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

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Vol. 4 No. 18

Parshas Mishpotim

Don't Follow the Majority!

A Count once asked a precocious Jewish child why the Jews don't follow the practices of their non-Jewish contemporaries who were, after all, in the majority, and "Doesn't the Torah write that one should always follow the majority"?

"Not so!" replied the child. "The Torah only obliges us to follow the majority when there is a doubt, but not when the issue at stake is clear-cut." And in matters of faith, to which the Count was obviously referring, our views leave no room for doubt! And the same answer to that question is given by the Chasam Sofer.

The Ma'yonoh shel Torah uses a different approach to resolve the difficulty. He tells the following story: In a certain town, a few lowly individuals once staged a demonstration in protest against the Rov of the community and its leaders. They were averse to the idea that the Rov and the community leaders should have exclusive control over all the facets of community life, including the Talmud-Torah, the Mikveh, Kashrus, etc., without ever considering their opinion or of even consulting them.

The Rov replied with a story: The two hundred and forty-seven limbs once complained to the head that he treated them like mere servants. He alone made all the decisions, yet when it came to the execution of these decisions, he delegated them with the various tasks, just as he saw fit. This, they claimed, was most undemocratic, particularly in view of what the Torah writes: "Follow the majority to decide the law!" (Sh'mos 23:32) Was the head not also obligated to comply with the Torah's instructions? And in that case, was the head not very much in the minority, and should they not therefore, at the very least, have a hand in the decision-taking?

The head replied, "The possuk that you quoted refers to the Sanhedrin, which comprised 71 heads. Therefore it was necessary to ask the opinion of each one before deciding the issue at stake with a majority vote. You limbs, on the other hand, don't have among you even one head. Every shvantz (tail) wants to offer his opinion. In such a case, the Torah most definitely did not expect us to follow the majority."

To be sure, the tail has its uses. One tail is more adept at swishing flies, for example, than one hundred brains. Yet clearly, when it comes to knowledge, understanding, decision-taking and planning, etc., even one hundred tails are no match for one brain. To delve a little deeper into the psychology of the above explanation, let us look ahead in the parshah to where the Torah prohibits the taking of bribery (23:8). The Ma'yonoh shel Torah, again, cites a story of a tear-stained widow, who once approached Rabbi Yehoshua'le Kotner, begging him to intercede on her behalf against someone in her town who had done her a certain injustice.

R. Yehoshua'le declined, on the grounds that the bribery which the Torah forbids is not confined to monetary bribery, but also includes tears, especially those of a broken widow, which are bound to sway the heart of the judge against her litigant. It is well-known that the heart is the seat of the emotions, the brain the seat of the intellect. Bribery serves to generate the emotions, which can only interfere with the course of justice, which has to be emotionless, if it is to be fair. That is why true halachic decisions are directed by the impartial head, and not by the emotion-loaded heart. And that is precisely why such halachic rulings, in all communal matters, no less than in all private ones, must be made by the great scholars - known as Heads, precisely because they are able to arrive at the truth with impartiality, unlike those who are not imbued with a vast knowledge of Torah, whose every action is generally motivated by a biased concern for their own well-being.

Important communal decisions can only be taken by the Torah sages, whose motivation, no less than their knowledge, is beyond reproach, because their decisions, which are made without bias, are based solely on the Torah of Truth.


Adapted from the Gro

It's All a Mistake

"And someone who did not lie in wait, and G-d made it happen to him, I will designate for you a place where you will flee." (21:13)

When it comes to inadvertant killing, there are two kinds of mistakes, explains the Gro: the one, such as someone who is chopping wood, and a chunk of wood flies up and kills someone. That is negligence, because, before starting to chop, he should have checked that no-one was in the vicinity who might get hurt through his activities. The other kind of mistake entails someone who, for instance, is climbing down a ladder, when a rung breaks, as he puts his weight on it. Now this is a mistake that he could hardly have anticipated, and is far closer to being an accident than is the first. Both of these are contained in the above possuk - "Someone who did not lie in wait", infers - but he was negligent, whereas "G-d made it happen to him" applies to the second case, which was outside of his control.

And these are the very two categories which are referred to in the moshol that Rashi brings of two men who met at the same inn. The one had killed on purpose and the other by mistake - both without witnesses. Now the latter was climbing down a ladder, when he slipped and fell on the man who had killed on purpose - and this time there were witnesses. So each man received his due.

The Gro explains that the first time the man had been chopping wood and had killed through negligence - the second time G-d made it happen to him. G-d caused the rung of the ladder to break in order that both men should receive their due punishments.

Holding On to Die

When Sh'lomoh sent Benoyohu ben Yehoyodo to kill Yo'ov, the latter went to hold on to the Mizbei'ach, thinking that he would be safe there. However he made a mistake, explains the Bavli (Makos 12a). It is only from on the Mizbei'ach (a Cohen doing the Avodah) that one does not take him down to be killed, but not from the side of the Mizbei'ach, as the Torah says (here) - "from My Mizbei'ach take him to be killed!" Strange that Yo'ov should have forgotten a possuk in the Torah.

