Thursday, February 15, 2007

Parshas Mishpatim

ואלה המשפטים אשר תשים לפניהם (21:1)

כל מקום שנא' "אלה" פסל את הראשונים," ואלה" מוסיף על הראשונים מה הראשונים מסיני אף אלו מסיני (רש"י)

It has been noted that the yahrtzeit of Rav Yisroel Salanter (25 Shevat), the founder of the mussar movement, traditionally falls out during the week of Parshas Mishpatim. I once heard a beautiful insight into this non-coincidental connection based on the first comment of Rashi in the parsha.

Rashi explains that the seemingly superfluous letter “ו” – “and” – at the beginning of the parsha is coming to emphasize a connection between this parsha and the previous one (Yisro). Just as the previous parsha related the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and it was self-evident that the mitzvos contained therein were presented by Hashem at Sinai, so too the commandments contained in Parshas Mishpatim were given at Sinai.

Parshas Yisro contains the Aseres HaDibros (10 Commandments), the fundamentals of the Jewish religion, which people are naturally scrupulous to perform. By and large, Parshas Mishpatim contains mitzvos pertaining to the conduct between us and our fellow man, laws which it is all too easy to view as trivial and mundane and therefore be lax in their observance. It is for this reason that the Torah emphasizes their Divine origin, equal to that of the “more serious” injunctions of the Aseres HaDibros.

The life-long mission at which the great Rav Yisroel toiled endlessly was to convince Jews to recognize that the mitzvos governing our interpersonal interactions are just as important as those pertaining to our relationship with Hashem, and we must be equally meticulous in their performance. Rashi tells us that Rav Yisroel’s thesis is the message of the very first letter of our parsha, and it is therefore fitting that his yahrtzeit fall out this week, as learning our parsha is indeed a most proper tribute to his legacy.


וכי יגח שור ... ואם שור נגח הוא מתמל שלשם והועד בבעליו (21:28-29)

A common criticism of yeshiva students is that they spend their days engrossed in the study of archaic and irrelevant laws such as the intrdicate minutiae of goring cows. In reality, the Torah is Hashem’s blueprint for creating the world, and the answer to every question and problem may be found therein, as evidenced by the following amazing story.

A panic-stricken woman once approached the Rogatchover Gaon, explaining that several weeks had passed during which her newborn baby nursed properly during the week but absolutely refused to nurse on Shabbos, thereby endangering his health. The Rogatchover nonchalantly suggested that on the following Shabbos she should wear her weekday apparel rather than her Shabbos clothes.

Bizarre as his suggestion seemed, she followed his advice with blind faith and was amazed to discover that by donning her regular clothes the problem went away, just as the Rogatchover had predicted. To her incredulous inquires as to the source of his supernatural knowledge and abilities, he casually explained that the answer to her dilemma was “explicit” in the Talmud.

The Torah differentiates between the laws governing an ox which gores only periodically, a תם, and one which is confirmed as a habitual gorer, a מועד. The Mishnah in Bava Kamma (4:2) rules that an animal which has gored repeatedly – but only on Shabbos – is considered to be a מועד with respect to its actions on Shabbos but a תם regarding damages it may cause during the week. The Yerushalmi (19b) explains that the ox gets confused on Shabbos when it sees people wearing nice clothes to which it isn’t accustomed, causing it to go berserk, but during the week it recognizes its surroundings and behaves normally.

Based on this, the Rogatchover deduced that it was only natural to conclude that the woman’s nursing difficulties stemmed from the fact that her baby didn’t recognize her in her Shabbos finery, and indeed a minor wardrobe change resolved the problem – archaic indeed!


