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This Issue's Halacha Article

Parshat Mishpatim

29 Shvat 5767

February 17, 2006

Vol.16 No.20

In This Issue:

Who's We?

by Rabbi Joel Grossman

In this week's Parasha, after Hashem gives all the business laws and all the Mitzvot Ben Adam LaChavero, the commandments between people, the Jewish people announce, "Kol Asher Diber Hashem Naaseh VeNishma," "Everything that Hashem said we will do and we will listen" (24:7).

Many commentaries ask why the plural words "Naaseh VeNishma," "We will do and we will listen," are used instead of the singular "I will do and I will listen," which would be more appropriate. An answer is recorded in the name of Reb Simcha Bunim in the form of a parable. A group of people was stranded in a desert. They were all hungry and thirsty and suffering from the hot sun. Suddenly, a caravan arrived. The driver came out of the wagon carrying large flasks of cool water. Approaching one of the thirsty individuals, he asked, "Would you like some water?" The man answered, "Yes! We would be so grateful for some water." He spoke in the plural, for he knew with certainty that every member of the group was as desperately thirsty as he was.

When the Jews were at Har Sinai and Hashem asked them if they wanted to accept the Torah, each member of the nation felt with certainty that the other Jews had as great a desire to hear what Hashem said as he himself did. They were as one, with one heart, and each could say confidently that he and all of his fellow Jews were united in this longing. (This is quoted in Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser's Something to Say.)

Rav Moshe Feinstein, in his Darash Moshe, writes that the acceptance of the Torah was not a one-time occurrence. Rather, it is an ongoing process. For this reason the Torah gives a specific date for every Jewish holiday except for Shavuot, for which the Torah just says we must count fifty days after Pesach and celebrate Shavuot then. Giving a specific date would limit it to one day. The Chachamim teach us that we are to view each day as if it is the day on which we first received the Torah. When we said "Naaseh VeNishma," it showed a constant acceptance of the Torah.

The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (88a) says that when the Jews said "Naaseh VeNishma" a voice came out from heaven and said, "Who revealed My secret to people which until now was only known by the Malachei HaSharet?" With our explanation of why "Naaseh VeNishma" is plural and not singular, we can understand what Hashem meant by His secret. His secret was that Jews must be concerned with others and not just worrying about themselves. This is what the Gemara (Shabbat 89a) says, "When the Jews said Naaseh before Nishma, Hashem said, "Now I can call them Beni Bechori Yisroel - My son, the first born, Israel."

If we can learn this message from "Naaseh VeNishma," and live our lives showing consideration and caring for others and not just for ourselves, we will illustrate a true acceptance of the Torah and have the Torah affect our lives as it is meant to do.

Two Levels of Learning

by Shai Berman

When Bnei Yisrael received the Torah, they proclaimed, "Naaseh VeNishma," "We will do and we will obey" (Shemot 24:7). Rav Semai says that when Bnei Yisrael said this, putting Naaseh before Nishma, 600,000 Malachim came down and placed two crowns on each person's head. The Beit HaLevi quotes the Zohar which says that Naaseh refers to doing worthy actions (the Mitzvot) and Nishma refers to learning Torah. This in turn shows that there are two equally important parts of Talmud Torah - learning so that one can fulfill the Mitzvot and learning Lishma.

