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

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Vol. 14   No. 18

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Tzvi Meir ben Shimon Boruch Itzkovitz z.l.
by his family

Parshas Mishpatim

Bribery Blinds
(Adapted from the Ma'yanah shel Torah)

It is not in vain that the Torah juxtaposes the prohibition against a judge taking a bribe next to the prohibition of him distancing himself from falsehood. A judge who accepts bribes inevitably becomes biased and is simply incapable of seeing the truth, as the Torah specifically writes "for bribery blinds those who see, and twists righteous words". And, as the Mechilta explains, "those who see", refers, not to physical sight, but to the insight of wisdom. Moreover, the Mechilta explains the latter phrase ("and twists righteous words") to mean that a judge who accepts bribes will eventually go on to hate the righteous words that were said at Sinai.

Nor does the amount that one accepts make any difference, because, as the Gemara in Kesubos teaches us, even bribery of words (e.g. a litigant who would not otherwise do so, greets the judge prior to his court-case) is classified as bribery. The above-mentioned Mechilta concludes that a judge who accepts bribes is destined to suffer one of three punishments; he will either forget his learning (to declare Tahor what is Tamei and Tamei what is Tahor), become impoverished and need to come on others for assistance, or lose his eyesight (see Torah Temimah 23:8, note 71).


Essentially, the Torah is referring specifically to judges, as the prohibition is not relevant in other areas of Halachah. Nevertheless, the concept that a biased person cannot perceive the truth, in which case his opinion is worthless, extends way beyond the realm of litigation. It affects the ability of every person to make honest decisions. For, as R. Elchanan Wasserman wrote, before one is able to perceive the truth, one must learn to divest oneself of personal prejudice, irrespective of what form that prejudice takes. To put it bluntly, someone who is biased is incapable of arriving at a reliable decision.


The following story, which took place towards the end of the first world war, when the Histadrut ha'Tziyonis first appeared on the horizon, is cited in the Chochmas Chayim. It illustrates the extent to which R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld understood the inherent dangers of bribery, and the lengths to which he was prepared to go to avoid falling prey to it.

One day, immediately after Shachris, R. Yosef Chayim's son, R. Ya'akov Meir, noticed how, the moment his father arrived home from Shul, he went to get his overcoat and prepared to leave the house, before even having had a bite to eat. Knowing that this was not his father's way, his curiosity was aroused, and he found a pretext to accompany him to wherever he was he was going. R. Yosef Chayim exited through Sha'ar Yafo, and went to the local bank. Once there, he made his way straight to the overseas department and handing the official in charge a receipt for a banker's order to the amount of a hundred dollars (a large sum of money for those times), he asked the clerk to return it to the sender.

His son could not restrain himself and asked his father why he was so quick to return such a large sum of money, when his own children and grandchildren were struggling to make ends meet, and that included himself and his family, who lacked the basics to subsist. Why did he not rather use the money to help sustain his starving family?


'You are right, my son', the Gaon replied; 'but what can I do? My whole life, I have never accepted a gift from anybody. And this time, even if I wanted to renege on my custom, I would not be able to do so. Why is that, you will ask? Because you see, there is no name on the banker's order, and I suspect that it is a bribe from the Tziyonim, to get me to change my views and to conform with theirs. So I decided to return the money straightaway, before even having eaten, because I figured, better a little sooner, than after the damage has been done.

If Hashem wishes to sustain my children and grandchildren, he concluded, then He has many ways of doing so, but there is no way that I will taste the bitter taste of forbidden fruits!'


R. Yosef Chayim clearly understood what Chazal mean, when they point out in Kesubos (105a) that 'Shochad' is the acronym of 'she'Hu Chad' - that the recipient and the giver become one.

* * *

Parshah Pearls

With Clean Hands

"And the householder shall approach the judge, if he did not stretch out his hand to his friend's article ... " (22:7).

In connection with this Pasuk (bearing in mind that "ha'Elokim" can also mean G-d), R. Meir from Premishlam asked how it is possible for a simple Jew (who is neither particularly learned nor pious) to come close to G-d?

The answer is contained in the continuation of the Pasuk "If he did not stretch out his hands to his friend's article' (i.e. total integrity) That's how!


A Promise is a Promise

"Do not delay your Bikurim and your Terumah, your firstborn children you shall give to Me" (22:28).

This is how Unklus and Rashi translate the Pasuk. Taken out of context however, based on the fact that the same expression ("lo se'acher") is used in connection with delaying the fulfillment of one's vows, the Sha'ar bas Rabim explains the Pasuk like this:

There are some people, he says, who tend to make promises when times are good ("me'lei'oscho") and there are those who make promises when times are bad ("ve'dim'acho" [dim'oh' is a tear]). To both of these the Torah issues a warning "lo se'acher" (not to delay their vow), because if they do ("You will give Me your firstborn") they will have to pay with their children, for so the Gemara says in Shabbos (32) 'For the sin of unfulfilled vows, one's children die'.


