Parshat Mishpatim Vol.10 No.21

Date of issue: 1 Adar 5761 -- February 24, 2001

This week's issue has been sponsored
in loving memory of
Doris Turk, of blessed memory,
cherished mother and grandmother,
by Judy and Gary Rosenblatt,
Dov, Tali, and Avi.

How to sponsor

This week's featured writers:

Rabbi Darren Blackstien
Josh Dubin
Danny Manas
Jonathan Weinstein
Yakir Schechter
-*The Case of the Substitute Chatan*
Food For Thought
-by *David Gertler*

Naaseh Venishma Revisited
by Rabbi Darren Blackstein

Discipline, long-term dedication, and unswerving loyalty are precious commodities. As the years pass, it seems more difficult to find these qualities amongst mankind. Technological breakthroughs such as the information superhighway have stunned the world. We have gone from megahertz to gigahertz in a very short time. If you cannot point and click your way through something rather rapidly, the work becomes tedious. "Slow and steady" no longer wins the race in our modern society.

Along comes our Parsha and praises our people for what may be known as the ultimate statement of loyalty and dedication: Naaseh Venishma, "We will do, and we will listen." In 24:7, Bnai Yisrael respond to the giving of the Luchot at Har Sinai by saying that they will not make understanding a prerequisite for their performance of Mitzvot. They will perform the commandments even though they do not understand them at first. Such an attitude does not develop overnight. The period of slavery in Mitzrayim, the plagues, and the ensuing salvation cemented a relationship with Hashem; Bnai Yisrael all saw His Mighty Hand.

The Gemara in Shabbat (88a) tells us the following in the name of Rabbi Elazar: "At the time that Israel preceded 'we will do' to 'we will listen,' a Heavenly voice went out and said to them, 'Who revealed to My children this secret that the ministering angels use?'" This rhetorical question seems to be a compliment: Bnai Yisrael acted as the angels do. We somehow discovered their level and secret of obedience.

Rav Baruch Epstein, in his Torah Temimah, explains that only mankind has the need for understanding before acceptance. However, the nature of the ministering angels is not so. They are totally spiritual and are not subject to time; therefore, their understanding and acceptance come simultaneously. Who gave Bnai Yisrael the strength to feel something that had been reserved for the ministering angels? Rav Epstein crystallizes the level that our people reached at that time. The relationship seems to be one of Dveikut - clinging to the Almighty.

The attainment of this level comes with great responsibility on our part. All too often we expect our youth to follow in our religious footsteps. We put on Tefillin, Daven, sing, and study Torah with great enthusiasm and expect the same from our children. Students are instructed to Daven, and children are expected to accompany parents to Shul on Shabbat. This is the protocol; this is who we are. We are comfortable with our obedience and cannot imagine anything but that for our children. Does anyone ask why a rook cannot move diagonally? We find out what to do and then we play. Should we treat religion the same way? Naaseh Venishma tells us the opposite! Surely, at the incipient stages of development a child cannot understand Davening or Mitzvot very deeply. We all start out, in some way, with obedience because understanding comes with time. After the early, formative years, the child starts to wonder what is behind these acts and rituals that are performed. If left in the dark, the child's performance becomes habitual and empty, void of any growth towards Hashem.

Our Parsha is telling us that the kind of obedience that Bnai Yisrael had was an acquired one. How can we expect our youth to appreciate Davening if they do not have the foggiest idea as to what the Tefilot mean? Indeed, all actions cannot be predicated on total understanding or nothing would ever be accomplished. However, we must constantly nurture the hearts and minds of our youth through teachers, friends, and family. The road to Naaseh Venishma is paved with the rare commodities of discipline and dedication. May we all merit to be vehicles for future generations in this pursuit.

