With much attention being given to the year of study in Israel, there is an unfortunate phenomenon that has developed regarding this worthwhile year of study. An attitude has emerged suggesting that motivating ourselves while still in high school is unnecessary since we can merely turn things around once we get to Israel. Therefore, high school is viewed as a time to enjoy ourselves and indulge as we please – after all, we can just fix it once we get to Israel, right?
There are two insights that Parshat Mishpatim conveys regarding this attitude. Rashi quotes a Midrash explaining that Parshat Mishpatim is juxtaposed to Parshat Yitro because the laws in Parshat Mishpatim were commanded at Har Sinai, just like the Asseret Hadibrot, which were stated in Parshat Yitro.
The Beit Halevi takes this a step further and asks: Why does Parshat Mishpatim precede Parshat Terumah? He answers that Parshat Terumah discusses the donations given to the building of the Mishkan. It was therefore necessary to precede Terumah by first discussing many of the laws of business contained in Mishpatim, since the donations given to the Mishkan had to be obtained by the donors in a way that was proper and in accordance with Jewish law. A person’s giving money to the Mishkan did not allow him to acquire this money in an improper way. The ends do not justify the means. Instead, the path to the end must also be proper.
Coming out of Israel dedicated to a life of Torah and Mitzvot is a wonderful goal, but it does not allow us to ignore the means. Neglecting our responsibilities to the Torah and Halachah while in high school is distorting the means. Just as the end is appropriate, so too should the years of high school, which are the path to this important year in Israel, be appropriate.
An alternative answer to the question of the Beit Halevi is the well-known saying from Pirkei Avot, “Derech Eretz Kadmah LeTorah.” Proper conduct to our fellow man must precede Torah, and by extension, Mitzvot Bein Adam LaChaveiro should precede Mitzvot Bein Adam LaMakom. Sometimes a lax attitude towards Mitzvot in high school turns into a lax attitude regarding Mitzvot Bein Adam LaChaveiro because we know in the back of our minds that we will be given a whole new opportunity in Israel, and all will be forgiven. While Judaism certainly encourages new opportunities, the way we treat our fellow man can sometimes cause irreparable damage. Waiting until Israel to begin to understand the importance of how to treat our peers is certainly not consistent with the primacy of Mitzvot Bein Adam LaChaveiro.
While a year of study in Israel is certainly important (two isn’t bad either), it should be an opportunity for us to build on all we have achieved in high school, not a chance to undo that which we have done already.