Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 7   No. 18

Parshas Mishpotim


"And if he did not lie in wait, but G-d made it happen to him ... " (21:13)

This is where the Torah indicates that bad things emanate from bad people, explains Resh Lokish in Makos (11a), and he goes on to illustrate this with the parable of two men who killed, one by mistake, and one on purpose, and there were no witnesses in either case. Consequently, the one was not killed and the other did not go into exile.

So what does Hashem do? He brings them together to the same hotel, where the man who killed by mistake slips as he is descending a ladder and falls on top of the man who killed on purpose, killing him outright. But this time, there are witnesses, so each one receives his due - the murderer on purpose gets killed and the inadvertent murderer now has to run into exile.


It obviously doesn't have to happen this way, but Chazal are presentIng only that it is a possible scenario. What Resh Lokish is coming to demonstrate is the extent of G-d's Divine Providence - that not only does He know everything that transpires, but that He actually involves Himself directly, to judge and to carry out the sentence, even to the point of engineering man's actions and interfering with his free-will (something which, under normal circumstances, He is loath to do), where necessary, in order to achieve justice. Much in the same way as Hillel teaches us in Pirkei Ovos when, upon seeing a skull floating on the water, he declared: 'Because you drowned someone, you were drowned, and in the end, the person who drowned you will be drowned' (Pirkei Ovos 2:6).

There are two difficulties with the Gemoro in Makos: 1) When the man fell off the ladder and killed the second man, he was due to go into exile for his second killing. How could this possibly atone for the previous killing too? 2) Instead of causing the murderer (by mistake) to kill again, why did Hashem not simply cause witnesses to be present when the first murder took place, so that he would be sent into exile immediately, rather than causing him to kill a second time at a later date?


The Gro explains that there are two kinds of mistakes: the one that one could have avoided, such as someone who is chopping wood, and in the process, a block of wood flies up and kills someone. Had he taken more care, the accident would not have occurred. The other is more difficult to avoid: it is a case where someone is climbing a ladder and a rung breaks as he climbs, falling on to a person and killing him.

When the Torah writes "And if he did not lie in wait, but G-d made it happen to him", this is precisely what it is referring to: "And if he did not lie in wait, but nevertheless behaved irresponsibly (by chopping wood without taking due care that chips should not fly and endanger people's lives), "but G-d made it happen to him" (by causing him to slip on a ladder, which he could barely have avoided).

lthough the Gro is basically coming to explain the loshon of the posuk, his explanation will also answer our first kashya. G-d will not force a person to act irresponsibly - that is his own choice. What He will however do, is force an accident that is largely out of the control of the person involved. He will cause him to slip on a ladder (an act which the person might have done carelessly - otherwise he would not go into exile - but even when he did not, G-d will make it happen), in order to kill the person below, and to become obligated to go into exile - not for this killing (whIch was outsIde hIs control), but for the previous one.


The Or ha'Chayim, who posed this kashya, explains that G-d caused the murderer to kill both times, because of another sin that he had performed previously, and for which he deserved to be exiled. The Ibn Ezra too, explains the posuk in this way.


According to both explanations, the second kashya that we asked needs to be addressed. According to the Gro, why did G-d need to force the culprit to sin a second time in order to punish him for his first crime? According to the Or ha'Chayim, why did he need to kill twice, in order to go into exile for a previous sin?

As is well-known, the term of each person's exile is determined by the life-span of the Kohen Godol, seeing as, the moment the Kohen Godol dies, all murderers living in the cities of refuge go free. For a variety of reasons, each person deserves a different term of sentence in the city of refuge. So what does G-d do? He makes sure that every murderer is sentenced to his term of exile according to his desert. How does He do that?

Bearing in mind that it is the Kohen Godol who is serving when the sentence is passed (rather than at the time of the murder) whose death will determine the duration of the exile. G-d will postpone or hasten the Court hearing, depending on the number of years left to the incumbent Kohen Godol. For example, assuming that the Kohen is destined to die in one year, and his successor to serve twenty years in office, a murderer who now kills and who, in G-d's eyes, deserves a short spell in the city of refuge, will be sentenced immediately, and will go free in one year's time, with the death of the current Kohen Godol.


Should he deserve to remain permanently in exile, then G-d will arrange for the court-hearing to be postponed for a year, and for the sentence to be passed between the death of the one Kohen Godol and the appointment of his successor, in which case he never goes free (as the Gemoro explains in Makos, 11b). And for a twenty-year sentence, He will postpone the sentence by another day or two, until the second Kohen Godol has been appointed.

And what happens if the same murderer deserves only fifteen years? G-d then ensures that when he killed the first time, there were no witnesses, so that he should not go into exile for only one year, when he really deserved fifteen. Six years later (when the current Kohen Godol will have served five years of his twenty year term of office), He arranges the second murder, and the murderer receives the fifeen-year sentence that he deserved.


Parshah Pearls


(adapted from the P'ninim mi'Shulchan ha'Gro)

An Eye and A Tooth

"And when a man strikes the eye of his slave ... he shall send him free on account of his eye. And if he knocks out the tooth of his slave ... he shall send him free on account of his tooth " (21:26-27).

And what happens if he does both - if he strikes him twice, first blinding him in the eye and then knocking out his tooth, asks the Gro?

The slave then goes free on account of his eye, and receives payment for his tooth, he answers.


This being the case, the Gro continues, we can understand the Mishnah in Bovo Kamo (3:10) which states that 'One is sometimes exempt from paying for the damages of one's ox, but is liable to pay for the damage that one inflicted oneself. The case in question is when one's ox blinded the eye of one's slave and knocked out his tooth ('and' not 'or', as one might be tempted to explain). for whIch he is exempt; whereas if he did the same thing, he would be liable.'

Now the word 'liable' (chayov) would not be appropriate if we were referring to the slave going free. However, now that we have seen that, in fact, for knocking out the slave's tooth after blinding him, he has to pay, 'liable' is indeed the correct word to use.



"And when a man opens a pit or when a man digs a pit, and does not cover it, and an ox or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall pay ... " (21:33-34).

The first "man" comes to teach us that a man is only obliged to pay damages if he dug the pit, but not if his animal dug it ('ish bor, ve'lo shor bor'). Whereas the second "man" comes to teach us that if two men dug a pit (the first one dug nine tefochim shall we say, and the second one, one tefach), the second one only is obliged to pay damages. That explains why the Torah spells the first "pit" ("bor") with a 'vov', the second "bor", missing a 'vov', and the third "bor" again with a 'vov'. Why is that?


Chazal interpet the opening phrase (which speaks about opening a pit) with regard to someone who removes the pit's cover, leaving it prone to accidents, whereas the second phrase (which speaks about digging) refers to someone who completes a pit (in the manner that we explained earlier) because one is only liable for the death of a person or an animal if the pit is at least ten tefochim deep.

Consequently, the Torah writes "And when a man opens a pit" (with a 'vov'), because one is only liable to pay for the dead ox or donkey for uncovering a complete pit of ten tefochim.

"Or if he digs a pit" the posuk continues (without a 'vov'), seeing as we are now referring to the person who dug only one tefach (and not ten). And the Torah concludes "the owner of the pit (with a 'vov') shall pay", because it is the man who dug the one tefach, turning the pit into a lethal ten-tefochim one, who is considered the owner and who is therefore obliged to pay.


The Last Word

"And do not speak up in a trial to pervert justice" ("ve'lo sa'aneh al riv" - 23:2). Since the word 'riv' however, is written without a 'yud', the Gemoro in Sanhedrin explains the posuk as if it had written "ve'lo sa'aneh al rav" ("And do not argue with the Rav" - with the most outstanding member of Beis-Din). That is why, when it comes to matters that involve the death penalty, the most outstanding member of the Beis-Din is the last one to state his opinion. Otherwise, we are afraid that he may find the defendant guilty, and the other members of Beis-Din will have no choice but to follow suit.


With this the Gro explains a seemingly strange statement that the Gemoro makes in Gittin (56a), regarding the well-known incident about Kamtza and bar Kamtza. The Gemoro relates how bar Kamtza, in an act of revenge against the Rabbonim for not taking his part when he was insulted, convinced the Roman emperor to send an animal to be sacrificed, to test whether the Jews had really rebelled against him, as alleged by bar Kamtza. Meanwhile, bar Kamtza, whom the emperor had appointed his sh'liach to take the animal to Yerusholayim, blemished the animal in a way that was considered a blemish by Jewish law, but not by the laws of other nations.

Upon discovering the blemish, the Sanhedrin convened and discussed whether they should not perhaps sacifice the animal because of 'sholom malchus', or whether they should not kill bar Kamtza. But Rebbi Zecharyah ben Avkulas dismissed both suggestions out of hand: the former, because people would then say that it was permitted to sacrifice blemished animals; the latter, because they would say that blemishing a Korban was punishable by death. The only thing to do he said, was to refuse to sacrifice the animal, and to suffer the consequences.

The humility of Rebbi Zecharyah ben Avkulas, the Gemoro concludes, destroyed the Beis ha'Mikdosh and exiled us fom our land.

By humility, explains Rashi, the Gemoro means patience, that he was able to suffer this man and did not kill him. (Interestingly, Rashi explains the posuk describing Moshe as the most humble man who ever lived, in the same way - 'humble and who suffered others [savlan]', because Rashi clearly equates humility with the ability to suffer the faults of others and the damage that they cause to oneself.)


The Gro however, explains that Rebbi Zecharyah ben Avkulas failed to accept the fact that he was the most outstanding member of the Sanhedrin. Consequently, instead of stating his opinion last, in which case he would have been outvoted, and they would either have brought the sacrifice for the sake of sholom malchus, or killed bar Kamtza, he stated his opinion first, with the result that the other members of the Sanhedrin had no choice but to concur with his opinion - a ruling which was caused by RebbI Zecharyah's humIlIty, and whIch resulted in the destrucion of the second Beis ha'Mikdosh and the exile of Klal Yisroel among the nations.



The Shema and the B'rochos

(Part XXXV)

Before we begin with the Amidah, here are a few additional comments in connection with birchos K'ri'as Shema.


Holy, Holy, Holy!

The term 'kodosh' figures prominently in the first b'rochoh of birchos K'ri'as Shema. Its meaning is 'removed from the mundane', which is why Hashem Himself is referred to as Holy, as are the angels and people who are predominantly spiritual.


And All of Them do ... the Will of the One Who Acquired them

To do what Hashem says is one thing - it is something to which evey good Jew aspires. But to do His will, that is another matter entirely. One has first of all to ascertain what G-d's will is, not an easy thing to do, seeing as He has not told us explicily what His will is, and, more often than not, there are so many things standing between His will and ours, that, for lack of objectivity, it becomes exceedingly difficult to discover what it really is. And it is those same things, coupled with the fact that we have not been commanded anyway, that, even when we do, make it so difficult to commit ourselves to putting them into practice.

The angels it seems, have no problem. And all of them ... do the will of the One who acquired them.


Because You are the G-d Who Performs Salvation ... the miracles of Egypt. And Us You Chose ... on Pesach, on the fifteenth of Nisan.

And You Brought Us Close ... at Har Sinai, on Sh'vu'os.

To Thank You and to Unify You with Love ... first in the Mishkon and later in Eretz Yisroel in the Beis ha'Mikdosh.


Let Us Rejoice and Let us Be Happy With Your Salvation

Not like those people who say 'Let Moshiach come - but only after my holidays', placing their own petty pleasures before the destiny of the Jewish people, of the Jewish homeland and even before the destiny of G-d Himself (Kevayochol), who, Chazal tell us, suffers with us in golus (as is indeed hinted in the word 'with Your salvation'). That is why we ask Hashem to let us rejoice with His salvaion, to be happy with the coming of Moshi'ach, whenever he comes, after our holidays, or before them.


And You Chose Us from All Nations and Tongues

'A nation' is distinguishable by its customs and lifestyle, a tongue by the way it speaks.

G-d chose us by elevating both our actions and our speech to a higher plane than that of the nations. That is why we say 'from all nations and tongues'.


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