Most of Parshat Mishpatim seems to be scattered at best, lacking any sense of ?organization or flow. Pesukim just follow each other, not bothering to connect to teach ?other in topic or theme. Rashi’s favorite question of why one section in Chumash follows ?another is ubiquitous here, as every time the Pasuk switches topics, we have to figure out ?why. This tendency in Mishpatim so bedeviled the Ibn Ezra that he commented that each ?Halacha in Mishpatim stands alone, and, while we will connect them if we can, we will ?also assume that we simply do not have the understanding necessary to truly comprehend ?the overall structure.?
However, if we step back and look at a very large section, some themes do begin to ?emerge, helping us to solve this problem at least partially. The Parsha begins by ?discussing the laws of slaves (21:1-21), including selling one’s daughter (7-11), with a ?brief interruption for homicide of slaves and non-slaves alike (12-21), then continuing ?with more sections on physical injury (23-27), damages and deaths by livestock or road ?obstructions (28-36), and finally theft of livestock (37). The next Perek opens with a ?discussion of the laws paying for damage incurred during self-defense, another bit about ?livestock damage, and finally a protracted section on the four types of custody a person ?may take – lender, borrower, renter, and unpaid guard (22:1-19).?
While there do seem to be repeated themes throughout these sections, the topics ?themselves reveal a great deal. Almost all seem to deal with property, whether the kind ?that stays stuck to the ground or the kind that can move around on its own, and most of ?them seem to deal with the possibility of damage.?
One of the most difficult things I discovered when I became a teacher is the ?problem of responsibility. Nobody thinks anything is his or her problem. When walking ?out of a bathroom, you put the paper towel in the trash. If it misses on the first toss, you go back ?and put it in again. Why should you bother? Because your trash is your responsibility. ?Pointing out others’ trash on the floor around the garbage can does not change the fact ?that yours is your problem.?
This part of Mishpatim is all about responsibility – for actions, for slaves, for ?property, for damage one causes, for items he guards. Having been slaves for the past ?two hundred years, Bnei Yisrael are used to owning nothing, to being responsible for ?nothing beyond the work they had to do. The very idea of ownership is foreign to a ?slave, and they must relearn it if they are to function in a free society. The newly freed ?slaves have to learn that owning things (including slaves) does not give them ?carte blanche to do with their property as they please, but leaves them saddled with ?responsibilities and obligations that may be more trouble than they are worth.?
Once Bnei Yisrael have learned that lesson, they may be ready for the next ?section: social and legal responsibility. They can take on the obligations to be fair and ?impartial, to be neither excessively for nor against the poor, to help the downtrodden, and ?to give free loans. These responsibilities are above and beyond those we have seen ?before – charity often involves sacrificing that precious property for the benefit of others. ?Only once we have a coherent sense of the responsibilities that property carries in the ?first place can we begin to understand what charitable behavior may entail. And only ?once we have a handle on the charitable ideas can we merit the next section of Mishpatim ??– the laws and issues of living in Eretz Yisrael.?
Freedom at Last?
by Tzvi Atkin
At the beginning of this week’s Parsha, we read about the Eved Ivri, the Jewish thief who is sold into slavery for six years because he is unable to pay back the value of the goods he stole. The Torah tells us (21:10) what happens if he wants to remain a slave after the six years are completed: “VeHigisho Adonav El HaElohim VeHigisho El HaDelet O El HaMezuzah, VeRatza Adonav Et Ozno BaMartzei’a, VaAvado LeOlam,” “And his master shall bring him to the Beit Din and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with the awl, and he shall serve him forever” (see Rashi and Rashbam). This Pasuk raises a question: why does the ear need to be pierced “on a door or on a Mezuzah?” Why not on any other surface?
The Kli Yakar offers an explanation for what the door and the Mezuzah really represent. He says that the door hints to the slave that Hashem opened the door for him to walk out of slavery and to live freely, but that he rejected the opportunity. The Mezuzah, the doorpost, hints to what is found in the text of a Mezuzah – the paragraph of “VeAhavta Eit Hashem Elokecha…,” “And you shall love Hashem your God…” The piercing of the ear on the Mezuzah is supposed to hint to the slave that his entire purpose in being an Eved Ivri was to learn to love Hashem. Instead, at the end of the six-year term, he still does not truly love Hashem; he loves his master, his wife (who is really a Shifchah Kenaanit assigned to him by his master), and his children (from this Shifchah).
