Parshat
Mishpatim

A Student Publication of the Torah Academy of Bergen County
Parshat Mishpatim           29 Shevat 5763              February 1, 2003              Vol.12 No.16


In This Issue:

Mr. Baruch Speiser
Josh Dubin
Danny Manas
Jonathan Weinstein
Jesse Dunietz
Rabbi Howard Jachter

This week’s issue of Kol Torah has been sponsored by
Judy, Gary, Dov, Tali, and Avi Rosenblatt,
in loving memory of Doris Turk, ע"ה, cherished mother and grandmother.
---------

This week’s issue has also been sponsored by
Neal, Barbara, Aliza, Dani, and Atara Yaros in honor of Shlomo’s Birthday.




 

Slavery?  You must be kidding!
by Mr. Baruch Speiser

Parashat Mishpatim begins with an odd paradox.  Instead of beginning to discuss the laws of civility and order as would have been expected, it immediately proceeds with the discussion of the indentured Jewish servant.  While one may assume this may be easily explained and dismissed, after a superficial glance at the relative context, one may conclude that it is indeed perplexing.

The Ramban (Ex. 21:2, “Ki Tikneh”) comments that the presentation of the laws regarding “slavery” of Jews is to serve as a reminder of the slavery in Egypt.  This is certainly clear, as the Torah itself clearly gives the commemoration of our slavery as the reason to several commandments (See ibid. 21:20, 23: 9, and Deut. 15:15).  This poses a rather interesting series of questions.  Firstly, why does the Ramban see a need to state this reason if it is inherently obvious based on the progression of the Chumash?   Secondly, why does the Torah seem concerned with presenting a reminder immediately after the Exodus?  Even more interestingly, do the Jewish people ready to hear that their own society will include slavery?  Furthermore, the very idea of a “Jewish slave” is extremely perplexing.  Did G-d not just state, before the Ten Commandments, that His people are to become a “Mamlekhet kohanim v’Goy kadosh” (Ex. 19:6)?  What is to be the Jewish people's vision of a “dynasty of priests and a holy nation” if any member of that nation can be subjected to the status of slavery?  Is this how the Torah chooses to fulfill this vision?  Why not begin with the laws of Shabbat; where the people will appreciate its message of rest and relaxation and free from the struggles of labor.  What is the true message here?

An answer, according to Rav Morrie Wruble, is that one can only understand a law when one can relate to it.   In our time, living under the ideals of Western civilization where slavery has long been abolished, we are unable to perceive the burden of slavery.  Had the Jewish people been given these laws regarding indentured servants at a time when they were basking in forty years of freedom from tyranny, they might not have been able to internalize its message.   Judaism’s view of servitude is extremely humane in comparison with alternative approaches to slavery, and in order for the Jewish people to learn lessons of conduct from the laws of treating a slave, it was necessary for them to still feel their own lingering horrors of true slavery in their hearts. 

Thus, the concept of Jewish slavery does not contradict the vision of a holy nation.  Quite the opposite the other nations  see how this holy nation treats its slaves, and then the Jews themselves – who can relate to nothing but slavery – can truly appreciate how Judaism perceives its people.  Similarly, it is obvious why G-d chose to discuss this matter immediately.  There can be no greater relief to a slave to know that the freedom that will exist in their new religion is extended even to the lowest member of society.


In addition, the Ramban now has a clear reason to state that this is a reminder.  The Jewish people could mistakenly percieve these laws as merely a message which defines their freedom in terms they are capable of understanding.  Rather, these laws also serve to remind us that we were slaves in Egypt, and that we must bear that thought as we follow every other command in the Torah that will follow.  Because we were freed from slavery, we must live up to that vision of “Mamlekhet kohanim v’Goy kadosh.”


 

Piercing Questions
by
Josh Dubin

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us the laws of the עבד עברי 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, “Viayle Hamishpatim Asher Tasim Lifnayhem,” “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 Mean 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 discourage 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, when the period of the judges began, the judges made sure that the Jews were acting properly.  Because of this, Bnai Yisrael defeated their enemies. 

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 housed 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 another’s property.  The Seforno adds that the Torah is explaining what belongs to other people in order to prevent envy.  The Gemara (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).

 

Covenant of Blood
by Jesse Dunietz

Towards the end of the Parsha, we hear about the special Korbanot brought before Matan Torah.  Perek 24, Pasuk 6-8 says “Vayikach Moshe Chatzi Hadam Vayesem Baaganot, Vachatzi Hadam Zarak Al Hamizbeach… Vayikach Moshe Et Hadam Vatizrok Al Haam.”  “Moshe took half the blood of the Korbanot and placed it in bowls, and half the blood he sprinkled on the mizbeach… and Moshe took the blood and he sprinkled it on the people.”  In interpreting these Pesukim, the Shem Mishmuel  uses Rashi and the Zohar to develop two different approaches to the concepts behind Moshe’s actions.

Regarding the second sprinkling, Rashi says, “He sprinkled the blood on the Mizbeach to atone for the people.”  In his opinion, both halves of the blood from the Karbanot were actually put on the mizbeach.  He also says that it was not Moshe, but an angel, who divided the blood in the first place.  The Zohar says something slightly different: “Moshe split the blood into two: half of the blood he sprinkled on the people, and half he sprinkled on the mizbeach.”

According to the Shem Mishmuel, the Zohar’s intention in saying, “He split it into two,” is that Moshe first split the blood into two halves, one for the people and one for Hashem (the Mizbeach).  Moshe then sprinkled the blood meant for the people on the Mizbeach and vice versa.  Thus, the result was the end of Pasuk 18: “Vayomer Hinei Dam Habrit Asher Karat Hashem Imachem Al Kol Hadevarim Haeleh,” “He said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that Hashem has made with you over these things,’” that is to say, the Torah.  Because of the switching of the halves of the blood, the two recipients became closely linked with each other.  In fact, Vayikra Rabba mentions this clearly.  It describes Hashem telling Moshe to switch the halves of blood, and that this caused a two-way covenant.  Thus, according to the Zohar, switching two bowls of blood caused the permanent link between Hashem and Bnei Yisrael.

According to Rashi, however, all of the blood was sprinkled on the Mizbeach.  Therefore, a different explanation is needed for how the blood formed a Brit.  The Shem Mishmuel suggests that after Hashem had already made a promise to Bnai Yisrael that He would be their G-d forever, His oath needed no confirmation by blood.  Therefore, the blood designated for him could be placed on the Mizbeach.  The nation’s promise, however, was a human promise, so it needed reinforcement.  The half of the blood designated for them was placed on the Mizbeach  to provide a visual and lasting bond to Hashem.  This concept, is also supported by several Midrashim. 


In the end, no matter which way the Pesukim are read, the events recorded were carefully ordered and crafted to create a lasting attachment between Bnai Yisrael and Hashem, that has lasted until this day.

 

 

Staff at time of publication:
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