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Mishpatim 5770

By: Rav Ari Shames

Milah/Tevilah/Korban -- Parshat Mishpatim - Rav Shames It's not over yet. We are used to thinking of Parshat Yitro as being the parsha of Matan Torah and next we have Mishpatim which contains many social laws. In fact, at the end of this week's parsha we find that the scene of Matan Torah continues and only then concludes. The climax of the story is the blood that Moshe sprinkles on the altar that he builds and on the people. This act is seen as sealing the pact between God and Am Yisrael. The Gemara in Kritut identifies three stages or processes that we went through in order to fully join the Nation of Hashem - Brit Milah, Tevilah (immersion in a mikveh) and the Korban. These are seen as essential for completing the process and serve as the benchmark for all future generations as well. In order to convert to Judaism the candidate must go through all of these stages to achieve a full status as a member of Am Yisrael. The source for Brit Milah seems to be the circumcision of Avraham Avenu which was clearly practiced in Egypt upon their leaving in order to allow them to eat from the Korban Pesach which is prohibited to the uncircumcised. (According to some of the Midrashim it was a practice that the Jews kept the whole time in Egypt, and hence Pharaoh's daughter had no problem recognizing that the baby she found was of Jewish descent). The source for the Korban is simply the pessukim in our parsha. When it comes to the source for Tevilah, we are in a more difficult position as we do not have a clear indication of this. We could use the references in last week's parsha where Moshe instructs the people to purify themselves before Matan Torah. Rashi in our parsha comments that the source for tevilah is actually the story of the Korban and the sprinkling of the blood. "All those that are sprinkled on have already undergone tevilah". Essentially the final two stages are grouped as one. (In addition, in the situation that we find ourselves in today, with a lack of the Bet Hamikdash, conversion takes place with only Milah and Tevilah. There is a long discussion of how we can accept convert without the Korban, which is beyond the scope of this shiur, but the bottom line is we can.) [These three stages are of course the technical side of conversion, while the underlying prerequisite must be a willingness to fully accept all of the mitzvoth.] Why so many stages and what are they meant to accomplish? Milah + Tevilah - One approach that is taken on this question is to see both the Milah and the Tevilah as two parts of one long process. Both are simply meant to achieve membership into Am Yisrael and it is a long single process. We see a reflection of this idea in a surprising Halacha. The process of conversion is labeled as a legal matter requiring the presence of a court in order validate it. If a person were to fulfill all of the requirements of conversion- Milah, Tevilah and acceptance of Mitzvoth - all by themselves, or even if they had two witnesses to testify to the validity of the acts, they would not be converted. The process only works if administered by a Bet Din. This is a clear Halacha that can be traced from the Gemara all the way to the Shulchan Aruch. Surprisingly, we find that if the Milah was done in front of a Bet Din and the Tevilah was not completed in front of a Bet Din of three (the minimum size), but rather in front of two people, there are some opinions that nonetheless validate the conversion (this is not recommended "lechatchila" but is recognized "bedieved"). The logic being that since the requirement for the presence of the Bet Din in conversion is due to its status as a legal issue, and in standard legal cases one may complete a case in the presence of only two judges if it began with the requisite three (which as well is not standard or recommended procedure, but works if done this way) conversion should be not different. In order to apply the above logic to the case of conversion and validate the Tevilah with only two judges it must be because we view both elements as completing a single process. Since all three judges were present in the onset, at the Milah, the case can be finished by two of them at the conclusion of the same case, at the Tevilah. The opinions that reject the validity of the conversion unless all of the elements were supervised by a full Bet Din view the interaction in a different way. Milah / Tevilah - The second approach sees the conversion process as being comprised of two distinct stages, each represented by one of the ceremonies. There are a few variations on this theme. Rav Yosef Engel felt that the Milah was meant to remove the status of "gentile" from the individual while they only gained the special status of "Jew" after the Tevilah. One would assume that he would favor the positions that required a fully attended Bet Din for both the milah and Tevilah. We would not be able to apply the rule of "finishing of business" by a partial Bet Din if the two elements are independent events. [This approach raises some interesting questions regarding the status of the convert in the interim, and what would happen if they did not follow through and complete the Tevilah. In addition what would be the case if the order of the ceremonies would be reversed? Would it be valid?] Rav Soloveichik followed a similar approach of seeing each process as accomplishing a different goal but in a different way. According to Rav Soloveichik there are two main elements of being Jewish, or two pacts between us and God. One pact is on the national level - Am Yisrael is just that, an "Am", a nation, and as such one needs to join on the national level, identifying with the history and legacy of our people all the way back to Avraham Avenu. The second pact is that of Har Sinai, where we are given a mission as God's nation. The Torah is the written covenant that guides our actions and defines the behavior of this "chosen nation". The Milah is meant to allow entry into the first pact and the Tevilah into the second. It is for this reason that during the Tevilah itself the convert is asked basic questions of commitment of faith and accepts the obligation of all mitzvoth. This is not done during the Milah as the ceremonies are very different in nature. The moment of Tevilah is the convert's own personal Matan Torah and reenacts the final pessukim of our parsha. How fortunate are the "Gere Tzedek", true converts of today, who have the chance to experience first hand the experience of Matan Torah. May those who were born Jewish be able to feel this intimate connection with God in the same manner. Shabbat Shalom Rav Shame

 

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