Piercing Questions
by Josh Dubin

In this week's Parsha, the Torah tells us the laws of the Eved Ivri, the Jewish slave. If a Jew steals something and is unable to repay the owner, he is sold into slavery, and his wages are used to pay for the stolen item. In addition, a Jew who finds himself in financial difficulty has the option of selling himself into slavery. The period of slavery lasts for six years. However, if at the end of his term "the slave says, 'I love my master...I will not go free,' his master shall bring him to the judges, and the master shall bring him to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with an awl, and he shall serve his master forever" (21:2-6). Rashi explains that, "This ear that heard on Mount Sinai, 'Thou shall not steal,' yet went and stole, let it be pierced. And if he sells himself into slavery, the ear that heard on Mount Sinai, 'For unto me the children of Israel are servants, they are my servants and shall not be servants to servants,' and yet he sold himself and acquired a master for himself, let it be pierced."

We may ask, though, that if ear piercing is an appropriate punishment for theft, why is it only instituted in a case of a slave who chooses to remain a slave? Why is it not applied as a direct punishment for all theft? And, according to Rashi's second explanation, why wait until the renewal of his slavery and not pierce his ear immediately upon his entrance into the realm of the Jewish slave?

Perhaps we can offer an explanation: Hashem is all merciful and slow to anger. He takes into consideration not only the crime, but also the circumstances surrounding that crime. Imagine what desperate straits a person had to be in to willingly reduce himself to the position of being a slave for another; how desperate must his financial situation have been? Surely he is neither proud nor happy to subjugate himself in such a manner. Accordingly, Hashem understands this as being done not to disregard His commandment of not accepting a foreign master. However if at some time, as we see, he should proclaim, "I love my master...I will not go out free," this would indicate that he feels that being a slave is an optimal situation, rather than "I wish I did not have to be a slave, as Hashem does not wish me to be a slave." As such, the Torah prescribes the piercing of the ear that disregarded "To Me are the Jewish People servants."

Similarly, ear piercing is not the appropriate punishment for theft. It is not true that all theft comes from failing to internalize a message from Hashem. Most theft simply comes about in a moment of weakness, either out of financial desperation or one's succumbing to temptation. The Torah recognizes that such moments of weakness do in fact occur and must be addressed as such. Therefore, the punishment for theft is double compensation: only if the thief lacks the funds must he go into slavery. Not every thief ignored the commandment not to steal; rather, most thieves simply found themselves in situations they were unable to cope with.

Slavery is a horrible situation to endure, but there are times when there is no alternative. The situation discussed here, however, is different. Slavery is the lowest and most degrading level a person can sink to, yet this slave is declaring, after six years, that this is the situation in which he chooses to live. This is a much more fundamental failing than simply succumbing to temptation. Here we see a basic flaw in this slave's character, a disregard for the will of Hashem. It is this failing that is addressed by ear piercing. In modern application, we might say that if one finds himself in a non-optimal situation but recognizes this as being non-optimal and consciously focuses on changing the situation, Hashem is patient. One must not, however, proclaim, "I love my present situation...I do not want to change and grow." This person echoes disregard for the will of Hashem and has no desire for personal spiritual growth.

The Condemned Ox
by Danny Manas

In Parshat Mishpatim (21:28), the Torah says that if an ox gores and kills a man or a woman, then the ox shall be stoned, and its meat shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox is innocent. Why is the death penalty administered to an animal?

The Rambam suggests that the harsh punishment is not given to punish the ox; rather, it is a motivation to the owner of the animal. The owner knows that he cannot derive any benefit from such an animal, and that motivates him to watch his animals more closely. This motivation is reinforced by the case where the ox is known to be dangerous and an extra fine is levied against the owner. Ibn Ezra and the Ritva agree with the Rambam.