ובשר בשדה טרפה לא תאכלו לכלב תשלכון אתו (22:30)

Upon discovering that an animal in his flock or herd has been killed by wild animals, the Torah specifically requires the owner to give the carcass to the dogs, a connection which doesn’t seem to be readily apparent. The Daas Z’keinim explains that most farmers and shepherds employ guard dogs to protect their animals against predators. Presumably, when the wolf stealthily came to attack in the middle of the night, the dog detected his presence and fought valiantly, if unsuccessfully, to ward him off. For this effort, as well as for its successful guarding of all of the other animals until now, the Torah requires the owner to show gratitude to the dog and present it with the dead animal’s remains.

In doing so, the Torah is coming to teach the fallacy a common English expression. If a person gives of his precious time, energy, and heart in an earnest attempt to help somebody out, only to have his efforts fail, the average American will tell him, “Thanks, but no thanks,” indicating that he is owed no debt of gratitude for his efforts and not-so-subtly suggesting that the next time he should just mind his own business. In contrast, the Torah teaches that because the dog was willing to help, and tried to be of assistance in doing its best to protect the animals, his owner is obligated to show appreciation for his good-faith efforts and reward him with the carcass.

So many times a spouse, a child, a friend, a shadchan, or a co-worker will volunteer to try to help us out of a jam or just to lend a helping hand around the house. Unfortunately, to say the least, these efforts don’t always lead to the results we were hoping for. The next time it happens, instead of taking it out on them and rubbing in the failure to somebody who already feels badly enough, let us remember the lesson of the guard dogs, and express our sincere appreciation for their time and good intentions.


לא תשא שמע שוא (23:1)

אזהרה ... לדיין שלא ישמע דברי בעל דין עד שיבא בעל דין חבירו (רש"י)

Even in his youth, Rav Yonason Eibeshutz was legendary for his diligence in studying Torah day and night, showing no interest in joining the other kids at the games and sports so popular among children. When asked about it, he explained that Rashi writes that it is forbidden for a judge to listen to one of the litigants until the other side is present to have a chance to rebut the claims and allegations.

The sages teach that the yetzer ha’ra (evil inclination) is present in a person from the moment he is born, but his yetzer tov (good inclination) isn’t given to him until he becomes an adult. “If so,” young Yonason brilliantly concluded, “it may be that the yetzer ha’ra is correct in trying to get me to take a break from my studies and join the other kids in their games, but as a judge who must determine the right course of action, I am forbidden from listening to him until I am able to hear the opposing arguments presented by my yetzer tov, and until then I just keep sitting and learning!”


וחג האסף בצאת השנה באספך את מעשיך מן השדה (23:16)

Why does the Torah refer to Sukkos (23:16) as חג האסיף – the festival of the ingathering – and not by its more well-known name, “Sukkos,” which isn’t used in conjunction with the holiday until Devorim 16:13)? Further, if the holiday of Sukkos commemorates the Ananei HaKavod (Clouds of Glory) which surrounded and protected the Jews, shouldn’t it logically be celebrated in the spring when the Clouds of Glory first began to miraculously escort the Jews after their Exodus from Egypt?

The Vilna Gaon explains that although the Ananei HaKavod first appeared in the month of Nissan, they subsequently departed after the Cheit Ha’eigel (sin of the golden calf). It wasn’t until 15 Tishrei, 4 days after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur, that the Clouds returned, this time to remain for the duration of the 40 years that the Jews traveled through the desert. It is this returning of the Clouds of Glory which is commemorated by celebrating the holiday of Sukkos at this time.

Based on this insight, the Meshech Chochmah beautifully explains that at this point in time, the Jews still hadn’t sinned with the golden calf and the initial Clouds of Glory were still present. The entire reason for celebrating Sukkos in the fall was therefore not yet applicable, and the Torah had to refer to it by an alternate name and reason based on the ingathering of the yearly harvest, whereas in Parshas Re’eh the clouds had already disappeared and returned, and it was appropriate to refer to it at that time as Chag Ha’sukkos, the festival which commemorates the restoration of the Clouds of Glory!


