• Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

    This week’s Parsha, Mishpatim, starts “and these are the laws which you shall set before them (21:1).” Rashi points out that G-d told Moshe that it’s not enough to just teach the Torah, and that Moshe should present it to the Jews like a set table from which one is ready to eat, which is done by explaining the reasons for all the Mitzvot (commandments) as well. As Rabbi Zweig asks, why is this true and what does the analogy to a set table from which one could readily eat mean?

    Rabbi Zweig answers that the Torah is presenting one of the most important underlying principles of Judaism. There are two purposes in eating: nutrition and pleasure. When G-d tells Moshe to give the Torah to the Jews as a set table, He is referring to the presentation of the Mitzvot, which is a focus not to the nutritional aspect but rather to the pleasurable aspect. G-d is telling Moshe that it isn’t enough to just perform the Mitzvot; the people are also meant to enjoy them. The laws are to be presented in such a way that we should understand them, thereby deriving pleasure from them and have a desire to repeat them.

    The lesson is that the Torah must be transformative; For example. it isn’t enough to give charity, one must become a charitable person. A charitable person feels good and derives pleasure from helping others. It isn’t enough to keep Shabbos, one must connect to the spirit of Shabbos and take pleasure in everything it has to offer. One can only accomplish this by having an understanding of the reasons for the Mitzvot, something worth all of our efforts in improving.

  • Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

    As the Torah puts it, “AND these are the laws you shall place before them…” Parshat Mishpatim starts by going right into the social justice code of the Torah, directly following the giving of the Torah itself. In fact, Rashi explains that we start with the word “And” to tell us that just like the last one, this Parsha was given at Sinai as well. Rabbi Yochanan Zweig wonders why there’s a separation between the Ten Commandments and the social laws. Also, isn’t it obvious that all the rules were given at Sinai, since the whole Torah was given then? Furthermore, why would the first rule described be the one about Jewish slaves, when that wouldn’t even be possible for at least 14 years after the Jews settle into their land? Wouldn’t it make more sense to start with more relevant laws?

    As Rabbi Zweig answers, there are two understandings of our relationship between man and G-d. We undertake to accept G-d’s Laws, but we also accept a responsibility for the welfare of our fellow Jew. This week’s Parsha is the focus on that second responsibility, that of caring for each other: We don’t steal because the rule in society is that we shouldn’t steal. What makes Jews unique is that we also don’t steal because we need to insure that our fellow Jew has/keeps what’s rightfully theirs. If we don’t care for the welfare of the other, then we’ve failed to maintain our own social justice. We see this difference in laws like our requirements to help another Jew load their animals, even if we happen to hate that person. We also see this difference in laws like our requirement to not ignore any lost objects we find.

    With that understanding, if there’s one person who hasn’t realized their responsibility to their fellow Jew… it’s the slave, who stole from another Jew, and gave themselves up to slavery to repay their debt. Not only did they ignore their charge to be only G-d’s servant, but they also ignored the boundaries of their fellow Jew. The Torah is clearly telling us that we have a responsibility to include into society even a Jew that we’d have a reason to exclude, and that’s why it’s the first law described. Last Parsha contained the concept of being G-d’s people, and doing what G-d needs. This Parsha focuses on the concept of being one people, and bringing us all together. A team is greater than its parts, but only if we each do our part for the team.

  • Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

    This week’s Parsha, Mishpatim, starts “and these are the laws which you shall set before them (21:1).” Rashi points out that G-d told Moshe that it’s not enough to just teach the Torah, and that Moshe should present it to the Jews like a set table from which one is ready to eat, which is done by explaining the reasons for all the Mitzvot (commandments) as well. As Rabbi Zweig asks, why is this true and what does the analogy to a set table from which one could readily eat mean?

    Rabbi Zweig answers that the Torah is presenting one of the most important underlying principles of Judaism. There are two purposes in eating: nutrition and pleasure. When G-d tells Moshe to give the Torah to the Jews as a set table, He is referring to the presentation of the Mitzvot, which is a focus not to the nutritional aspect but rather to the pleasurable aspect. G-d is telling Moshe that it isn’t enough to just perform the Mitzvot; the people are also meant to enjoy them. The laws are to be presented in such a way that we should understand them, thereby deriving pleasure from them and have a desire to repeat them.