The Ralbag, however, disagrees. He argues that since the Pasuk says that even an ownerless ox is to be stoned, the purpose cannot be to motivate owner, since in this case there is no owner. The Ralbag says that the ox is punished harshly to protect society against creatures that can cause serious harm to others.
However, the Rambam offers another opinion. He says that it is clear from Bereishit (9:5) that animals can be held responsible for shedding human blood, since the Pasuk says, "However, your blood which belongs to your souls I will demand, of every beast will I demand it." Certainly, says the Rambam, sin and atonement are concepts that do not apply to animals. However, the execution of a murderous animal is required as a Divine decree, issued in honor of man who was created in the image of God. Given the power to execute judgment, be it over man or animal, man will realize and appreciate the great dignity of his own existence.

Truth, Justice, and the Torah Way
by Jonathan Weinstein

This week's Parsha begins with the Pasuk, Ve'aile Hamishpatim Asher Tasim Lifneihem, "And these are the laws that you shall set before them" (21:1). The word "and" indicates that this Parsha is a continuation of the previous Parsha. The Me'am Loez explains that the laws in this Parsha were given at Har Sinai just as the Ten Commandments were given. These laws were given before the rest of the Torah because in order for the Jewish People to receive the Torah, there needed to be unity and civility among the nation Hashem gave these laws to teach the Jews how to act civilly.

At the beginning of last week's Parsha, Yitro told Moshe that he should appoint judges. Yitro meant that if there were judges to handle internal problems, there would be peace. Pirkei Avot teaches (1:18) that three things maintain the world: law, truth, and peace. Laws discourse corruption and dishonest. The Gemara regards judges as partners of Hashem because they maintain society by keeping wrongdoers from destroying society. Moshe agreed, as did Hashem, to Yitro's advice regarding appointing judges.

In the times of Yehoshua, Yehoshua re-taught the Torah, including the civil laws of our Parsha. After him, the period of the judges began, the judges made sure that the Jews were acting properly. Because of this, Bnai Yisrael defeated their enemies. King Shlomo was granted the ability to judge people fairly.

Shlomo's request highlights the important of justice Moshe told the Jewish People that their acting properly and justly was a prerequisite for receiving the Torah. The Torah was given because Hashem wanted justice to be enacted. Without justice, people would sin endlessly, and Torah would be forgotten. Justice counteracts crime; the Torah can only exist in a just society.

The Torah is not only maintained through spiritual uplifting but through secular activities such as business. The Torah requires people to act properly with each other's property. The Sanhedrin is next to the Bait Hamikdash because they are both used to worship Hashem.

Ramban explains that our Parsha's civil laws are connected to the tenth commandment, "You shall not covet your fellow's house." These laws explain how to respect someone else's property so one will not come to be envious of anther's property. The Seforno adds that the Torah is explaining what belongs to other people in order to prevent envy. Bava Kama 30a says that for a person to be considered pious, he must carefully adhere to monetary laws. If someone violates someone else's property, it is like he violated Shabbat or Kashrut. We can also learn the importance of justice from the words of the prophet Yeshayahu, who wrote, "Zion will be redeemed through justice, and its captives through righteousness" (1:27).

Food for Thought
by David Gertler

1) Why does the Torah present scores of laws regarding secular ideas such as slavery and property following the Aseret Hadibrot? Wouldn't it be more appropriate to list a number of Mitzvot Bain Adam Lemakom (Mitzvot between man and Hashem)? If the Torah's purpose is to demonstrate that the Torah applies to everyday life, why are so many details recorded?
2) Why was the Brit between Hashem and Bnai Yisrael effected specifically with blood?

If you have a response to these questions, please contact us at Responses may be published upon agreement of the provider.

Staff at time of publication:
Editors-in-Chief: Avi-Gil Chaitovsky, Dani Gross
Managing Editor: Moshe Glasser
Publication Editor: Daniel Wenger
Business Manager: Ilan Tokayer
Staff: Josh Dubin, Zev Feigenbaum, Shuky Gross, Michael Humphrey, Yair Manas, Uriel 
Consultant: David Gertler
Faculty Advisor: Rabbi Howard Jachter

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