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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Mishpatim 5773 "What Goes Around"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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2/7/13

STAM TORAH

PARSHAS MISHPATIM 5773

WHAT GOES AROUND

There is a concept in the world of academia known as Bible criticism. It is the belief that the ‘Bible’ is subject to polemics, analytical review, criticism and reinterpretation. One of their core beliefs is that the Bible is completely outdated. One needs to look no further than at the first civil law mentioned in the Bible involving Jewish slavery. The whole concept of Jewish slavery is totally outdated and unheard of in our time. Therefore, they conclude that the Bible needs revision and elucidation since certain portions are no longer applicable.

We, Torah Jews, scoff at the naiveté and foolishness of those who even entertain the notion that the Eternal Word of the Al-mighty is subject to review of mortals. The Torah is the eternal guide for life, and every word is eternal.

That being said, we may wonder why the Torah needs to command Klal Yisroel about how to treat slaves. After all, Klal Yisroel had just recently been released from the travails of an exile where they were subject to brutal servitude and degradation. If anyone would know how not to treat a slave it would be those that were recently freed themselves. Why does the Torah deem it necessary to give austere regulations regarding the proper treatment of a Jewish slave?

Oznayim LaTorah[1] explains that the Torah is teaching us an invaluable lesson about the human psyche. While it may be true that logic would dictate that those who just emerged from being subject to unbearable oppression would not need to be instructed about being careful not to become oppressors, the nature of man teaches us otherwise. History has demonstrated time and again that yesterday’s oppressed become tomorrow’s oppressor.

During the French Revolution beginning in 1789 the revolutionaries promised liberty, equality, and fraternity. However, as soon as they rose to power they plunged the country into an age of terror and France become a bloodbath more horrific than it had ever known.

Fidel Castro fought under the mantra of equality and rights; today, he rules a ruthlessly communist Cuba.

Lenin, Trotsky and their fellow communist revolutionaries fought for the rights of the proletariat and the masses. Then when they assumed the reigns of power they massacred millions.

Saddam Hussein murdered King Fasiel to promote equality and became one of the most heinous dictators in the recent past.

Shlomo Hamelech[2] warns that three types of people cause the world to tremble. One of the three is a former slave who assumes the monarchy. History has proven that we must be wary of the underdog’s rise to power.

Numerous studies show that those who were abused as children have the greatest proclivity of becoming abusers as adults. It is inconceivable that one who suffered the torments and trauma of any form of abuse would inflict the same pain on another, but logic is often at odds with human nature[3].

At the beginning of Parshas Yisro, the Torah records Yisro’s rejoining the Jewish nation together with Moshe’s wife and sons. The verse states the names of Moshe’s sons and the reasons for the names, “…Of whom the name of one was Gershom, for he said, ‘I was a stranger in a foreign land’; and the name of the other was Eliezer, ‘for the G-d of my father came to my aid, and He saved me from the sword of Pharoah.[4]

In Parshas Shemos, after the Torah records how Moshe ended up in the home of Yisro, and subsequently married Yisro’s daughter Tzipporah, the Torah relates that Moshe named his son Gershom, “for he said, ‘I was a stranger in a foreign land’”[5]. Why was it necessary to repeat verbatim why Gershom was so named[6]?

It is one thing to recognize and appreciate the fact that one was able to persevere despite being a wanderer and a loner when it is fresh on his mind, and he is still beginning to recover from that ordeal. It is a far different challenge to remain cognizant of one’s humble beginnings after one has achieved great success and public repute.

When Moshe originally named Gershom he was still relatively alone. Although he had been welcomed by Yisro and his family, he was still away from his family and his nation. He was very aware of the greatness of his accomplishments despite the travails of his travels. However, when Yisro sought to join the nation in the desert, Moshe had already achieved incredible distinction as the leader of the Jewish people, and as G-d’s emissary. He had been G-d’s liaison with Pharaoh himself, and ultimately had led the nation out of Egypt amidst incredible miracles. The greatness of Moshe was that he never forgot his roots. His original feelings of appreciation to Yisro had never diminished[7]. It was that sense of gratitude and uncanny humility which promoted Moshe himself to go out into the desert to greet his father-in-law. When Yisro arrived Moshe treated him with the same level of respect that he had treated him when he lived in his home[8].

The Torah never grows obsolete. The meaning behind the simple words traverses all time and place. The Torah begins its treatises of the laws of Jewish society with the laws of maintaining a Jewish slave. The fact that Klal Yisroel had recently been granted freedom was not a reason to omit these laws, but all the more reason to teach it. It is especially those who tasted the pain of servitude who must be cautious not to impose that pain on others.

People tend to forget humble beginnings. The Torah teaches us that we must ensure that that does not happen. “Do not oppress a stranger; you know the feeling of a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.[9]

“I was a stranger in a foreign land”

“If you acquire a Jewish slave…”

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[1] Harav Yitzchak Sorotzkin zt’l

[2] Mishlei 30:21-22

[3] Adapted from the drasha of Rabbi Alfred Cohen, Kehillas Ohaiv Yisroel, Friday night, Parshas Mishpatim 5765

[4] Shemos 18:3-4

[5] Shemos 2:22

[6] My dear student Yoni Herschmann (5th grade, Ashar) asked me this question last week.

[7] It is common that the more gratitude one owes to another the less he shows. Therefore, Moshe’s tremendous gratitude to Yisro at that juncture was a testament to his greatness.

[8] Heard from Rabbi Laibel Chaitovsky

[9] Shemos 23:9



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