When the Majority Err

" ... to turn after the majority to reach a decision" (23:2).

The nations of the world ask why we Jews insist on sticking to our religion and beliefs, when most of the world are against us. Why do we not follow the beliefs of the majory and convert, they want to know.

The answer, says the Chasam Sofer, is simple. We are only obligated to follow the majority when there are two possible options ... to turn right or to turn left. But no power on earth can change what we know to be the truth.

And this is actually hinted in the Pasuk, when it writes "to turn after the majority", implying that there are two logical ways to turn. But where there is no such option, then the majority are powerless to impose their theories on the minority .


And the same will apply with regard to a democratic society. No majority can change anything that the Torah teaches, because the Torah's teaching are not subject to doubt.


Inverted Logic

"Do not honour a poor man in his quarrel" (23:3).

A poor man, the Or ha'Chayim explains, has an ongoing quarrel with G-d. He wants to know why others are wealthy and he has nothing. Whenever one fails to help out a poor man and to alleviate his poverty, one merely pours fuel on to the flames by reinforcing his case against Hashem (Kevayachol).

So when the Torah writes here "Do not honour a poor man in his quarrel", it means that one should help him out as much as one can, thereby downplaying the legitimacy of his argument.


Hashem & the Judges

"Distance yourself from falsehoods ... because I will not exonerate the guilty party" (23:7).

A judge is human and is therefore able to err just like anybody else, observes R. Yosef Shaul Natanson. Only as David ha'Melech said in Tehilim (82:1) "G-d stands in the Divine assembly, among the judges shall He judge". In other words, G-d is present in a court of judges, and He assists them to arrive at the correct decision.

And that is what the Torah is hinting here. If the Dayanim do everything in their power to avoid falsehoods, then G-d on His part will ensure that the guilty party will not be let off the hook.


Dancing Before a Bride

"Distance yourself from falsehoods ... " (23:7).

The Gemara in Kesubos (16b) discusses what one says when one dances before a bride ('Keitzad merakdin lifnei ha'kalah?') According to Beis Shamai, one describes a Kalah exactly the way she is; whereas Beis Hillel maintain that whatever the facts, one is permitted to declare that she is pretty and full of grace ('kalah no'oh va'chasudoh').

What if she is lame or blind, Beis Shamai asked Beis Hillel? Will you still say 'kalah no'oh va'chasudoh'?

But did the Torah not say "Distance yourself from falsehoods"?

'And what do you do', answerd Beis Hillel, 'when someone makes a bad purchase? Do you downgrade it, or do you praise it'?


The Ritva in the Sugya interprets the Gemara literally. Yes, he says, it does permit lying under these circumstances, and it bases the concession to do so on the Pasuk in Mishlei (3:17) "Its ways are pleasant ways, and all its paths are peace". And by the same token Chazal permit deviating from the truth for the sake of peace.


The Beis Shmuel however, citing the P'rishah, forbids lying outright, confining the concession to statements that are ambiguous, such as 'Kalah no'oh va'chasudah', which has connotations of spiritual (as well as physical) beauty. The Taz, on the other hand, argues that since everybody is aware of the Minhag to praise the Kalah, in order to make the Chasan happy, to do so does not enter the realm of lying, but rather is like praising someone's purchase, which is permitted.

R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld, in typical fashion, resolves the issue with a gematriyah. It is not a question of lying or even of exaggerating, he claims. The purpose of the excessive praise, he explains, is to verify that the Kalah is really a virgin, and as such, she is entitled to the full Kesubah of two hundred Zuz. And this is hinted in the words 'Kalah no'oh va'chasudah', which are equivalent to 'mosayim' (two hundred).


From the Haftarah
Keeping the World Going

"Were it not for My covenant day and night, I would not have established the laws of heaven and earth" (Yirmiyah 33:25). If not for the Torah which is studied day and night, G-d would not have created heaven and earth. The Torah scholars who study constantly, despite the fact that they do not appear to contribute anything to society, are in fact doing far more towards the upkeep of the world, than all those who build houses and run businesses.

Therefore, the Gemara in Sanhedrin (99) is not satisfied in classifying those people who query the usefulness of the Talmidei-Chachamim claiming that 'they learn Chumash and Gemara purely for themselves' (and the world benefits nothing from them at all) as Apikorsim'.

It also brands them as people who deliberately misconstrue Torah (for their false allegations totally ignore the above Pasuk in Yirmiyah).

In any event, Chazal lists these people among those who have no portion in Olam ha'Ba.


The Laws of Nature & the Laws of Torah


R. Shimshon Refael Hirsch comments that the laws of nature are irrefutable, whether one understands them or not. And so it should be with the laws of Torah. Torah like nature, is an expression of G-d's wisdom, and as such, it is subject to study and to scrutiny (just as the laws of nature are). Like the laws of nature however, it is not subject to doubt and to refutation. It is irrefutable!