    The lesson is that the Torah must be transformative; it isn’t enough to give charity, one must become a charitable person. A charitable person feels good and derives pleasure from helping others. It isn’t enough to keep Shabbos, one must connect to the spirit of Shabbos and take pleasure in everything it has to offer. One can only accomplish this by having an understanding of the reasons for the Mitzvot, something worth all of our efforts in improving.

  • Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

    Parshat Mishpatim begins the daunting work of laying the law for the Jews. Hidden among the many laws is a law that states: “if” one lends money, it is required to be interest free (22:24). After detailing broad laws of slavery, injuries and damages, why would the Torah choose to mention a law that would only apply to some people? Further, what’s wrong with charging interest? If someone can’t use their money because they lent it, don’t they deserve to be reimbursed for that loss?

    Our first clue is Rashi (a major commentator) pointing out that this is one of only three times in the Torah that the word “Im” doesn’t mean “if”, but means “when”. This now clearly tells us that it’s not just a possibility that money will be lent, but it’s a requirement to lend money, whenever possible. That would explain why the Torah mentioned it, but still – why the aversion to interest? Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains that when someone does an act of kindness, such as lending, it should be without anticipating reward. Mixing a good deed with personal gain can confuse us into thinking that we’re doing something because it’s right and proper to do, while in fact we’re really motivated by the profits derived by doing it. The Torah is illustrating that a good deed should be pure and untainted, without even a doubt of its motivation. In our everyday lives, there should be at least ONE such deed, where there can be no doubt that it was done purely for another’s benefit. What’s yours?

  • Daily Aliya for Mishpatim, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This Aliya continues describing the blessings the Israelites will receive if they faithfully serve G‑d: no miscarriages or barren women, longevity, wide spacious borders and supernatural assistance in their quest to conquer the Holy Land. G‑d warns the Israelites against entering into treaties with the Canaanite natives or allowing them to remain in the land after the Israelite invasion. The Torah now relates some of the events that occurred in the days immediately prior to the giving of the Torah. Moshe went up the mountain and received a message from G‑d which he communicated to the people. The Israelites enthusiastically committed themselves to following all of G‑d’s laws. Moshe transcribed the “Book of the Covenant” and read it to the people. Then, together with the Israelite firstborn, Moshe offered sacrifices and sprinkled the blood on the people, bringing them into a covenant with G‑d. This Aliya concludes with G‑d summoning Moshe – after the giving of the Torah – to ascend the mountain where he would remain for forty days and nights, and would then be given the Tablets.

    G-d promises that we will live full satisfying lives and that our enemies will panic before us and will be driven out of the Land – not quickly, but slowly, so that the People of Israel may properly populate the Land. Why not with a quick miracle? The answer is that miracles are nice, but we needed (and need) to get accustomed and in tune with daily miracles that are less obvious, but not less miraculous and necessary.

  • Daily Aliya for Mishpatim, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: G‑d informed the Israelites that He would dispatch an angel to lead them into Canaan. This angel would not tolerate disobedience. If, however, the Israelites would hearken to the angel, and eradicate idolatry from the Promised Land, then they will be greatly rewarded. Their Canaanite enemies will fall before them and G‑d “will bless your food and your drink, and will remove illness from your midst.”

    The Passuk describing the angel sent to lead the Israelites into Canaan is generic enough that it could be referring to anyone, at any time (read 23:20). If so, the Passuk is saying that there is always an angel helping to guide us to where we need to go.

  • Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)

    As the Torah puts it, “AND these are the laws you shall place before them…” Parshat Mishpatim starts by going right into the social justice code of the Torah, directly following the giving of the Torah itself. In fact, Rashi explains that we start with the word “And” to tell us that just like the last one, this Parsha was given at Sinai as well. Rabbi Zweig asks why there’s a separation between the Ten Commandments and the social laws? Also, isn’t it obvious that all the rules were given at Sinai, since the whole Torah was given then? Furthermore, why would the first rule described be the one about Jewish slaves, when that wouldn’t even be possible for at least 14 years after the Jews settle into their land? Wouldn’t it make more sense to start with more relevant laws?

