One Small Step At A Time by Rabbi Darren Blackstein


Having just read the Parashah containing the Aseret HaDibrot, we now turn our attention to Parashat Mishpatim and its many laws that govern how we treat our fellow man. There seems to be a stark contrast between Parashat Yitro’s involvement in our connection to the Divine and Parashat Mishpatim’s involvement in our interpersonal relationships. Parashat Yitro’s drama is engulfed in a spectacular experience where Am Yisrael, under the weight of Hashem’s words, need to beg for relief, while Parashat Mishpatim seems to be an aftermath containing civil laws, coupled with an innate moral code. Perhaps the transition between these Parashiyot is much smoother than it appears on the surface.

The last Pasuk of Parashat Yitro (Shemot 20:23) states that we should not ascend a Mizbei’ach by way of stairs. This implies that we should ascend by way of some type of ramp. The Pasuk explains that this is to avoid revealing any nakedness in our approach to the altar. Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Asher Lo Tigaleh Ervatecha) explains that climbing stairs necessitates the elongation of our stride, thereby increasing the chance of exposing the inner thigh. Rashi continues to explain that this remains an issue despite Hashem’s commandment to the Kohanim to wear linen pants. The reason that this is an issue is due to the fact that the climbing stairs is a physical motion that, in a bodily way, advertises the nakedness of the leg, even though in this case it is covered. The motion of climbing stairs itself thereby becomes a disrespectful activity, and, consequently, should not be performed near such a holy place. Then, Rashi quotes a Kal VaChomer from the Mechilta that states the following: If we are careful to avoid humiliating inanimate objects such as stones because they have this holy use, we should, all the more so, be careful to avoid humiliating our fellow man because he is created in the image of Hashem! Rashi enables us to realize that inherent in our connection to Hashem is our connection to each other.

At the beginning of this week’s Parashah, Rashi (Shemot 21:1 s.v. VeEileh HaMishpatim) asks how it can be connected to Parashat Yitro. Again quoting the Mechilta, Rashi explains that the message is that just as the topics of the altar in Yitro and interpersonal laws in Mishpatim are juxtaposed, similarly, the Sanhedrin, which adjudicates the laws of Mishpatim, should be located near the Mizbei’ach, which is described in Yitro. This is all well and good in terms of deriving a message from the juxtaposition, but this seems like a lesson born out of the convenience of these two topics being next to each other, and not out of a fundamental connection. The Maharal, in his Sefer Gur Aryeh, explains what Rashi has in mind. He writes that the function of the Mizbei’ach is to promote a sense of peace and well-being between us and Hashem through the sacrifices that are offered there. Similarly, the function of the Sanhedrin is to promote a sense of peace and well-being amongst the people through the debates that it resolves and the laws that it clarifies. Therefore, this similarity in function is reflected not only through the juxtaposition of the topics, but also through the physical proximity of one to the other.

What message can we extract from this? It seems that we are being told that there are underlying connections between the way we conduct our spiritual lives and the way we conduct our interpersonal lives. Jews must reflect a healthy respect and concern for the holiness that is inherent in Bein Adam LaMakom, as well as in Bein Adam LaChaveiro. This is necessitated by the Tzelem Elokim that is part of every human being. A similar point is made by the Maharal by way of Rashi in last week’s Parashah. We are told in Perek 20 that Hashem described “all” these Aseret HaDibrot (20:1). Rashi (ad loc. s.v. Eit Kol HaDevarim HaEileh) explains that the word “all” implies that Hashem said all of the commandments at once. Bnei Yisrael were not able to tolerate that, though, so Hashem delivered the Aseret HaDibrot in another way. The Maharal explains that Rashi teaches that Hashem said them all together; while this was impossible to understand, He relayed the message that all of Hashem’s words and all of the Torah are connected and part of a large harmonious whole. We must strive to reflect this message in our daily living. We must see the Kedushah in the performance of a ritualistic Mitzvot as well as in our social conduct. Both should reflect the holiness embedded in each.

As a recommendation in terms of our progress, I must echo the words of our Rosh HaYeshiva, Rav Yosef Adler. Rabbi Adler often suggests that progress must be made in small quantifiable amounts. Taking on too much too soon will lead only to failure and disappointment. Perhaps this message can be seen through the ramp leading to the altar. A ramp provides for a slow, smooth journey to the next level, while a step proceeds in a sharp incline leading to a possibility of stumbling. As we are counted upon, through our contributions in Parashat Shekalim, to be a part of our nation’s service to Hashem, may we all be Zocheh to uplift our treatment of, and connection to, one another in ways that reflect the message of the unified Kedushah of Hashem Himself.

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