk, suggests the Or Hahayim zs"l, refers to someone who cannot study Torah: "A half a shekel, of the sacred shekel." Meaning, he should set aside some of his money for the support of Torah institutions. The Gemara states that public Torah study is not overridden by even the building of the Bet Hamikdash! One can take part in this great missvah by contributing to even one of the many institutions which collect funds to support public Torah learning projects. In this manner, one can merit atonement for sins, by allocating some of his income to the support of Torah study, transforming his assets into "the sacred shekel." One can sponsor a shiur which will be dedicated to his merit, success, health and happiness, for his and his family. Through his support, Torah knowledge will be increased among the Jewish people, wielding merit to the participants and the entire nation - can there be a greater merit than this?


Have you heard about the ugly person who was enraged at his mirror and broke it in a fit of anger? Obviously, this individual is not only unattractive, but foolish. What did he accomplish - the glass shattered into many little pieces, each one of which reflects his appearance, further broadcasting his unimpressive looks.

Our parashah warns us against blaspheming a Jewish judge or prince. Human nature is such that one who leaves the courtroom with a guilty verdict blames the judge; when things go wrong in the country - unemployment, security problems, economic recession - the people criticize the government. People fail to understand that the ruling of the judge is like that mirror, and the guilty party should blame himself, instead. People also don't realize that the success of the leadership depends upon the merits of the constituency. If we were meritorious through our missvot and Torah study, then the economy would soar, the rains would descend steadily, and peace and tranquillity would abound.

What has happened in our time is that everyone "hits 'al heit'" on the chest of the other. The government, specifically, has become a national punching bag, as people don't recognize that it is actually a function of the reality in which it exists. If the nation was worthy, if we had more merits, our situation would be so much more promising. How tragic it is that our attention has been diverted from the major point - self-improvement. It is just so easy to blame our own shortcomings on everyone else.


The Torah, in this week's parashah, tells us, "A sorceress shall not live." The Ramban notes that the Torah treats this violation more stringently than any other prohibition, including idolatry. Regarding all other capital crimes, the Torah simply proscribes death as the appropriate punishment. The court then has the obligation to execute the Torah's guideline. Regarding the sorceress, however, the Torah turns to the court and instructs it directly not to let her live. The Ramban writes, "Here, the Torah does not write, 'A sorceress shall die,' because it was more stringent in this regard to warn us with a prohibition not to let her live. The reason is because she constitutes the impurity in Hashem's eyes...and the fools follow after her."

The Ramban's words require some explanation and have important ramifications for us, regarding a frightening phenomenon so pervasive in our society. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Masechet Sanhedrin 6:6) tells the story of two Torah scholars in Ashkelon who became very close friends, studying and growing together. Eventually, one of them passed away, and the community failed to provide him with a proper, honorable burial, much to the anguish of the surviving friend. One night, as he was crying over the disrespect shown to his friend, the deceased came to him in a dream and said, "My friend, never question your Creator, for everything is done justly. I have never violated any transgressions, except that once I placed my "tefillin shel rosh" before my "tefillin shel yad." It was decreed that in order that I receive my full reward in the World to Come, I would receive my punishment in the form of this humiliation." To prove what he was saying, the deceased took his friend and showed him his portion in Gan Eden, the glamorous luxury, the beautiful flowers and springs of water. Since, as we know, "There is but a hair's-breadth between Gan Eden and 'Gehinnom,'" he showed him the gateway to "Gehinnom," as well. The giant gate swung around a hinge embedded into the ground, and the hinge pierced the ear of a person lying at the foot of the gate. How frightening it is to think of such a thing! Each time someone was brought in, the gate was opened, turning around the pierced ear of the suffering individual. "How much longer will this person have to suffer?" asked the friend, trembling. His deceased comrade responded, "Until they bring the Prince of Israel to take his place."

"The revered Rabbi Shimon, the Prince of Israel! For what? Why?" cried his friend.

The deceased replied, "He promised that upon his assumption of the position of prince he would obliterate the sorcerers, and he failed to do so. There are eighty sorceresses in a cave in Ashkelon who are leading the world astray. Go tell him!!"

The live friend asked, "But he is the Prince of Israel - why would he believe me?"

"He is remarkably honest," replied the friend, "and he will believe you." The man woke up, shaken and startled, and made his way to Jerusalem, to the chambers of Rabbi Shimon. He told the "nassi" of his dream, and Rabbi Shimon responded, "This must be true, for I made this promise silently, in my heart. Only in heaven was my promise known."

Rabbi Shimon took eighty young men and brought them outside the cave. He told them, "When I give the sign, each of you come inside and lift one sorceress from the ground. This way, they lose their powers." He knocked on the door and said, "Open the door! I am a sorcerer just like you!" Opening the door, they asked him, "What magic can you perform?" He answered, "I will sound a whistle, and suddenly eighty young men will appear!" "Okay, let's see," they said. And so, he sounded a whistle and the eighty men entered to a warm greeting. They lifted the sorceresses, who then lost their powers and were subject to the Torah's punishment.

What kind of punishment is it, to have the violator's ear pierced by the gate of Gehinnom? After all, Hashem punishes "measure for measure." Someone who sinned with the fire of desire is punished through fire; for sins involving cold laziness and indifference there is a Gehinnom of snow and ice, Heaven forbid. How is the punishment of the hinge drilling through one's ear an appropriate punishment for not eliminating the sorceresses? Obviously, Rabbi Shimon did not neglect this obligation out of laziness, God forbid. He was occupied with his study of Torah, his management of the Sanhedrin, teaching Torah and leading his people. He had to prioritize his schedule in the manner in which he saw fit. However, he was shown that if there exist sorcerers, fortune-tellers, palm-readers, so-called "Kabbalists" who assume positions for which they are unworthy, and the masses are drawn to them, then this is, in effect, the "gateway to Gehinnom." This trend must be eradicated once and for all. We have our Torah scholars to guide us along the path of the Torah; we therefore have no business following the guidance of worthless, self-proclaimed sorcerers, who, at best don't help, and, at worst, can be outright dangerous.