אור פניך עלינו אדון נשא ושקל אשא בבית נכון ונשא (יוצר לפרשת שקלים)

            In the Yotzros – additional prayers recited in some congregations – for Parashat Shekalim, this petition forms
the basis of the chazzan’s refrain during the Mussaf prayers. Why do we beseech Hashem for the opportunity to
contribute a shekel to the Beis Hamikdash when the Torah specifically emphasizes (30:15) that every Jew is to
contribute half of that amount, not more and not less?
            Rav Yehoshua of Belz suggests that this glaring difficulty actually provides us with an ingenious resolution
to another question. The Gemora in Berachos (20b) recounts that the Heavenly angels challenged Hashem that if
He wrote in His Torah (Devorim 10:17) that He doesn’t show favoritism, how can He be partial to the Jewish people
(see Bamidbar 6:26)? Hashem replied, “How can I not show favor to them after I commanded them to recite Birkas
HaMazon only after they have eaten to the point of satiety (Devorim 8:10) and they are nevertheless stringent to do
so even after consuming much less?”
            We see from this Gemora that we merit “preferential treatment” for performing mitzvos in a stricter manner
than that required by the Torah. If so, how can we request such treatment in conjunction with the contribution of the
half-shekel, which is one of the few mitzvos regarding which the Torah actually forbids us to be stringent by giving
more?
            However, the Mishnah in Shekalim rules (1:6) that when two people jointly give one shekel, they are required
to add a small amount (known as
קלבון) corresponding to the amount they saved by not having to pay the
money-changer to break the shekel into two half-shekels. Thus, by bringing one whole shekel, it is possible to give
more than is required, and it is this opportunity that we request of Hashem, which will indeed cause Him to shine
on us the light of His face, may it be speedily in our days!
 


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) A Jewish slave who doesn’t wish to leave his master when the time arrives that he may go has his ear pierced (21:6) and serves his master until the yovel. Rashi explains that the piercing is a punishment for his ear which heard at Mount Sinai the prohibition against stealing (20:13), and nevertheless proceeded to steal. Why is the ear pierced only if he chooses to continue serving his master after six years instead of immediately upon being convicted of stealing? (Eebay’ei L’hu)

2) Why does the Torah give a father permission to sell his daughter into slavery but not his son?

3) The Torah spells out at length the financial penalties meted out for a person who causes damage through his actions. Is it actually forbidden to hurt or damage another person or his possessions, and if so where is this prohibition found in the Torah? (Yad Remah Bava Basra 26a, Rashash Kesuvos 18a, Kehillas Yaakov Bava Kamma 1, Eebay’ei L’hu)

4) If a minor child breaks something, is he required to pay for it after he becomes Bar Mitzvah? (Bach, Taz Orach Chaim 343; Mishnah Berurah 343:9; Choshen Mishpat 424:8 and Biur HaGra)

5) One Shabbos afternoon, more boys than usual arrived at the neighborhood group for reciting Tehillim, and there weren’t enough sweets for everybody. The leaders asked for volunteers to forego their candy in exchange for a guarantee that they would receive two in its place the following week. Some of the boys came to the Rav to question whether such an arrangement violates the prohibition (22:24) against taking interest – does it? (Tuv’cha Yabi’u)

6) Does the mitzvah to help unload an overburdened animal which crouching under its load (23:5) also apply to assisting people in such a situation? (Sefer HaChinuch 540, Shu”t Rashba 1:252 and 1:257, Shu”t Ridvaz 1:728, Minchas Chinuch 80:1, Chavatzeles HaSharon)

7) After reaching the tremendous level of answering in unison (24:7) נעשה ונשמע and proclaiming with pure faith in Hashem their willingness to do and observe the commandments even before hearing them, why did the Jews reverse themselves and say (Devorim 5:24) ושמענו ועשינו, insisting on hearing the commandments before agreeing to perform them? (Paneiach Raza and Aderes Eliyahu Devorim 5:24, Shu”t Chasam Sofer Introduction to Yoreh Deah, Darash Moshe)


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