We can learn two very important ideas from the piercing of the slave’s ear. The first lesson, which we see from the door’s message, is that Hashem constantly gives us opportunities to help ourselves, and it is our job to seize and take full advantage of these opportunities to better our lives. The second lesson comes from the Mezuzah’s message. Unlike the slave who becomes obsessed with materialism and fails to come to love Hashem through his servitude, we have to always remember, especially when all is well, that our ultimate goal in life is not to indulge ourselves in worldly pleasures; rather, it is to learn to love and fear the greatest Master of all, Hashem.
Missed the Point
by Yitzchak Richmond
At the beginning of Parshat Mishpatim, the Torah states (21:6) that if a slave refuses to go free upon the arrival of the Shemitah year, the slave gets his ear pierced with an awl, and he remains a slave to his master “forever” (i.e. until the Yovel year). Rashi asks why the ear is specifically selected to be pierced instead of any other limb in the body. To answer, Rashi quotes Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who says that the man whose ear heard at Har Sinai “Lo Tignov,” “Do not steal,” and still stole, deserves to have that ear pierced. However, this makes sense only in the case of one who was sold into slavery upon being unable to pay back for a theft. In a case of a person who was impoverished and sold himself into slavery, another answer must be offered: the man whose ear heard Hashem say at Har Sinai “Ki Li Bnei Yisrael Avadim,” “For Bnei Yisrael are servants to me,” yet nevertheless sold himself to a different master, deserves to have this ear pierced.
Rav Elya Meir Bloch asks: why did Chazal feel compelled to offer two different reasons for the ear being pierced? No matter which type of slave he is, he is only punished because he did not want to go free! The slave would seem to be violating only “Ki Li Bnei Yisrael Avadim,” as there is no theft now, only a desire to remain a slave! This question is further compounded when we consider that even a thief does not have his ear pierced if he consents to going free at the end of six years!
Rav Bloch presents a profound answer. A person who wants to improve and fix his Neshamah has to go to the root of his deeds and improve them. If a person fails to do this, he has not accomplished anything. If the slave would really do Teshuvah, he would realize that slavery is not an acceptable status for a human being who wants to really be a constructive part of society. Once the slave arrives at the realization that the only reason he became a slave in the first place is that he ignored “Lo Tignov” and “Ki Li Bnei Yisrael Avadim,” he will not want to be a slave anymore. This is why there are two reasons given for the choice of the ear – the slave did not do Teshuvah for either of the actions that resulted in his becoming a slave. Since he still does not want to serve Hashem as a free man, the slave is shown that he never understood the real reason he was made a slave.
Shocking as it may be, this often happens to us as well. Sometimes, we fail to recognize the true purposes of events that happen in our lives, and at the time that we should have achieved certain goals through these events, we still remain at square one. May we learn from the Eved to realize the purpose and goal of everything, and be able to accomplish our life’s mission.
by Tzvi Zuckier
Parshat Mishpatim states (21:16), “VeGoneiv Ish UMcharo VeNimtza VeYado Mot Yumat,” “One who kidnaps a man and sells him…shall be killed.” This Pasuk is surrounded by two Pesukim dealing with one who curses or hits his parents. The Torah easily could have put the two Pesukim dealing with children who mistreat parents next to each other, and placed the Pasuk regarding kidnapping somewhere else. Why did the Torah go out of its way to place kidnapping between two Pesukim dealing with rebellious children?
Alexander Zushye Friedman, in his Sefer Maayanah Shel Torah, answers this question. He cites Ibn Ezra, quoting Rav Saadia Gaon, who states the following: normally, it is extremely rare to find a case of someone who strikes or curses his parents. However, when one who was kidnapped as a child discovers his true parents, he may curse or hit them out of pain and anger. This is why a kidnapper receives such a harsh punishment – not just for kidnapping, but also for causing the child who was stolen to transgress a sin which also entails the death penalty.
In his comments on the Pesukim about mistreating parents and kidnapping, Rashi states that the Pasuk regarding kidnapping is the source of a Machloket in the Gemara in which one side holds that we compare striking and cursing parents for punishment purposes, while the other holds that we do not. The one who says that we do not compare the two can answer our original question. According to that opinion, the Torah must have placed kidnapping between cursing and hitting parents to show that hitting and cursing should not be compared. By creating a barrier between the two Pesukim, the Torah shows that we should not connect them.
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