A Torah Thought for Teens – Parshas Mishpatim
By: Rabbi Yakov Horowitz
Rashi comments on the very first os of this week’s parsha – the letter ‘vav’. Mishpatim begins (Shmos 21:1) with the words “V’eileah hamishpatim – AND these are the laws...” The prefix Vav implies a continuation of a previous discussion. Why would a new parsha begin with a ‘vav’ as if it were an appendix to the previous parsha?
Rashi offers two explanations. The first is that the Torah is informing us that just as the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, were delivered to the B’nei Yisroel at Har Sinai, so, too were the many mitzvos enumerated in Parshas Mishpatim given on Har Sinai. Therefore, a ‘vav’ is entirely appropriate, since these mitzvos are a continuation of the previous parsha.
Rashi offers a second answer. Parshas Yisro ended with a discussion about the mizbayach (altar), while Mishpatim lists numerous laws related to monetary matters. This is to inform us that the Sanhedrin, the High Court of the B’nei Yisroel (where the laws mentioned in Mishpatim were adjudicated), should be positioned next to the Beis Hamikdash (where the mizbayach was located).
I would like to attempt to link these two seemingly unrelated explanations of Rashi, and offer an explanation as to the reason for the close proximity of the Sanhedrin to the mizbayach.
The events that transpired at Har Sinai were a seminal moment in the history of Am Yisroel. Hashem gave us the everlasting gift of the Torah and secured our status as His Chosen People. The Ramban maintains that every Jew is obligated (as part of the 613 mitzvos) to bear in mind the ma’mad Har Sinai and incorporate this memory in his or her consciousness. There are various opportunities for observing this mitzvah on a daily basis. Some suggest that one may fulfill his obligation to remember the events of Sinai while reciting the daily Birchas HaTorah – “Asher bachar banu mikol ho’amim v’nasan lonu es Toraso.” (Hashem chose us from all the nations [of the world] and gave us His Torah.).
In the Aseres HaDibros given to us at Har Sinai, ten commandments were listed, representing the overarching themes of Judaism – among them; accepting Hashem as our one and only God, the sanctity of Shabbos, honoring our parents, and committing ourselves not to violate the capital crimes of murder, kidnapping and immorality. These represent the integral halachos of living a Torah life.
In Parshas Mishpatim, Moshe begins to teach Klal Yisroel about the fine print of our contract with Hashem – the halachos that govern our day-to-day life. We need to refrain from damaging the possessions of our friends, and we are obligated to make financial restitution when such harm occurs. We keep shmitah and yovel, and return the lost objects of our neighbor. We are instructed to observe the Yomim Tovim, and we are informed of the sensitivity that we need to display when taking collateral from one who borrows money.
Over the years, when reading and studying Parshas Mishpatim, I was often troubled by the seemingly random manner that some of the halachos in this parsha are listed, particularly in the middle part of the sedrah. While the Gemorah derives numerous halachos from the sequence (s’michus) of these pesukim, I often wondered if there was a message in the ‘bigger picture’ of their presentation.
Mishpatim begins with a logical, sequential listing of the halachos pertaining to avadim (slaves), the various shomrim (people who are caretakers of others’ possessions), and monetary damages that result from animals injuring each other, a common occurrence in those days. Then, the Torah (Shmos 22:17-23:13), in rapid fashion, notes many diverse and seemingly disparate halachos. This pattern is perhaps most striking in one block of five pesukim (Shmos 22:19-23). They are listed in one segment, separated from the previous and following pesukim by spaces in the Torah. However, the unit of these five pesukim seems to be anything but congruent. The first pasuk in this segment instructs us to bring korbonos exclusively to Hashem. The next four pesukim deal with our obligation to treat converts, widows and orphans with dignity. What is the connection??
I would like to propose that we are being taught a crucial lesson by the progression of these halachos. Traveling to the Beis Hamikdash and bringing a korban was a moving and inspiring event. The donor of a sacrifice got to see the Beis Hamikdash in all its glory and splendor. He saw the kohanim and basked in the glow of the kedusha of Yerushalayim. However, the true test of the long-term effect of this experience would be to see what changed in his DAILY life. Did he become a better person as a result of touching the face of the shechinah (presence of Hashem). Did he learn to treat others kindly, to show sensitivity to those who are weak and alone?
Parshas Yisro represents our greatest moment as a nation. Mishpatim is about translating these lofty principles into concrete actions. By placing the day-to-day halachos immediately following Kabbolas HaTorah, Hashem is informing us about the need to connect our most elevated thoughts into the acts of integrity and kindness. This, perhaps, is the meaning of the ‘vav’ that begins this parsha. V’eilah, AND these are the halachos that will govern your life. Just as the Asares Hadibros were given at Sinai, so were these laws, which need to become part of your life. The Sanhedrim was placed near the Altar to remind all those who came to visit the Bais HaMikdash of the importance of living a Torah life each and every day.
This would perhaps explain the seemingly random sequence of some of the halachos listed in this parsha. The Asares Hadibros are neat and orderly. The first five, as many meforshim point out, are bein adam l’Makom (matters pertaining to the service of Hashem), while the second set of five deal with bein Adam l’chavero (interpersonal matters). This presentation is entirely appropriate for the Asares Hadibros. In this week’s parsha, however, Hashem weaves many diverse halachos into the tapestry of the Code for daily living. He is informing us that ALL the parts of the 613 mitzvos are intertwined – and integral to the leading of a spiritual and meaningful Torah life.
Best wishes for a Gutten Shabbos.
© 2005 Rabbi Yakov Horowitz, all rights reserved
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