* * *


"If these three things he does not do to her - to take her as a wife either for himself or for his son, or to assist in her father redeeming her - then she goes out free without payment, though he is obligated to give her a document of freedom' (21:11).


'If she is not fit for him (i.e. if she is a widow and he is a Kohen Gadol), or if her father does not want to give her to him, then he shall pay her a fine of fifty Shekel (the equivalent of the Kesubah of a virgin)'.


'Whoever sacrifices to gentile gods shall be killed by the sword and his property banned, because one may only worship to the Name of Hashem alone' (22:19).


'The first of your fruit and the first of your wine-press do not delay, to bring it before the time expires to the place of My Shechinah ... ' (22:28).


'If you see the donkey of your enemy, whom you hate, due to a sin that you alone saw him perpetrate, crouching under its load, and you are hesitant to approach him; set aside the hatred in your heart and help him to unload or to load' (23:5).


'And Micha'el, the angel of wisdom, said to Moshe on the seventh of the month 'Ascend to before Hashem, you and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu and the seventy elders of Yisrael, and prostrate yourselves from a distance' (24:1).


''And he sent the firstborn of B'nei Yisrael, since up until that time the Avodah was performed by them, seeing as the Mishkan had not yet been built and the Kehunah had not yet been given to Aharon ... ' (24:5).

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 96:
Not to Remove the Staves of the Aron

It is forbidden to remove the staves of the Aron from the rings, as the Torah writes in Terumah (25:15) "The staves will be (placed) in the rings of the Aron, they shall not be removed". Clearly, this Mitzvah applies to all generations, since 'a Mitzvah that applies to all generations' is not defined as one that the possibility of fulfilling it never ceases, but rather a Mitzvah that is not restricted to a certain time-period (such as the Mitzvah commanded at Har Sinai "Be prepared for three days" [Yisro 19:15], and the warning issued there in Ki Sisa [34:3] "also the sheep and the cattle shall not graze facing that mountain", and any similar Mitzvah that has been issued for a limited time period). But Mitzvos that were commanded for all times fall under the category of timeless Mitzvos, even though they cease to be applicable for a certain period, due to the Galus or to other external causes, such as nowadays, when, on account of our sins, the Aron is not with us. The fact remains that as long we have the Aron, the prohibition of removing the staves remains in force, enabling the Levi'im to carry it from one place to another in time of war or for any other reason.


Mitzvah 97:
Arranging the Lechem ha'Panim and the Frankincense

It is a Mitzvah to place loaves in the Beis-Hamikdash before Hashem, permanently, as the Torah writes in Terumah (25:30) "And you shall place on the Table Lechem ha'Panim (Show-Bread) before Me, always".

A reason for the Mitzvah ... Seeing as bread is man's staple diet, it requires an ongoing Divine blessing. G-d therefore gave us the Mitzvah of Lechem ha'Panim, with which to busy ourselves, in order to fulfill His command, thereby earning His goodwill and blessing, even to the point of blessing the food in our stomachs. Because G-d's blessing is commensurate with the area in which we carry out His will. Consequently, when we turn our attention, our thoughts and our actions to perform a specific Mitzvah, the fountain of Divine blessing will flow accordingly. And this is also the opinion of the Ramban. Indeed, the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (16a) says exactly that, when, citing Hashem, it writes 'Pour before Me water on Succos, so that the coming year's rain supply will be blessed; Blow before Me the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, so that I will remember the Akeidas Yitzchak'.

In fact, the Gemara in Megilah (26b) informs us that precisely because it was used for a Mitzvah and the will of G-d was performed with it, it was subject to a tremendous blessing, in that any Kohen who received and ate as little as a 'k'pul' (the volume of a large bean) was satisfied ... All of these Holy items in fact (such as the Shulchan, the Menorah, the Lechem ha'Panim and the Korbanos) were commanded (not for the benefit of Hashem but) for our own sakes, in the way that we just explained. In fact, it would be absurd to suggest that placing the Loaves on the Table and then removing them whole would be of any benefit to Hashem (Kevayachol), not with regard to sight, smell or in any other way. Only He commanded us this Mitzvah because, in His quality of goodness, it is His will that we should be blessed. And even with regard to the Levonah, which comes together with the Loaves, which are described as 'the Fire-offering of Hashem', and which the commentaries define as the only part of the sacrifice that goes to Hashem (since it is burned each Shabbos when the Loaves are removed), this is not to say (Chalilah) that there is any difference between the Levonah and the actual Loaves in Heaven. Not at all! The two are one and the same; for just as Hashem commanded us to arrange the Loaves on the Table, and we did; so too did He command us to burn the Levonah, and we did.

(to be cont.)

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