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 Parshas Mishpotim - Vol. 8, Issue 18
Compiled by Oizer Alport


V'eileh ha'mishpatim asher tasim lifneihem (21:1)

Parshas Mishpatim begins by stating, "And these are the statutes that you shall place before them." Rashi explains that the purpose of the seemingly superfluous letter å (and) at the beginning of the parsha is to emphasize a connection between Parshas Mishpatim and the previous one (Yisro). Parshas Yisro records the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, and just as it was self-evident that the mitzvos contained in it were presented by Hashem at Sinai, so too the commandments contained in Parshas Mishpatim were also given at Mount Sinai.

Rav Simcha Sheps points out that Rashi's comment seems difficult to understand. The entire Torah, and all 613 of the mitzvos contained therein, was given at Mount Sinai. Why was it necessary to specifically emphasize that the commandments discussed in Parshas Mishpatim were given at Mount Sinai more than any of the other mitzvos, and why did Rashi need to derive this point from a linguistic anomaly?

Rav Sheps answers based on an explanation given by Rav Ovadiah Bartenura in his commentary on Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers), which begins by teaching that Moshe received the Torah at Mount Sinai. Commenting on this Mishnah, the Bartenura explains that in contrast to other tractates of the Mishnah that discuss legal issues, Pirkei Avos is unique in that it focuses on issues of proper ethics and character traits.

In light of the fact that other nations and cultures have their own tomes on morality and proper treatment of others authored by their respective wise men, there is a danger that one might mistakenly assume that Pirkei Avos is simply a collection of pithy statements and advice given by Jewish sages. In order to prevent the reader from making this egregious error, it therefore begins by teaching that Moshe received the Torah at Mount Sinai and records its chain of transmission throughout the generations in order to teach us that all of the wisdom contained in Pirkei Avos is part of the Oral Torah that was given by Hashem at Mount Sinai and is Divine in origin.

With this introduction, Rav Sheps points out that much of Parshas Mishpatim revolves around the seemingly common-sense mitzvos governing our interactions with others, such as the laws of damages and borrowing, sensitivity to the less fortunate, and the integrity of the judicial process. Therefore, just as Rav Ovadiah Bartenura explains that Pirkei Avos opens by emphasizing that its moral and ethical teachings emanate from Hashem, so too Rashi points out that Parshas Mishpatim begins by stressing that the civil laws and interpersonal mitzvos contained therein were taught at Mount Sinai together with the Aseres HaDibros (10 Commandments) that are recorded in Parshas Yisro.

Rabbi Yissachar Frand extends this theme by pointing out that contemporary Western society also has self-proclaimed experts on ethics and morality. The New York Times magazine features a weekly column called "The Ethicist," which contains weekly discussions and rulings on contemporary ethical issues, and a column by Miss Manners appears three times a week in more than 200 newspapers worldwide to address questions of proper etiquette and behavior.

However, while non-Jews certainly have guidelines about issues of morality and interpersonal relationships, they are ultimately manmade and are limited by the scope of the insights of their authors. The Torah, on the other hand, teaches us an exceptional and heightened sensitivity to others through a system of derech eretz which could only be conceived by Hashem.

For example, a compassionate gentile who is traveling on the highway will pull over to assist a car he sees broken down on the side of the road with a flat tire. However, if there are two cars broken down, one belonging to his best friend and one to his biggest enemy, he will obviously choose to help his friend. However, in such a situation, the Torah specifically requires that one work to overcome and uproot his negative feelings toward his enemy by giving him precedence over his friend (Bava Metzia 32b). Rabbi Frand points out that such an obligation is mind-boggling and could never have been developed by even the most enlightened human based on his own moral barometer and could only have originated at Mount Sinai.

The following story depicts a contemporary application of this principle and illustrates the lofty levels which can be reached by a person who continuously strives to improve and perfect his middos (character traits) and to reach the Torah's levels of sensitivity. Rav Yechiel Perr, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva of Far Rockaway, is married to the granddaughter of Rav Avraham Yoffen, a renowned Rabbinical figure who was the son-in-law of the Alter of Novardok. Virtually every one of the leading Roshei Yeshiva in America attended the wedding. With so many respected Rabbonim present, many of the guests were curious as to who would receive the various kibbudim (honors) and how they would be distributed by Rav Yoffen, who was in charge of the logistics of the ceremony.

