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 Parshas Mishpotim - Vol. 4, Issue 18
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Im ra’ah b’einei adoneha asher lo y’adah v’hefdah l’am nachri lo yimshol l’machrah b’vigdo bah v’im liv’no yiadenah k’mishpat ha’banos ya’aseh lah (21:8-9)

The Mishnah in Avos (3:17) teaches that without derech eretz there can be no Torah, and without Torah there cannot be derech eretz. This statement seems to present an enigmatic catch-22 regarding the initial attainment of both Torah and derech eretz.

In his commentary on this Mishnah, Rabbeinu Yonah resolves the apparent contradiction by explaining that the Mishnah is discussing two distinct types of derech eretz. The first derech eretz refers to what is commonly known as essential good manners and interpersonal kills, which one must possess as a prerequisite to Torah study. The second derech eretz refers to an exceptional and heightened sensitivity to others which can only be acquired through learning Torah.

Rav Eliyahu Lopian points out two examples of the Torah’s unique derech eretz in our parsha. The Torah gives the master of a female Jewish slave a mitzvah to arrange for her marriage, either to himself or to his son. This maidservant is the daughter of a man so stricken by poverty that he was forced to sell his own young daughter into slavery, hardly a girl that people will be jumping to marry.

Yet Hashem, who worries equally about each of His children, specifically commands her wealthy master to ensure her a respectable match and a promising future. While she is devastated at the destruction of her entire world and has despaired of marrying or ever leading a normal life, the Torah worries about and cares for her, requiring her owner to save her from physical and emotional poverty.

Similarly, the parsha begins by discussing the laws of a Jewish slave. The Torah requires his master to care for the slave’s needs just as he cares for his very own (Kiddushin 20a). Further, if the master only has one bed or one pillow, he is required to give it to his servant and do without (Tosefos), as a person who acquires a Jewish servant acquires a master for himself. If a person walked into a house and saw two people sleeping, one on a bed and one on the hard floor, he would automatically assume that the person on the bed is the master and the one on the floor is his slave.

According to the Torah, it is just the opposite. Specifically in regards to this dejected individual, who was caught stealing or forced to sell himself into slavery due to extreme financial hardship, the Torah requires his owner to treat him with respect by giving him the comfortable bed. Such empathy and consideration doesn’t come naturally to even the most sensitive human being, but only through the study of Hashem’s Torah. This, then, is the Torah’s derech eretz.


V’ki yishal ish me’im re’eihhu v’nishbar o meis b’alav ein imo shalem y’shalem (22:13)

Of the four classifications of people who are required to take proper care of an object, the responsibilities of a borrower are the greatest. Due to the fact that he doesn’t pay for the item and is nevertheless able to fully enjoy it, he is obligated to pay for damages that occur through completely accidental breakage unless they occur at the time that he was actually using the item.

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein recounts that when he was a young boy studying at the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, one of his classmates proudly arrived at school one day with a fancy new fountain pen. At one point during the day, another student asked if he could borrow the pen to jot down a piece of information that he was afraid he would forget. Much to the chagrin of the second boy, who came from an impoverished family, the expensive pen mysteriously broke in his hand just after he had finished using it and was about to return it.

Although everybody assumed that the law in such a case is black-and-white, obligating the borrower to reimburse the owner for his loss, the distraught boy refused to give up and went to ask Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank for his ruling. His classmates were shocked when he reappeared beaming with joy. The boy explained that the Rav ruled that because he had only borrowed the pen to write a few short words, the value of the small amount of ink he would be using in the process was less than a “perutah” (roughly $.05). A person who borrows such a small amount isn’t legally considered a borrower to be obligated to pay for complete accidents, and therefore the Rav ruled that the boy was exempt.


V’lo yihyeh bahem negef bifkod osam (Parshas Shekalim – 30:12)

            In the middle of his rebuke of the Jewish nation, Moshe blessed them (Devorim 1:11) that Hashem should increase their numbers 1000-fold. The Medrash (Devorim Rabbah 1:11) cryptically comments that this verse is what Dovid HaMelech had in mind when he wrote (Tehillim 5:8) V’ani b’rov chasdecha avo beisecha eshtachaveh el heichal kadshecha b’yirasecha – And I (Dovid), through Your tremendous kindness, will come into Your House, and I will prostrate myself toward Your Holy Sanctuary in awe of You – a verse which has no apparent connection to Moshe’s blessing. What is the meaning of this Medrash?

            Rav Elyakim Devorkas notes that the Gemora in Yoma (22b) rules that it is forbidden to count the Jewish people, even for the purpose of performing a mitzvah, as doing so could make them subject to an ayin hara (evil eye) which may reduce their numbers. Although one may not perform a head-count of Jews, it is permitted to count them via proxy, as was done in our parsha when the census was taken by counting the half-shekels contributed by each person.

            Before beginning the daily prayer services, one must often look around the room to make sure that a minyan of ten adult men is present. However, it is forbidden to do so by counting the individual people present (Pri Chodosh Orach Chaim 55). Instead, it has become customary to choose a verse which has ten words and to recite one word of the verse when pointing to each person present (Kitzur Shulchan Aruch 15:3). If one is able to finish the entire verse, this is an indication that the required quorum is present. One example of a verse with ten words is the aforementioned verse in Tehillim which is quoted by the Medrash.

Rav Devorkas explains that when Moshe blessed the Jewish people that they should become numerous, the Medrash questioned how this blessing can be fulfilled. Since Jews are required to pray with a minyan, one who performs a head-count to see if the required ten men are present will inadvertently invite an ayin hara to strike the people and reduce their numbers, thereby nullifying Moshe’s blessing. The Medrash resolves this dilemma by answering that instead of counting the individual Jews present, one may count them using the words of the verse in Tehillim. This will spare them from the threat of the ayin hara and allow Moshe’s blessing to come to fruition!


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     A Jewish slave who doesn’t want to leave his master when the time for his freedom arrives has his ear pierced (21:6), and he continues to serve his master until the Yovel. Rashi explains that the purpose of the piercing is to punish the ear which heard at Mount Sinai Hashem’s prohibition against stealing (20:13), and nevertheless proceeded to steal. Why is the slave’s ear punished for a theft which was performed by his hands and in which it played no role? (Har Tzvi)

2)     The Gemora in Bava Kamma (85a) derives from 21:19 that a doctor is permitted to treat and heal the sick. Why does the Mishnah in Kiddushin (82a) teach that the best doctors will be punished in Gehinnom if the Torah gives them permission to practice medicine? (Rashi and Maharsha Kiddushin 82a, Rav Akiva Eiger Al HaTorah, Pardes Yosef 14:7)

3)     If a minor child breaks something, is he required to pay for it after his Bar Mitzvah? (Bach and Taz Orach Chaim 343, Mishnah Berurah 343:9, Biur HaGra Choshen Mishpat 424:15)

4)     How could it be that a person told the complete truth without adding or leaving anything out, yet in doing so he violates the Torah prohibition (23:7) against speaking falsely? (Shavuos 30b)

5)     The Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer (46) teaches that during the 40 days that Moshe spent on Mount Sinai (24:18), he studied the Written Torah during the day and the Oral Torah during the night. Does this mean that it is inappropriate, or even forbidden, to study the Written Torah at night? (Be’er Heitev Orach Chaim 238:2, Shaar HaTzion 238:1, Piskei Teshuvos 238:3, Ayeles HaShachar)

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