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Mishpatim 5773

By: Rav Avigdor Meyerowitz

"If you want to change big things, you pay attention to small things."[1] "And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them."[2] "And these are the ordinances: Wherever it says, these [in the Torah,] it [(this word) is used to] separate from what has been stated previously. [Where it says,] And these, [it means that] it is adding to what has been previously stated (Tanchuma Mishpatim 3). [Thus] just as what has been previously stated [namely the Ten Commandments,] were from Sinai, these too were from Sinai..."[3] These opening words of Rashi on this week's Parsha seem a bit strange. Surely the laws in Parshat Mishpatim were also given by Hashem to Moshe on Har Sinai.[4] After all, the previous perek has the Ten Commandments, after that Hashem adds a few Mitzvot, and directly afterwards is the start of our parsha, with no break in-between, so surely these Mishpatim were also given on Har Sinai. Furthermore, even if they were not given immediately on Har Sinai, why would that have any bearing on their status as Mitzvot of the Torah?[5] Many have suggested that what Rashi and Chazal were coming to teach us is the importance of the Mishpatim. After the overwhelming experience of Matan Torah and the Ten Commandments, a shaking spiritual event, Hashem immediately gives us the Mishpatim, civil laws, so that we should understand that they are of equal importance as the Ten Commandments. It's often easy to get carried away and inspired by the purely spiritual side of Torah, Limud Torah, Tefilah, Shabbat and Chagim, however the Mishpatim do not seem as "holy" and elevating as all the other Mitzvot Ben Adam Lamakom. Therefore the emphasis of the connection between the two is of such importance. The Abarbanel takes this idea a step further and explains that the laws in Parshat Mishpatim actually fit into the Ten Commandments. The Ten Commandments are in fact a "heading" for the Mitzvot that follow in our Parsha. For example, the following Mitzvot, all fall under the sixth commandment: "You shall not murder."[6] "One who strikes a man so that he dies shall surely be put to death. But one who did not stalk [him], but God brought [it] about into his hand, I will make a place for you to which he shall flee. But if a man plots deliberately against his friend to slay him with cunning, [even] from My altar you shall take him to die. And one who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death." [7] Under the commandment "you shall not steal"[8], the Abarbanel includes all the laws of damages and theft since they are all forms of infringement on another's body or property. The laws of Shmitah according to the Abarbanel are an extension of the fourth commandment regarding Shabbat. Though not all agree with the Abarbanel's approach of fitting all the Mishpatim into the Ten Commandments, the idea is certainly true that the realization of Ma'amd Har Sinai is accomplished by following all the mitzvoth, including and possibly even especially the Mishpatim. On the same line of thought, Rav Moshe Feinstein, explains that this comes to teach us that if a person does not keep the Mitzvot of Parshas Mishpatim that person is in essence denying "I am the Hashem your G-d". "I am the Hashem your G-d" is the theory --- I believe. But the flip side of it is, the practice -- do you cheat in your business, do you steal, do you act deceitfully? If you do, you do not believe in "I am the Hashem your G-d". I would like to suggest though an additional understanding of the Rashi quoted above. Besides the apparent contrast in the nature of the Ten Commandments and the Mishpatim, it seems odd that the Mishpatim were at all a part of Matan Torah. The details and particulars of the Mishpatim are not really relevant to most people and the ones who have to know them and implement them are the judges themselves. In fact, according to Moshe David Cassuto in his commentary on sefer Shmot, that is the reason these laws are called Mishpatim, as they are decided by the Shoftim judges. The question therefore is, why are these Mitzvot a part of the revelation at all? The answer to this question can be found, I think, in the second Rashi of our Parsha: "that you shall set before them: The Holy One, blessed is He, said to Moses: Do not think of saying, I will teach them the chapter or the law two or three times until they know it well, as it was taught, but I will not trouble myself to enable them to understand the reasons for the matter and its explanation. Therefore, it is said: you shall set before them like a table, set [with food] and prepared to eat from, [placed] before someone." [9] Besides the obligation on Moshe Rabbeinu to transmit the Mishpatim over to Bnei Yisrael, he was obligated to explain and reveal to them the reasons behind these Mishpatim as well. The reason for this seems to be that when Bnei Yisrael not only know the dry civil laws, but more importantly the deep ideas behind each and every one of them, this knowledge can affect their whole relationships towards each other, even without necessarily judging or even implementing the Mishpatim. For example, when one understands why the Mishpatim begin with the laws of slaves, one should become sensitive to the Torah's attitude towards the low class citizens in society.[10] Understanding why the Torah says "an eye for an eye" even though a monetary sum is incurred for physical damage caused, teaches us the idea that money does not excuse all wrongdoings. And so the list goes on. An understanding of the Mishpatim is not only important for the Shoftim - judges - but for the whole of Bnei Yisrael who were standing at Ma'amad Har Sinai, and for us as well. In the Zohar and Chasidic works as well, this idea is developed one step further. An understanding of the Mishpatim not only bears on our way of interacting with other people, but even affects the way we relate to Hashem and even to ourselves. In the words of the Sfat Emet who says: "Bevadai yecholim lilmod mi'eileh ha'mishpatim derachim hatzrichim la'avodat ha'boreh yitbarach" "certainly we can learn from 'these are the mishpatim' ways of serving Hashem". The Sfat Emet on the parsha in fact takes certain laws and metaphorically applies them to reveal ways of dealing with oneself and also relating to Hashem. In this light it is interesting take note of an important observation of the Ramban on the Parsha. The torah says: "And one who strikes his father or his mother shall surely be put to death. And whoever kidnaps a man, and he is found in his possession, shall surely be put to death. And one who curses his father or his mother shall surely be put to death".[11] The Ramban, in his commentary, explains why the Pasuk interrupts the punishment of offence towards parents with the punishment of kidnapping. The Ramban explains that the reason is because the punishment for striking one's parents is "chenek" strangulation, which is the same punishment for kidnapping, whereas the punishment for cursing one's parents is "skilah" stoning. Therefore the first two offences are listed together and only afterwards the third offence since its punishment is different. The obvious question though is, why is the offence of cursing ones parents "skilah" stoning, yet the punishment for striking is "chenek" strangulation, which is considered a lighter punishment? To this the Ramban answers: "The reason why He was more severe as to the manner of death of one who curses his mother or father than as to the manner of death of one who smites them, is because the sin of cursing is more common, for when the fool gets angry he frets himself and curses by his king, and father and mother the whole day, and a crime that is frequently committed needs a greater punishment than one rarely committed even though it is more severe." This comment of the Ramban is not only an extremely interesting insight into the nature of punishment and prevention of crime in society, but I think it should also have bearing on us even on an individual level. The lesson to be learned is that often the ignoring of the small issues and paying attention only to the big and grander is not correct. On the contrary, paying attention to the small, simple and everyday issues is what ultimately produces the grander. Indeed also the Mishpatim were given to everyone at Ma'amad Har Sinai, for ultimately we are all judges, if not of others, certainly of ourselves. Shabbat Shalom Rav Avigdor avig68@gmail.com

 

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