The Golden Column

Rabbi Yis'hak Yihye Halevi zs"l

There was once a man who owned a chicken with magnificent feathers. Its appearance was exquisite, and it would stroll with its fellow chickens proudly and arrogantly. Its owner was proud, as well, and cared for it like a child. He fed it special foods, prided himself in the chicken's beauty, and at night he would lock the coop with a special key which he hid in a safe place. One morning he went out to the barn to open the coop, as usual, when he noticed the calamity - the coop was wide open and the chicken was gone. He cried bitterly, and the neighbors gathered and scoffed at the wailing farmer. Is it worth getting so emotional over a chicken? Others came and tried to console him. "Relax, your wailing will not restore your loss. Think rationally - who could have stolen the chicken?" The man remembered that his neighbor followed him and saw where he hid the key. "There can be no doubt that he is the thief!" The neighbor was insulted and claimed his innocence. They decided to appear in court before Rabbi Yis'hak Yihye Halevi zs"l. The Torah giant saw the neighbor's torn garments and the effects of poverty and starvation. He realized that his poverty had led him to act against his better judgment and the will of his Creator. He could not withstand the test and committed the crime. What should the rabbi do? On the one hand, the Torah forbids favoring a poor person in court. On the other hand, how could he put the man through the shame and embarrassment of a bad reputation because of a single crime? He turned to the accuser and asked, "Did you see him steal the chicken?" "No," confessed the farmer. "If so," asked the rabbi, "How did you dare accuse him publicly? It must be that you forgot to lock the coop, the chicken left, and your neighbor found it. He wished to return it to you, but you accused him of stealing. Now, there is no way he can return it to you without being suspected of theft." The neighbor's face lit up and he exclaimed, "Yes, rabbi, that is exactly what happened!" All's well that ends well, and the chicken was returned to its rightful owner.


The Nile Perch

This fish, the Nile perch, is a common Shabbat-delicacy. This fish of prey boasts a most fascinating history as well as lifestyle. In the 1950's, a British fisherman took some of these fish from the lakes around the northern area of the Nile and transferred them to Lake Victoria. The new fish felt right at home in the new surrounding, and began multiplying rapidly, taking over the lake. Twenty years after this momentous occasion, this fish had made its way to every corner of Lake Victoria, feeling comfortable in virtually every spot where fish could live in the lake. It devoured all the fish which had grown in the lake over the years. However, the fish who had lived there had served a most important role - to eat the many tiny particles in the lake, including algae and other microorganisms. As a result of the Nile perch's dominion over the lake, this particles began collecting into large masses of organic material which, gradually, drained the oxygen from the water. As a result, on the floor of the lake grew materials which did not melt in the water and so, during strong winds when the water and materials from the bottom push upward, many fish died from the putrid materials and water without oxygen. Beyond that, the human population of the area were also affected by the foreign fish. Not only did their diet change, but they had to negotiate with the fish, and were thus forced to cut down the trees around the lake.

If someone would rebuke the innocent British fisherman for creating such turmoil, he would certainly respond, "I had no idea that such a simple action would have such ramifications in one of the largest and richest lakes in the world!" Similarly, as Jews we know that some missvot appear as harmless, that no great tragedy would occur if we neglect it and don't relate to it with the proper respect and focus. Certainly, though, this neglect could be far more threatening than the case of the fish in Lake Victoria. Therefore, one must ensure to observe all the missvot meticulously, thus finding favor in the eyes of both God and man.


Father and Son (2)

Flashback: Two brothers inherited from their late father a beverage store which supported them well, and they and their families lived happily, until the oldest daughter of the first brother reached marriageable age.

The younger brother turned to the older brother and said, "Listen, my dear brother. Our expenses have become immense, and our store can no longer support both of our families. We need to come up with some plan."

The older brother, who spent his time studying works of "mussar" and Jewish thought, lifted his eyes from his book and answered, "I have no solution. I trust in Hashem, who supports all of nature. Just as he has not left me up until this point, he will surely help me from here on."

"Amen, I hope so," replied the younger brother. "But, as you know my dear brother, the Creator governs the world through the course of nature, and one who looks to miracles has his merits deducted. That our business will sustain both our families is against the rules of nature, given the fact that our children are reaching the age of marriage. After your oldest son gets married, we will be three families! If we can hardly support ourselves now, what will be in the future?"

"You are right," answered the older brother. "Apparently you have a solution to the problem."

"Yes, my brother," answered the younger brother. "We have no choice but to break up our partnership. You and your family will remain with the beverage store, and you will earn a respectable livelihood. I will go off to another community and serve as a rabbi or Rosh Yeshivah. If I cannot find an available position, I will be a school-teacher. I am not concerned about my salary, for one's sustenance is determined on Rosh Hashanah, and thus nothing will be deducted from that which I was determined to earn." "But why should you move far away?" cried the older brother. "Why must you make such a great sacrifice?"

"The answer is simple," answered the younger brother. "You are involved in the 'hidden' areas of the Torah, and one may not earn his livelihood from it, as Hazal say, that one who uses the 'Crown of the King' is deserving of capital punishment!"

"You are right," agreed the oldest brother. "Go, and may Hashem be with you!"

to be continued...

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