Maybe that is why the Gro quotes the Yerushalmi, in whose opinion Yo'ov did not make a mistake at all. He knew full well that someone who dies at the hands of Beis-din, is taken to his death even from the Mizbei'ach. But he wanted to avoid being killed at the hand of the king, and he knew that the Mizbei'ach is a safe refuge from that. Therefore he held on to the Mizbei'ach, and told Benoyohu that he wanted to die at the hand of Beis-din, not at the hand of the king.

What's the difference? The difference is that the porperty of someone who dies at the hands of Beis-din goes to his heirs, whereas the property of someone who dies at the hands of the king goes directly to the king.

And that is what Sh'lomoh replied to Beno'yohu - "Go and kill him there. I don't need his money!"

That's Not His Business

Someone once informed the Gro of a very sick person on whom the doctors had given up hope.

"But that's not their business" was his response. "From this possuk (ve'rapoh yerapeh") we learn that a doctor is permitted to heal a sick person, but who gives him the authority to declare that a patient is incurable?

To Dig a Pit

If someone opens a (covered) pit, he is obligated to pay only if the pit is at least ten tefochim, whereas if he finds a pit of nine tefochim and he adds just one tefach - he is obligated to pay as if he had dug the entire pit.

And this is hinted in the possuk, which writes (21:33) "And if a man opens a pit, or if a man digs a pit" etc.

Now the first pit (bor) is written with a "vov" (a full pit, because he is only obligated for opening a full pit), whilst the second pit is written without a "vov" (because for digging a pit one can be obligated for even less than ten tefochim).

The Power of Communal Tefillah

Chazal say that children, life and sustenance are not the result of merit, but depend upon "Mazal".

These three things are hinted in the possuk, when it writes (23:25-26): "And you (plural) shall serve Hashem" etc. (communal Tefillah) "And He will bless your food and your drink, and I will remove sickness from among you" (sustenance).

"There will not be a barren woman in your land" (children).

"The number of your days I will fill" (life).

The power of communal Tefillah speaks for itself.


(Mishpotim) (Yirmiyoh 14:8-22; 33:1-2)

The Novi Yirmiyoh describes the covenant that King Tzidkiyohu made with the people to send away Jewish servants and maid-servants who had worked for six years and whom one was therefore forbidden to retain. Initially, they all complied, and sure enough, each and every man, both among the princes and among the people, sent away his servants. However, they immediately regretted their actions, and proceeded to take back their freed servants by force. By doing so, they contravened not only the covenant that the king had made with them, but also the Divine command issued in Parshas Mishpotim, which obliges a master to permanently set free his Jewish servant after six years.

The Novi Yirmiyohu goes on to reprove the prople, referring to the mitzvah in Mishpotim. And because they desecrated G-d's Name by taking back the servants that they had already set free, G-d assured them that He would repay them measure for measure by setting them free (making them "hefker") to the sword and to the plagues of pestilence and of famine. In addition, they would be made to "tremble before all the nations of the earth".

It was customary to enter into a covenant by cutting an animal into two and passing between the pieces, just as we find with the "Bris bein Ha'besorim" which G-d made with Avrohom Ovinu. Presumably that is why the Torah always uses the term "to cut a covenant".

In the case of the Bris bein Ha'besorim, it was an oven of smoke and a torch of fire, representing G-d, who was "cutting" the covenant, that passed between the pieces of the various animals that Avrohom had cut in two. Since this was the accepted method of entering into covenants, we can assume that the covenant that King Tzidkiyohu made with the people was performed in this way. However, when the people reclaimed their former servants, in a supreme act of defiance against G-d, they made a similar covenant, in which all the princes of Yehudah, the leaders, the Cohanim and the people passed between the pieces of the calf. It was a strong and complete covenant, conveying the message that anyone who transgressed would be cut into two - Rashi. Needless to say, such behaviour only served to increase G-d's anger, and he promised them that, in addition to the above suffering, He would deliver them into the hands of their enemies, and their corpses would be left to the birds of the heaven and the animals of the earth. Even Tzidkiyohu and the princes were destined to fall into the hands of Nevuchadnetzar, and eventually, the Babylonians would capture Yerusholayim and set it on fire, and the cities of Yehudah would become desolate and empty.

Aside from the aspect of Chillul Hashem of which the people were guilty, the severity of this particular transgression is explained by the Ramban in this Parshah. Explaining why the first mitzvah discussed in the Parshah of Mishpotim is that of an "eved ivri", he points out how the dinim of "eved ivri" remind us both of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim (where a Jew became a servant of G-d and of no-one else - see Va'yikro 25:41-42) - and of the Creation of the world, which G-d completed in six days, whilst on the seventh He rested. So too, are we obliged to send away the eved ivri after he has worked for six years. These two ideas are epitomised in the mitzvos of "Onochi Hashem Elokecha", the first of the "Aseres Ha'dibros", and "Shabbos", lthe fourth mitzvah, respectively. Little wonder then, that G-d took such a dim view of their actions, and that they received such a heavy chain of punishments for their transgression, culminating in the Churban Beis-Ha'Mikdosh.

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