If these two segments are equal, why did Bnei Yisrael have to place Naaseh before Nishma to acquire the crowns? The Beit HaLevi answers that if they had said "Nishma VeNaaseh," it would have been misunderstood as meaning, "We will learn the Halachot so that we can later do the Mitzvot." If the phrase were set up like this, it would not teach the importance of learning Lishma. We can derive from this a very important lesson. Even if one would learn all Halachot pertaining to him and would observe all the Mitzvot that he is commanded to keep, he must still continue to learn. In a similar vein, the Pardes Yosef suggests a reason why the word, "Yachdav," "together," is omitted when Bnei Yisrael said "Naaseh VeNishma," but is included when they say just "Naaseh" in Parashat Yitro (Shemot 19:8). In Yitro, the Meshech Chochma comments that, when Bnei Yisrael just said Naaseh, they implied that they would learn the Halachot so that they could observe them. However, it is impossible for any individual member of Bnei Yisrael to do this because no person is responsible for every Mitzvah. For example, certain Mitzvot apply only to a King or a Kohen, while others apply only to ordinary people. Only when Bnei Yisrael is Yachdav - together as one unit - can Bnei Yisrael fulfill all of the Mitzvot (Naaseh). Later, in Parashat Mishpatim, Bnei Yisrael included Nishma, learning Lishma. Every individual in Bnei Yisrael can learn Lishma, even for Mitzvot that he is not required to keep. We can and must learn even things that do not pertain to us. It is possible for one to receive the same amount of Schar, reward, as a person would get for performing a certain Mitzvah by just learning about that Mitzvah. As the Gemara in Menachot (110a) states, "When anyone learns about the Mitzvot of a Korban Chatat, it is as if he offered a Chatat."

Interesting Law

by Arieh Levi

Parashat Mishpatim (Shemot 22:24) mentions the prohibition of charging Ribit (interest). I would like to take this opportunity to discuss some of the laws of Ribit. Many are perplexing and difficult to understand, while others seem obvious and simple. This essay will illustrate and explain some of the more relevant cases of Ribit.

To begin, I would like to explain the concept of charging extra for a loan. Let us say that a person needs money to pay his rent. He goes to his friend and asks for a $300 loan. The friend agrees to lend him the money, but only if the borrower pays back an extra $50. This is called Ribit Ketzutzah (pre-arranged interest), and is the only type of Ribit mentioned explicitly by the Torah.

Chazal expand Ribit Ketzutzah to include non-monetary issues as well. For example: Samuel and Jonathan go to a pizza store. Jonathan has enough money for only one slice but would like to buy a vegetable slice as well. He asks Samuel for a loan of two dollars, to which Samuel replies that he will lend the money to Jonathan only if he buys a mushroom slice and lets him (Samuel) have a piece. Jonathan agrees. Although this might not seem like a case of Ribit because he just asked for a small "favor", it is actually Ribit Ketzutzah according to the Chachamim because the "interest" was fixed at the time of the loan.

Another form of Ribit which Chazal address is in a case where, while a loan is outstanding, the lender asks for a favor. For instance, someone lends another person money and asks to be paid back in two weeks (without any extra money). During those two weeks, the lender repeatedly asks for favors stating that it is only fair since he lent the borrower money. This is Ribit because if he had not been lent money the borrower would never have done these favors for the lender. A similar, but opposite, case would be if the borrower refuses to pay back the money if the lender does not do him a favor. This case, though, would probably not be called Ribit, but rather stealing, since he is illegally withholding the money which was loaned.

What if a person gives money or a present to influence someone else to lend him money in the future? Is this Ribit? Although it may just seem like smart business tactics, it is in fact Ribit and is closely related to the previous case. Instead of asking for a favor after the loan has already been given, this case is when one does a favor before the loan is given. Therefore, this conceptually identical case is also Ribit, since the borrower has influenced the lender to give him a loan.

The question thus arises if there is any possible way to lend money, charge interest, and still avoid transgressing the law of Ribit. A Heter Iska is an instrument which allows a lender to lend money to a borrower and be permitted to collect interest on the loan. On a simple level, this document, signed by the lender and the borrower, transforms the loan into an investment, and thereby transforms interest into the investment's profits. There is a catch, though. Heter Iska is valid only if the money is being borrowed to invest in a business or property, or to free up other money to be used for a business transaction. One may not use a Heter Iska on a simple loan. Unfortunately, the Heter Iska is inappropriately overused nowadays. (Editor's note: one should consult his Rav as to when it is appropriate to use a Heter Iska.)

One is obviously not allowed to charge Ribit on a loan, but there are a few exceptions to this regarding neighbors. If a neighbor borrows flour, he is permitted to return an insignificant amount more than was lent originally, because neighbors (with good relations) generally overlook such a miniscule amount. Also, if one is not sure exactly how much he borrowed, he may give more than what he thinks in order to cover all his bases. There are some neighbors who are used to borrowing objects and not returning them, so, between these neighbors Ribit is permissible. These lent items were not in fact loans, but rather gifts. The last exception is that of a neighbor who borrows something, after which the price of the item fluctuates. He may return the object even though it is worth more or less than the original price, since neighbors usually do not care about such a small difference. (Editor's note: one should consult his Rav about such matters. Rav Mordechai Willig has advised that such exchanges between neighbors should be characterized as gifts in order to avoid questions of Ribbit.)

There are many more cases of Ribit mentioned in Chazal, but the aforementioned cases are most common. We should all take care not to violate this highly complex area of Halacha due to simple ignorance. One who studies the laws of Ribit will surely not transgress them. There are many Sefarim on the subject, and everyone should make an effort to acquaint himself with this important area of Halacha.

Hatred for Haters

by Tzvi Zuckier

Parashat Mishpatim, in its long discussion of civil law, states, "Ki Tireh Chamor Sonaacha Roveitz Tachat Masao VeChadalta MeiAzov Lo Azov Taazov Imo," "When you see the donkey of your enemy crouching from the weight of its burden, shall you not unload it? You shall surely unload it" (Shemot 23:5). This Pasuk, while at first glance teaching a simple, straightforward law, is difficult. If there already is an established principle of refraining from hating another Jew and not acting differently as a result of this hatred (see Vayikra 19:17), what could this Pasuk be adding?

The Sefer Maayanah Shel Torah quotes Tosafot (commenting on Masechet Pesachim 113b s.v. She'ra'ah) who explain that this Pasuk sheds light on a different facet of hatred. Although the Torah gives permission to hate a Rasha for his wickedness, one still must be very careful not to allow this authorization to manipulate his mind to such an extent that he or she harbors a personal hatred for this fellow Jew. The Mitzvah of unloading protects a person against this forbidden hate for a Rasha by setting a boundary against reprisal.

Assuming this thesis, the Admor of Ostrovtza elucidates several Pesukim in Tehillim. After discussing how horrible the who hate Hashem are, the author of Tehillim writes, "Tachlit Sinah Sineitim LeOyvim Hayu Li," "I hated them to the utmost extent; they were enemies to me" (Tehillim 139:21). Instead of simply reading the Pasuk as showing how the author of this particular Perek of Tehillim hated Reshaim, the Admor of Ostrovtza explains that the author was really saying that while he abhors those who hate Hashem, he is confessing that his hatred for a Rasha unfortunately turned into personal hatred. Thus, the meaning of last three words of the Pasuk, "LeOyvim Hayu Li" becomes extremely clear; the Rasha became the author's enemy, not Hashem's enemy. While one must hate enemies of Hashem, he should be careful to not let this become personal hatred, which is all too often the unfortunate reality. Rather, he should hate the Rasha's evil aspects while still maintaining a love for him as a fellow Jew. This idea cohesively segues into the next Pasuk in that Perek of Tehillim, in which the author asks Hashem to look within his mind and heart and remove any incorrect thoughts. These prayers were a way of asking Hashem to keep the author's hatred of Reshaim in check.

Hashem sets high, virtuous standards, which we should all strive to achieve. Although we are expected to go against our inner feelings and hate Reshaim, we must be careful to not let this Mitzvah overtake the fundamental Bein Adam LaChaveiro principle of "VeAhavta LeReiacha Kamocha," "Love your neighbor like yourself" (Vayikra 19:18). We must be very circumspect in all of our actions and determine whether they are motivated by sincere concern for Hashem or by personal reasons. The second Beit HaMikdash was destroyed because of baseless hatred between Jews (Yoma 9a); may we merit the building of the third Beit HaMikdash through prudence in the realm of controlling hatred.

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