Parshat Hashavua - Mishpatim
By: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor
Parshat Hashavua Mishpatim in a nutshell: This week's Torah reading delves into laws relating to personal injury, loans, usury, property damage and more. The end of the parsha speaks of the preparations the Israelites made before receiving the Torah at Mt. Sinai.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein brings Rashi who tells us that the [and these], is always used to connote an addition to prior statement. Just as the mitzvos of the preceding section were given at Mount Sinai, so too were all the mitzvos of the parasha. Why, then are the ordinances of this parasha juxtaposed to the laws dealing with the Alter? To tell us that the seat of the Sanhedrin, which was responsible for enforcing these ordinances, was to be in the Beis HaMikdash, [Temple], near the Alter.
To tell us that the seat of the Sanhedrin, which was responsible for enforcing these ordinances, was to be in the Beis HaMikdash, near the Altar. Further, the phrase that you shall before them teaches that Hashem instructed Moshe to place all the ordinances before the Jews like a table set and ready for a meal, that is, in a fashion that would be easy to learn and absorb. These are Rashi’s comments; let us now consider their significance.
The essential message they hold is that every talmid chacham [Torah Scholar] must be aware that even though he is not one of the 71 judges of the Great Sanhedrin, he is still required to consider himself as if he were present in the Beis HaMikdash, the place through which Divine inspiration is channeled into the physical world. Since this is impossible, however, wherever he happens to be, he must still sit in judgment as if he were in the Beis HaMikdash, with the awareness that Hashem stands among judges and presides over them.
We can say however, that the Alter spread its influence over not only the entire physical world, but also over all generations until the end of time. Thus every Torah Court that sits in judgment must be aware that Hashem is sitting with them as if they were sitting in the Beis Hamikdash near the Alter. Any judge who does not keep the fact fixed firmly in his consciousness at all times is fundamentally unfit to be judge.
This sidrah, as its name suggests, is comprised largely of a list of social ordinances. It is interesting to note that the first law mentioned is that of the Eved Ivrei [Hebrew Slave]. In Shemos 21:2 it says that When you buy a Hebrew Slave, he shall work for six years, and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing.
The Shem Mishmuel wrote quoting his father R’ Avraham Bornstein the Rebbe of Sochaczev, Poland d. 1911, pointed out a slight difficulty with the terminology of this verse, for in every other place in the Torah, Jews are referred to as Yisrael, not as Ivrei. So why is this description used specifically here? To answer this, we need to consider other occurrences. On the other side of the river lived your ancestors from earliest times. [Yehoshua 24:2]. And he related to Avram HaIvri, [Bereishis 14:12]. And he related to Avram HaIvri, all of the world was on one side, and he was on the other side. [Bereishis Rabbah 42:8].
It should be clear from these sources that eiver, with the same roots as Ivrei, means “the other side.” It refers to the intrinsic nature of klal Yisrael as free from external influences, on the other side of the fence to the rest of the world, with distinct spirituality and life aims. Avraham was the paradigm of this he stood against the rest of the world as the sole proponent of monotheism.
This is reflected most obviously by the law of the Eved Ivrei. For while these laws have a place in the Torah, it is not possible for a Yisrael to be truly enslaved, as he is intrinsically free from outside bonds. Thus, while a system of servitude of servitude is necessary to deal certain societal problems and help the perpetrator of various crimes to be rehabilitated into society, the Torah could never prescribe true enslavement for any Yisrael.
The slavery can go on no longer for the true nature for the nature of the slave, like any other Yisrael is to be free of bondage of any sort. Once the 7th year begins, which symbolizes all kinds of freedoms, including the exposure of and return to the slave’s inner being, he walks free.
This week is the parashah of Shekalim which describes the half-shekel coin that every Jew was required to contribute to the communal coffers on a yearly basis. After describing all the details of the donation, the TORAH advises us that the gift of the money serves as it say Shemos 30:14 it says “to make atonement for your souls.” The Rebbe of Sochaczev asked, how is it possible to make atonement for one’s sins without the animal offering that the Torah usually mandates? The act of forgiveness requires the sprinkling of the animal’s blood on the altar in the Beis HaMikdash. How can the mere gift of a coin achieve the same send? It seems that the half-shekel enables the sinner to be readmitted to the membership of klal Yisrael, from which his sins had in some way excluded him. How exactly can this occur, given the limited nature of a monetary donation?
Let us begin by examining a well-known statement of Chazal: in the Talmud Yerushalmi, Shekalim 1:4, Rabbi Meir says, “The holy One, may be blessed, took a type of fiery coin from under his Throne of Glory and showed it to Moshe. He said to him, ‘This shall they give.’
Why should the coin shown to Moshe be made of fire? The Hebrew word for “silver” or “money” is kesef. The same root appears in the following verse: It says in Bereishis 31:30, “since you had a strong longing [kasaf] for your father’s house.
Since all similar Hebrew words have the same basic meaning, we can say that the use of money expresses in some form a strong craving for the object purchased. A mitzvah performed with money will therefore be one in which a deep longing and love for GOD and His TORAH is represented. When one feels a strong passion for something, he burns with desire for it, and this, of course is the meaning behind “the fiery coin” mentioned above.
When a Jew’s appetite for mitzvos and closeness to God has waned that is, his passion for Jewish life has cooled he easily falls prey to indolence and sin. When he realizes his error, it is not enough simply to return to mitzvah observance and continues as if nothing has happened. Rather, he must grasp the opposite mind set from that which led him to sin in the first place. He must revise his view of life and try to infuse his performance of mitzvos with a burning and all-consuming position.
When the nation of Yisrael performed their mitzvos with a burning desire for closeness to HASHEM, they were invincible. But as soon as they lost their enthusiasm, as happened just prior to the war with Amalek, the enemy was able to strike, clearing a path for attack by any other adversary. As a future safeguard against this repeating itself on a national level, Hashem gave the mitzvah of the half-shekel, the embodiment of excitement in mitzvah performance, the burning fervor of the fiery coin.
Concludes the Shem Mishmuel that although we no longer give the half-shekel to the Beis HaMikdash, we are certainly able to reawaken our burning desire to serve Hashem with all our strength.