If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check which may be more up-to-date

Back to this Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

 Parshas Mishpotim - Vol. 7, Issue 18
Compiled by Oizer Alport


Im ra’ah b’einei adoneha asher lo y’adah ... v’im liv’no yiadenah k’mishpat ha’banos ya’aseh lah (21:8-9)

The Mishnah in Avos (3:17) teaches that without Torah there cannot be derech eretz, and without derech eretz there can be no Torah. 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 second derech eretz refers to what is commonly known as essential good manners and interpersonal skills, which one must possess as a prerequisite to Torah study. The first 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.


Im ra’ah b’einei adoneha asher lo y’adah ... v’im liv’no yiadenah k’mishpat ha’banos ya’aseh lah (21:8-9)

The Torah gives the master of a female Jewish slave a moral obligation to arrange for her marriage, either to himself or to his son. Who is this maidservant? She 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.

In his work Darkei HaShleimus, Rav Shloma Margolis suggests that this mitzvah teaches us that when it comes to seeking a prospective match, money shouldn’t be the determining factor. Nobody could possibly be as destitute as this maidservant, yet the Torah commands her owner not to see a financially downtrodden girl but a potential wife or daughter-in-law. Money – or the lack thereof – doesn’t reflect in the slightest on the essence of a person and his or her suitability to be a good husband or wife.

To illustrate this point, Rav Margolis recounts that there was once a student in the Radin yeshiva who returned after a trip to meet a prospective match. The saintly Chofetz Chaim asked him how the encounter went. The young man proceeded to describe at length the tremendous poverty in which the family lived. The sagacious Chofetz Chaim turned to the student and asked with a smile, “Nu, and what other ma’alos (positive traits) did she have?”


Zeh yitnu kol ha'over al ha'pekudim machatzis ha'shekel b'shekel ha'kodesh (Parshas Shekalim - Shemos 30:13)

            Haman told Achashverosh of his desire to destroy and completely eradicate the Jewish people, and in order to get Achashverosh to agree to his plan, Haman promised to give him 10,000 kikar of silver as payment (Esther 3:9). One kikar of silver is equal to approximately 2400 ounces, which means that Haman hated the Jews so much that in exchange for permission to destroy them, he was prepared to pay 750 tons of silver.

            The Gemora in Megillah (13b) teaches that Hashem knew that Haman was going to offer this exorbitant amount of silver to Achashverosh, so He commanded us to give the Machatzis HaShekel (the annual contribution of a half-shekel which paid for the cost of the communal offerings in the Temple) first in order to stop Haman's plan. The commentators give a number of different calculations to show that 10,000 kikar of silver is exactly the amount that the Jews collectively gave through their annual contributions of a half-shekel per person, but there must be a deeper, more profound connection between these two concepts. Why did the merit of the Machatzis HaShekel specifically have the ability to thwart Haman's diabolical scheme?

            In order to answer this question, we must first understand what the Machatzis HaShekel represents. Rav Yonason Eibeshutz questions why Hashem commanded us to give only half of a shekel instead of a whole shekel. He explains that this was done intentionally to hint to us that no individual is spiritually complete, and each of us on our own should view himself as only a half. There are 613 mitzvos in the Torah, and no individual can do all of them; some are unique to men and some to women, while others are only for priests or Levites or Israelites. However, as a nation, we can collectively perform all of the mitzvos. Similarly, each of our half-shekels is an incomplete unit, but together they come together with those of other Jews to purchase communal offerings for the Beis HaMikdash.

            The lesson of the Machatzis HaShekel is the importance of achdus (unity). To paraphrase John Donne, no Jew is an island. When we give our Machatzis HaShekel and reflect on this message, we are inspired to bond together with the rest of the Jewish people.

            The Kli Yakar explains that in relating that Amalek attacked the Jewish people in Refidim, the Torah is hinting to the spiritual cause of their ability to have any power over the Jews. As long as the Jewish nation is in a state of internal peace and unity, Amalek has no capacity to harm them. Refidim contains within it the letters which form the root of the word "pirud" – separation – alluding to the fact that when the Jews camped there, they were stricken by strife and discord (Rashi 19:2).

Haman, who was descended from Amalek, learned this lesson from his ancestors. The S’fas Emes notes that Haman described to Achashverosh (Esther 3:8) his desire to eradicate an "am mefuzar u'mefurad." Literally, he described the Jews as a people who are scattered and dispersed around the world, but this may also be understood as a nation of people are who separated from one another and lacking in unity.

            With this understanding, the Gemora is telling us that Haman thought that he saw an opening when he observed the discord and infighting amongst us, but Hashem answered back that the merit of the Machatzis HaShekel would bring us to the unity that we needed to overcome him, as Esther commanded Mordechai (4:16), "Lech k'nos es kol ha'Yehudim" – go bring together all of the Jews in a display of achdus. Not surprisingly, it was this national togetherness which prevailed, as is memorialized in the song Shoshanas Yaakov, "The Jewish nation was cheerful and glad when they saw together that Mordechai was robed in royal blue."


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at


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)     The Gemora in Kerisos (9a) derives from the national “conversion” at Mount Sinai that one of the essential components of conversion to Judaism is immersion in a mikvah. The Gemora asserts that this took place before Moshe sprinkled on them the blood of the sacrifices (24:8), to which ritual immersion is a necessary prerequisite. Where did the Jews find an acceptable mikvah in the middle of the desert? (Sefer Ananei HaKavod)

  © 2011 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel