Parashas Mishpatim – The Divine Sparkle

We just came out of Mount Sinai and Hashem orders Moshe “to lay out before us” the monetary laws, which will enable the foundation of a thriving society. Though, looking closer at the text, the Parasha starts in an intriguing fashion: “And these are the laws [judgments] which you shall set before them.” (Exodus 21:1) The Torah relates that instance in Parashas Bechukosai but gives a totally different account of what occurred: “These are the laws, rules, and instructions that Hashem established, through Moshe on Mount Sinai, between Himself and the Bnei Yisrael.” (Leviticus 26:46) Why then, our Parasha is only mentioning the laws, while the rules and the instructions are omitted? Additionally, it seems from the above Pasuk, that Moshe was instructed to only set before us the “Laws,” but then who was supposed teach them to us. An entire section of the Shulchan Aruch, the Choshem Mishpat is derived from these laws, whuch are the most complicated ones. Wouldn’t it be appropriate for Moshe to teach them to us? How can we be liable for something out of our understanding? Again, the Pasuk gives a different account: “Remain here with Me, and I will give you the whole Instruction—the laws and the rules—that you shall teach to them.” (Deuteronomy, 5:28) It’s obvious then, that Moshe was formally instructed by Hashem to teach us those laws. So why isn’t mentioned in our Pasuk? Besides, that Pasuk too mentions that Hashem informed Moshe to teach us the instructions and the laws too, so why aren’t they mentioned in our Parasha? Commentators see in Parashas Mishpatim an extension of the laws instructed at Mount Sinai, and therefore see these laws as fitting into the ten categories reflected in the Ten Commandments. The Sforno sees the interpersonal laws which begin here as an extension of the Tenth Commandment — “Do not covet… all which belongs to your neighbor.” In order to be able to implement this teaching, ownership laws must first establish what belongs to you and what belongs to your neighbor, setting boundaries and thus making the fulfillment of the Tenth Commandment feasible. However, by analyzing the first law stated, it becomes obvious that it is not the principal teaching of this Parasha: “When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment”. One would expect the first laws to be as broad reaching as possible. The laws of robbing someone’s else property, or harming it, or lending money are far more common as they are addressing customary interaction between people. The law of the Hebrew slave is not a collective matter so it shouldn’t have been addressed first. In contrary, the Pasuk addresses the law of the slave that was acquired, leaving a blank about the person that inherited him or received him as a present. Also, these laws only applied when the Sanhedrin was in place, which was only a fraction of the life of our nation, so what why were they taught first? The Midrash [Bereshis Rabbah 31:5] underlines the importance of Justice, as it links the destruction of the first generations with the very lack of observance of the laws enumerated in this week’s Parasha: “The end of all flesh has come before me,” (Genesis 6:13). The time has come for them to be eradicated; the time has come for them to be treated as unripe grapes; the time of their indictments has come. What’s the reason? “Because the earth is filled with violence (hamas) through them.” What’s the difference between violence and what is robbery? Rav Hanina says: “Violence refers to the theft of the worth of a perutah; robbery refers to theft of less than a perutah. People of the Flood came up with what they thought was ingenious: When a man brought out a basket full of lupines, people would come and rob less than a perutah’s worth so that he had no redress at law, as Beth Din cannot be triggered for less than a perutah. Whereupon Hashem, said: ‘You have acted improperly, so will I too deal with you improperly.’ Hence it is written, “Is not their tent-cord plucked up within them? They die, and that without wisdom”. (Job 4:21): i.e. without the wisdom of the Torah. “Between morning and evening they are shattered; they perish forever without any regarding it”. (Job 4:20). To prevent such behavior Hashem said: “these are the laws which you shall set before them. (Exodus 21:1).” This Midrash emphasizes that the generation of the deluge knew well that Hashem despises the thief as it’s a direct affront to Hashem. Not only does the thief commits a crime by robbing his friend, but he also commits a crime towards Hashem by overruling His decision, which was that the item he robbed should belong to his friend. The generation of the deluge thought they innovated a way to outsmart this law, as stealing refers to a minimum of a perutah value, so they were stealing less than a perutah. However, we all know the fate they met. The Talmud [Shabbos 32b] states: Due to the sin of robbery, locusts emerge, famine prevails and people eat the flesh of their sons and daughters, as it is stated: “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan, that are in the mountain of Samaria, that oppress the poor, that crush the needy,” (Amos 4:1). The Talmud [Taanis 7b] teaches: Rabbi Ami said: The rains are withheld only due to the sin of robbery. The Talmud [Bava Metzia 59a] highlights the gravity of that sin; Rabbi Avahu says: There are three sins that immediately stand before Hashem: Verbal mistreatment, robbery, and idol worship… Robbery, as it is stated: “Violence and robbery are heard in her, they are before Me continually” (Jeremiah 6:7). The thief is guaranteed not to escape his punishment. One’s defense mechanism, self-righteousness, leads him to think, his honesty is beyond reproach, hence inhibiting his awareness to the many roads leading to robbery. The Talmud [Bava Metzia 61b] provides an overview; Rava said: Why has the Merciful One provided a prohibition regarding lending with interest, a prohibition regarding robbery, and a prohibition regarding overcharging? The answer is because these are 3 different ways of robbing! The stringency of the punishment is described in the Talmud [Bava Kama 119a]; Rabbi Yoḥanan says: Anyone who robs another of a peruta is considered as taking his soul [killing him], as it is stated: “So are the ways of every one that is greedy for profit; it takes away the life of the owner thereof” (Proverbs 1:19). And it states: “And they shall consume your harvest, and your bread, they shall consume your sons and your daughters” (Jeremiah 5:17) … They will consume even one’s children. The Midrash [Shemos Rabbah 30:3] provides even further insights about the harshness of the punishment. “These are the generations of the heaven and the earth when they were created”. (Genesis 2:4). Hashem created heaven and earth, but didn’t find them pleasing, He therefore returned them to waste and void; but the new ones were pleasing to Hashem’s eyes, therefore He exclaimed; “These shall have generations”. Hence, “These are the generations of the heaven and the earth; insinuating that the first one didn’t deserve to see generations, due the people robbing each other. So even the world stands on honesty. Given the seriousness of those laws, which affect every single living individual. It is therefore the first question asked to the soul after its departure from this world, before even enquiring if the person had learnt Torah. It’s no wonder that it’s the most popular law in the Talmud. Wouldn’t it be logical to teach it first, prior to teaching a rare law, which only affects very few individuals? The Zohar offers a totally different approach. This verse is just an introduction to all the laws enumerated in this Parasha as they all have a common denominator. Transgressing them is a guaranteed return in Gilgul (reincarnation), which is a much more stringent punishment than going to Gehinom. The Zohar finds it evident that the Torah does not intend here to teach the laws of the Jewish slave, but rather urge that the Jewish body should be enslaved to the Neshama. We’re fortunate to have been chosen to receive a Divine sparkle, the Neshama, and therefore we must live up to it. The Zohar explains in great details every Pasuk according based on this teaching. To prove that point is quite simple. We asked, above, why didn’t the Torah mention also the rules and the instructions, rather only “the laws” [Mishpatim] are stated. This was intentional, to hint there’s a deeper learning behind the words. indeed, the numerical value of the word Mishpatim equals Guf and Neshama. This clearly proves the teachings of the Zohar. For the skeptical let’s add one more proof [and they are in every Pasuk]. The verse says “the Jewish slave will work for six years,” “Shesh Shanim Yaavod” [six years he will work] gematria is “Mamon, Guf, Neshama”, the very 3 components, with which to serve Hashem, as ordered in the first Pasuk of the Shema; To love Hashem with our Heart [Soul], our body and our wealth. Therefore, a person that wants to succeed “his life” must surrender his body will and power to his soul. Doing the opposite will guarantee him a return ticket to this world!

By Rabbi Shimon Fridmann – Din Torah Of North Miami Beach

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