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Parshas Mishpatim - Vol. 11, Issue 18
Compiled by Oizer Alport
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 daughter into slavery, not exactly a girl that most people would be interested in marrying.
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.
The Torah gives the master of a female Jewish slave an 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 overwhelmed and devastated by poverty that he felt compelled 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?"
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) After the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai, the first mitzvos that were taught to the Jewish people were the code of civil law contained in Parshas Mishpatim. Why doesn't the Shulchan Aruch similarly begin with the section known as Choshen Mishpat, which discusses these financial subjects? (Divrei Yoel)
2) 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)
3) 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. Where did the Jewish people find an acceptable mikvah in the middle of the desert? (Sefer Ananei HaKavod)
4) 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)
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