Dvar Torah Parshat Mishpatim 5776 2016

We live in an environment where we want to understand everything that we are required to do. That has helped us advance in science and in all the new innovations and medical progress in the last centuries.

This is not desirable in all fields. When a doctor prescribes a medication we do not first try to understand what is in it and how it works. We have faith in him because we know he has had medical training that we do not have and he is using his best understanding when he prescribes a medicine.

When a captain in the army gives a command the soldiers do not ask him to explain why he chose that method of operation The soldier follows the orders because he believes that the captain has had better training than he has had and supposedly knows that  he is ordering the correct action.

The Midrash tells us when Hashem came with the Torah and wanted to give it to humanity, he went to each nation, one at a time, offering it. Everyone asked what was in it and when told they found objections to some item that they could not live by.

When Hashem approached the Jewish people their instant response was: נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע, the literal translation is, “we will do and we will listen”. (Ex. 54,7) The meaning is we are ready to obey whatever the Torah says, now we will listen to hear what is in it.

The observant Jew today recognizes that the Torah came from Hashem and hence we should obey even if we cannot rationalize all that is in it.

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Dvar Torah on Parshat Mishpatim – Naaseh VeNishma!

When Moshe told Bnei Yisrael their obligations to Hashem, their response was: כֹּל אֲשֶׁר־דִּבֶּר יְקֹוָק נַעֲשֶׂה וְנִשְׁמָע, “…everything that Hashem has said we will do and we will obey.” (Ex. 24,7) If everyone undertook to obey, they should have said, “I will do and I will obey.”

This can be better understood according to the Midrash. The Midrash tells us that when each person proclaimed, “we will do and we will obey”, Hashem sent down two angels. One bound weapons around his waist and the other placed a crown upon his head.

Why did they deserve these two gifts? The answer is that the crown he received for his own commitment to obey. The weapons were symbolic for each man’s assuming an obligation to see that his neighbor also obeys.

The plural term used here represents each man’s own assurance to perform and an assurance that he will also see that others obey.

It is not sufficient for us to obey and fulfill the Mitzvot. It is also up to us to see as much as possible that others also obey.

Dvar Torah Parshat Mishpatim 5774 2014 – Four Types of Watchmen

The Torah talks about four different types of watchmen. Some as a favor will watch something for a friend. Another type will get paid for watching an article. A third type is someone who rents an item to use and is responsible to watch it from any harm. A fourth type is one who borrows an object from his neighbor and is liable for any damage that befalls it.

In every case there is a different responsibility for damage that occurs. Nevertheless, in each case where the caretaker is exempt from reimbursing the owner, he must go to court and verify that he was not negligent in watching the item.

The language the Torah uses to express this obligation is: וְנִקְרַב בַּעַל הַבַּיִת אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים, and the ‘watchman’ shall approach the court…”, that he has not laid his hand upon his fellow’s property. (Ex. 22,7)

A Rabbi once used this passage to express a different notion. Explaining the passage literally, he said if a person wants to approach or come close to Hashem, he must demonstrate that he has not injured his fellow man either materially or mentally. We often do things and unintentionally hurt someone either financially or emotionally. To be a righteous individual we must ever be mindful not to harm someone, even unintentionally.

Dvar Torah Parshat Mishpatim 5773 2013

Many people question the need for studying the Talmud. Isn’t it sufficient to study the Shulchan Aruch, the Code of Jewish Law, to learn the commandments that constitute our religious practices and we can then live a true religious Jewish life? Why are we required to spend years of study when all we have to know is what we are obliged to perform?
The answer lies in the explanation of the first verse in this Sidra. The Torah starts with the words: “And these are the laws, אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם which you shall place before them.” (Ex. 21,1) Rashi expounds on these words and says: Hashem said to Moshe, “It should not enter your mind to say ‘I shall teach them a section of the Torah or a single Halachah twice or three times until it becomes clear in their minds … but I shall not take the trouble to make them understand the reasons of each thing and its significance’… therefore the Torah says אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם which thou shall set before them like a table fully laid before a person with everything ready for eating.”
True, if one studies the Code of Jewish Laws he will know what is required of him but he will not understand the meaning and significance of it. That is what the study of the Talmud will give him. There the laws are expounded, discussed, analyzed and made meaningful. It is tragic that not all people have devoted time to the study of the Talmud.

Dvar Torah Parshat Mishpatim 5772 2012

In the Tanach the word Elokim does not always mean Hashem. It also has the meaning of judge or court. In today’s Sidra we are told, if someone accepts the responsibility of watching another person’s item and it is stolen or lost, the law depends on what kind of a watchman he was. If he was paid for watching, he is obligated to make good the loss and must pay the owner the value of the item. If, however, he had promised to watch the item without remuneration, he is not compelled to make good the loss. This does not mean, though, that he is completely without any obligation. He must appear in court and swear to the fact that the item was stolen or lost and he had not laid his hand on it, meaning, he had not used it for his own purposes.

The language the Torah uses to tell us about this obligation is: וְנִקְרַב בַּעַל הַבַּיִת אֶל הָאֱלֹהִים “…and the householder (the watchman) shall approach the court that he has not laid his hand upon his fellow’s property.” (Ex. 22,7) The word הָאֱלֹהִים here does not refer to Hashem but to the judge.

A Rabbi once explained that regardless of the real meaning of the text, the fact that the Torah uses this expression teaches us another worthwhile message. If a person wants to come close to Hashem (הָאֱלֹקִים), he must be sure that he had not laid a hand upon, harmed or hurt another fellow Jew. To come spiritually close to Hashem one must be sure that he is innocent and had not offended another person.

Dvar Torah Parshat Mishpatim 5771 2011

There is an interesting discussion in the Talmud whether a slave of a Jewish owner would prefer to be set free or would he rather remain a slave and have the benefits and security that his master must offer him. (Git. 12b)

A passage in this week’s Portion seems to answer the question. The Torah says if a master strikes his slave so forcefully that he knocked out his eye or tooth he must set him free, LACHOFSHI YESHALCHENU TACHAT EINO, “…he shall set him free in return for his eye.” (Ex. 21,26)

If it is advantageous for the slave to remain with his master for the benefits he has, then isn’t enough that he lost his eye or his tooth that he is further hurt by freeing him from his master and loosing all those benefits?

The obvious answer is that it depends on what kind of a master he has. If his master follows the requirements and the restrictions the law imposes on him, he certainly prefers to stay on. If, on the other had, he has a master that is so violent that he beats him so as to cause major physical damage, and then he is certainly better off being freed and getting away from such horrible treatment.

Everything in life depends on the circumstances. There are no general rules that apply to every situation. We must also not judge another’s actions unless we know all the conditions that brought him to this behavior.

Dvar Torah Parshat Mishpatim 5770 2010

Hashem instructs Moshe VE’ELE HAMISHPATIM ASHER TASIM LIFNEHEM, “And these are the laws you shall place before them.” (Ex.21,1) “Place before them” is a strange choice of words. One does not place laws before people but rather teaches them or informs them.

A possible explanation is that when teaching the laws of the Torah it is not sufficient to merely instruct. One must actually demonstrate the laws. How is this done? The teacher, whether he is a Rebbi, a layman or a parent, must demonstrate the laws by personally living them.

We all have heard the expression, “Do as I say, not as I do.” That, obviously, is not the way to teach. To have an influence on others your actions speak louder than words. It is more important that you demonstrate by your deeds than by your words.

Moshe was to make the laws obvious and realistic for the Jewish people and we must also do so when trying to relay them to others, whether they are our children, students or others in general.