    As Rabbi Zweig answers, there are two understandings of our relationship between man and G-d. We undertake to accept G-d’s Laws, but we also accept a responsibility for the welfare of our fellow Jew. This week’s Parsha is the focus on that second responsibility, that of caring for each other: We don’t steal because the rule in society is that we shouldn’t steal. What makes Jews unique is that we also don’t steal because we need to insure that our fellow Jew has/keeps what’s rightfully theirs. If we don’t care for the welfare of the other, then we’ve failed to maintain our own social justice. We see this difference in laws like our requirements to help another Jew load their animals, even if we happen to hate that person. We also see this difference in laws like our requirement to not ignore any lost objects we find.

    With that understanding, if there’s one person who hasn’t realized their responsibility to their fellow Jew… it’s the slave, who stole from another Jew, and gave themselves up to slavery to repay their debt. Not only did they ignore their charge to be only G-d’s servant, but they also ignored the boundaries of their fellow Jew. The Torah is clearly telling us that we have a responsibility to include into society even a Jew that we’d have a reason to exclude, and that’s why it’s the first law described. Last Parsha contained the concept of being G-d’s people, and doing what G-d needs. This Parsha focuses on the concept of being ONE people, and bringing us all together. A team is greater than its parts, but only if we each do our part for the team.

  • Daily Aliya for Mishpatim, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: We are commanded not to lie or take a bribe. The mitzvah of the Shemitah (Sabbatical year) is introduced: six years we work and harvest the land, and on the seventh year we allow the land to rest. Similarly, on a weekly basis, six days we work and on the seventh day we – and our cattle and servants – must rest. We are forbidden to mention the name of other gods. We are commanded to celebrate the three festivals —Passover, Shavuot and Sukkot – and to make pilgrimages to the Holy Temple on these occasions. Finally, we are told not to cook meat in (its mother’s) milk.

    The Midrash says that when G-d dictated these words to Moshe and explained to him the laws of Meat in Milk, Moshe requested permission to write Basar b’Chalav, rather than the obscure, confusing G’di bachaleiv imo. G-d told Moshe: write the words that I tell you. For reasons that we sometimes can figure out and sometimes cannot, G-d chose what and how to write something in the Written Torah and how it is to be explained via the Oral Tradition. The words are not arbitrary nor are they superfluous. One thing we know for certain is that the Written Word is inseparable from the Oral Law.

  • Daily Aliya for Mishpatim, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: This Aliya, too, introduces us to many new mitzvot: the prohibitions against cursing a judge or leader, consuming meat that was not ritually slaughtered, offering a sacrifice before the animal is eight days old, perjury, and judicial corruption; the commandments to separate all agricultural tithes in their proper order, sanctify the first-born son, return a lost animal to its owner, and help unload an overburdened animal.

    One must help even his enemy unload his beast of burden. This mitzvah is one of several that are considered to be the sources of the Jewish concept of Avoiding cruelty to Animals. The Sefer HaChinuch says that if this mitzvah applies to a donkey, how much more so does it apply to humans. If one sees a fellow person loaded down with bundles, it is a mitzvah to help him with them. Torah Tidbits adds a unique perspective to this: If you are the one overburdened and someone offers to help carry a package, etc. – let him. Resist the temptation to automatically say “no thanks, I can manage”, and accept the help. You will be helped and the helper will be fulfilling a mitzvah.

  • Daily Aliya for Mishpatim, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: An arsonist is liable for damages caused by fires he ignites. The Torah then details the potential liabilities of an individual who undertakes to be a guardian of another’s possessions, a borrower, and a renter. More laws: the punishment for seducing a young woman, sorcery, bestiality and offering an idolatrous sacrifice; prohibitions against harassing a foreigner, widow, or orphan; the mitzvah of lending money to the poor and the prohibition against lending with interest.

    The prohibition against mistreating a foreigner is worded differently than the one against mistreating an orphan or widow. There is a reason given for not mistreating a foreigner, because we were once foreigners in Egypt. How is that relevant, and why does there have to be a reason? Can’t it just be a law that we must follow, just like the orphan and widow commandment? Unless there is a deeper requirement involved – one of empathizing with others whenever possible. The Torah might be telling us not to simply follow the laws, but to try and feel what others are feeling, whenever possible.

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