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משפטים / פ׳ שקלים

ואלה המשפטים אשר תשימו לפניהם
(שמות כ״א א׳)

And these are the ordinances that you shall place before them.
(Exodus 21:1)

This week's Parsha, Mishpatim, is comprised mostly of seemingly mundane laws of bein adam le-chaveiro - the laws of an indentured servant, property damage, injury, self-defense, theft, etc.

Rashi comments on the first Passuk, that although אלה normally comes to differentiate from that which came before, the vav - ve-eileh - teaches that this Parsha is connected to what came before; i.e. these matters of civil law were given on Sinai as well.

The Sforno says that this is a continuation of where the Aseret ha-dibrot left off - the tenth commandment was lo sachmod - "do not covet what belongs to your friend", and now the Torah is defining the parameters of what belongs to your friend.

The Ramban connects each of the Aseret ha-Dibrot to some law in P' Mishpatim.

Rav Frand asks:
But, is it not peculiar that almost in the same breath as G-d spoke "I am the L-rd your G-d who took you out from Egypt...", the foundation of Judaism, He also told us about our responsibilities when we borrow our neighbor's car?

Why does Parshas Mishpatim rate the same session as "I am the L-rd your G-d"?

Rav Moshe Feinstein, zt"l, said that this comes to teach us that if a person does not keep Parshas Mishpatim (monetary laws), he doesn't believe in "I am the L-rd your G-d" either.

"I am the L-rd your G-d" is the theory --- I believe. But the other side of the coin, the practice, is do you cheat in your business? If you cheat in your business, you do not believe in "I am the L-rd your G-d".

Rav Moshe continues, if a person believes in G-d with more than lip service, then the person believes that G-d provides him with a livelihood. If a person believes that G-d provides the livelihood, then what reason is there to cheat? "A person's livelihood is fixed for him from Rosh HaShannah" [Beitzah 16a]. If one believes that, there is no need to cheat. Anyone who cheats, does not believe it.

That is why "I am the L-rd your G-d" is in the same session as the law of how to pay one's workers.

In a similar vein, I once heard the following story - IIRC, also about Rav Moshe Feinstein:

Some parents came to the Rosh Yeshiva with a complaint. "Why is it that the boys in the Yeshiva starts by learning Bava Kamma or Bava Metziya - why not start at the begining of Shas, with Meseches Brachos?". The Rosh Yeshiva said, "First of all, Brachos contains all the laws of the proper time and the proper way to daven. What if they see that their fathers are not doing things exactly as they should - perhaps theyll become disillusioned. Better, they should start by learning about property damage - responsibility and sensitivity towards other people's property. After they have a good grounding in that, then they can start to learn the laws of when to say kriyas shema .."

Judaism is not just interested in ritual and spirituality. On the contrary, all areas of life are governed by the laws of Hashem.

As Rabbi Wein writes:
Mishpatim also teaches us, through the wide variety of subject mater covered in the parsha, that there is no area of human life or society that is not governed and shaped by halacha. Judaism is not restricted to the confines of the synagogue or the study hall. It is rather all-pervasive, touching on all aspects of the human condition, physical moral, societal and spiritual. There is no place in life that is empty of Torah, its laws, wisdom and guidance. Its presence therefore in every nook and cranny of our lives is itself what enables us to enjoy and live a truly Jewish life.

The Torah guarantees our right to privacy and our absolute freedom of choice at any given moment and circumstance in our life. Yet the realization that Torah has something to say about this particular circumstance and situation facing us now, itself serves as a background enabling us to make wise and holy choices. God commanded us to "choose life." In that statement is the implicit instruction to follow halacha and to be truly a people of the book -- the law book that halacha represents.

In our Torah blessing we state that the Torah plants within us eternal life. Anyone who follows its precepts and lives a life in accordance with Torah values and practices will certainly sense that serene sense of eternity present in halacha and Jewish law. Law brings stability to Sinai. Halacha (Jewish law) brings holiness on its wings.

= = = = = = = = = = = = = = 

This week we take out an extra Sefer Torah, and read the first of the four special Parshios that are read in the weeks leading up to Pesach - Parshas Shekalim. In the time that the Temples stood, there were communal offerings that were brought on behalf of the entire community. Each person would therefore be obligated to donate an equal share - a half-shekel each, as was collected at the time of the census in the desert. The new yearly cycle would begin on Rosh Chodesh Nisan, so the Rabbis instituted this Torah reading a month before that - on the week before Rosh Chodesh Adar - to remind people to get their donation in on time. Although we no longer have a Beis Hamikdash, we continue the practice of reading the portion of Ki Sisa and the special Haftara that accompanies it.

Shekalim also has significance for the upcoming holiday of Purim. As we noted last year, Purim is a time for national unity. The mitzva of giving the half-shekel symbolizes unity in a couple of ways of ways:
  • The law was that no person, no matter how rich or how poor was allowed to give more or less than a half-shekel. This can be understood to symoblize that all are equal in the service of God.

  • What is the significance of a half-shekel? Some say that this teaches that each person, individually, is incomplete - every one needs someone else to complete his shekel.

The Talmud (Megilla 13b) says:
Reish Lakish said, "It was clearly know to the One who spoke and the world came into being [God] that Haman would, in the future, weigh out shekalim (silver coins) for the purpose of destroying the Jews. He therefore caused the Jews to precede their shekalim to his.".

The Gemara lists this as an example of Hashem creating the remedy before sending the affliction. Tosfos (16a) writes that the total weight of the silver Shekalim which the Jews gave in the wilderness was exactly equal to the 10,000 Kikar of silver which Haman offered Achashverosh as "payment" to kill the Jews (Esther 3:9).

Shabbat Shalom.

Posted by joem on Feb 16, 2007 12:00 am

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