Perplexingly, with the limited number of available kibbudim already at a premium, the privilege of reciting one of the blessings under the chuppah (wedding canopy) was given to a Rabbi who was unfamiliar to the guests and did not appear to be related to either the chosson (groom) or the kallah (bride). After the ceremony had finished, several people approached Rav Yoffen to inquire about the mysterious Rabbi's identity and the reason that he was selected to recite of the blessings, but Rav Yoffen cryptically dismissed them by saying, "I have my reasons," which remained hidden until after he passed away, at which time the following details became revealed.

The Rabbi in question was the Rav of a small synagogue in the Bronx. Several years before the marriage of Rav Perr to Rav Yoffen's granddaughter, this Rabbi called Rav Yoffen to invite him to his own daughter's wedding. Being that Rav Yoffen's time was valuable and he didn't personally know the Rabbi or any of the people involved in the wedding, he attempted to decline the invitation. However, the Rabbi pressured him and explained how much his presence would mean, and ultimately, Rav Yoffen relented and agreed to attend.

Rav Yoffen didn't own a car, and the Rabbi who had been so adamant that he come never contacted him to arrange a ride for him with one of the other guests. This left Rav Yoffen no choice but to take a subway and then a bus to reach the wedding hall. Tired from the lengthy journey, he sat down for the chuppah, at which he shockingly received no recognition or honor. Nevertheless, he decided that since he was already there, he would stay for the meal and dance with the chosson.

Years later, when Rav Yoffen's granddaughter got married, he went out of his way to invite this Rabbi to the wedding and to give him one of the valuable kibbudim based on the Novhardok teaching "hatavah bim'kom hakpadah" - in the place of feelings of resentment and anger when one has been insulted or slighted, one should work to perfect his middos by responding with acts of kindness toward that person.

As Rabbi Frand concludes, the lofty, almost angelic level reached by Rav Yoffen will never be taught or even fathomed by the Ethicist or Miss Manners. Such ethereal insights can only be attained through the study of the Holy Torah and the Divine moral and ethical teachings contained within.

U'basar ba'sadeh treifah lo socheilu la'kelev tashlichun oso (22:30)

Upon discovering that an animal in his flock or herd has been killed by wild animals, the Torah specifically requires the owner to give the carcass to the dogs, a connection which doesn’t seem to be readily apparent. The Daas Z’keinim explains that most farmers and shepherds employ guard dogs to protect their animals against predators. Presumably, when the wolf stealthily came to attack in the middle of the night, the dog detected its presence and fought valiantly, albeit unsuccessfully, to ward it off. For this effort, as well as for its successful guarding of all of the other animals until now, the Torah requires the owner to show gratitude to the dog by presenting it with the dead animal’s remains.

In doing so, the Torah is teaching us the fallacy a common English expression. If a person gives of his precious time and energy in an earnest attempt to help somebody out, only to have his efforts fail, the average American will tell him, “Thanks, but no thanks.” This expression indicates that he is owed no debt of gratitude for his efforts and not-so-subtly suggests that the next time he should just mind his own business. In contrast, the Torah teaches that because the dog was willing to help, and tried to be of assistance in doing its best to protect the animals, its owner is obligated to show appreciation for its good-faith efforts and reward it with the carcass.

So many times a relative, friend, co-worker, or shadchan will volunteer to try to help us out. Unfortunately, these efforts don’t always lead to the results we were hoping for. The next time it happens, instead of rubbing in the failure to somebody who already feels badly enough, let us remember the lesson of the guard dogs and express our sincere appreciation for their time and good intentions.

Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
To receive the full version with answers email the author at oalport@optonline.net.

Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1) How is it possible 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)

2) At Mount Sinai, Moshe and the elders saw that under Hashem’s feet was the likeness of sapphire brickwork (24:10). Rashi explains that Hashem placed it there during the Jewish enslavement in Egypt so as to constantly remember the pain and suffering they endured while making bricks for their Egyptian taskmasters. As almost two months had passed since the Exodus from Egypt, why did Hashem still keep it so close to Him? (Noam HaMussar)

3) 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)

  © 2012 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 parshapotpourri@optonline.net


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