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Vol. 5 No. 18
A Servant of G-d
The first section of Mishpotim comprises the mitzvos dealing with an 'eved ivri' (a Jewish man or maid-servant), and the Ramban ascribes their significance to the 'din' that they go free in the seventh year. The cessation of work in the seventh year he says, is a reminder of the creation of the world, when Hashem too, stopped work on the seventh day, while the fact that they go free is reminiscent of the Exodus from Egypt, where the Jewish people went free, after they had served their period of slavery. Rabeinu Bachye adds that, because of the close connection to the Exodus from Egypt, 'eved ivri' deserves to be mentioned first of the judgements - just like the mitzvah of 'Onochi' is first of the Ten Commandments. In fact, these two vital concepts also form the basis of the Shabbos, as we see from the second and the first 'luchos' respectively. Their importance lies in the fact that their combination also forms the basis of our faith, inasmuch as from it we learn that G-d exists and that He created the world, that He governs and supervises it and that there is divine communication, which, in turn, results in reward and punishment.
The mitzvos pertaining to 'eved ivri' also serve to teach us an object lesson in 'bein odom la'chaveiro', explains the No'am ha'Mitzvos. The Torah insists that the 'eved', once he has suffered the prescribed six-year period of humiliation of servitude (and even sooner if he obtains the necessary funds) should be allowed, and even encouraged, to go free, and that his master may do nothing to harass his efforts. Indeed, he must provide him with money and goods upon his departure. The Torah's sensitivity towards the feelings of a former sinner (who was sold either for stealing or for dealing with shmittah produce) is astounding.
And perhaps we can now better understand why the 'eved' had to have his ear pierced by the doorpost, if he requested an extension to his six year period of service. If his master is expected to display sympathy towards his predicament, and to set him free when the time comes, it is in the expectant hope that the servant will then have learnt his lesson. The Torah presumes that, broken by the years of servitude, he will take his leave with a strengthened conviction of Hashem's role in the world, and of his own. From now on we assume, he will acknowledge G-d as his only Master, thereby raising his standards, so that the need for servitude no longer exists. Yet he has decided that he loves his master and his slave-girl mistress, together with the children that she bore him. Clearly, he has failed to read the message, misconstruing his master's sympathies as an end in themselves and, in so doing, he has exchanged the love for Hashem for the love of human-beings. Of his own free will, he has elected to remain a servant to a human master, thus contravening the privileged distinction of being a servant exclusively to Hashem. That is why we pierce his ear - the ear that heard when Hashem passed over the doorposts in Egypt, and said "because the B'nei Yisroel are My servants" - 'and not servants to anybody else!' - and by the doorpost, which contains the Shema, in which it is written "And you shall love Hashem with all your heart" etc. - yet this servant loved others more. (The latter part of this essay is based largely on ideas expressed by the Kli Yokor.)
HIGHLIGHTS FROM THE HAFTORAH
Yeho'osh was no more than seven years old when he was crowned king over Yehudah, and he ruled for forty years. Initially, he was a good king, who apart from not destroying the altars (on which they served G-d - but which were forbidden from the time Yerusholayim was chosen as the centre of worship), did everything that his Rebbe, Yehoyodo, the Cohen Godol, had taught him.
However, once Yehoyodo died, things changed dramatically. The princes of Yehudah approached Yeho'osh. They pointed out how, considering that not even a Cohen Godol who was unworthy, was able to enter the Kodesh Kodshim and come out alive, yet he (Yeho'osh) had lived for six years directly above the Kodesh Kodshim. So they concluded that he must be a god. And he accepted this argument and made himself into a god - but that was later.
Yeho'osh arranged that the various donations for the Beis ha'Mikdosh, known as Bedek ha'Bayis, as well as the annual half-shekel, should go direct to the Cohanim, who then accepted the responsibility to effect all the necessary repairs out of their own pockets. However, by the twenty-third year of his reign, it transpired that, although the Cohanim were still taking the money of the donations, the Beis ha'Mikdosh remained in the same dilapidated state as it had been when Yeho'osh first became king. So he rescinded the arrangement. From then on, all the money would go directly to Bedek ha'Bayis, and the Cohanim were no longer responsible for seeing to the repairs, an arrangement with which the Cohanim readily agreed.
That was when Yeho'osh introduced the concept of a large collecting-box, which he placed on the right-hand side of the Azoroh near the Mizbei'ach. From now on, all the money that was donated to Bedek ha'Bayis, would be placed by one of the chief officers of the Cohanim into the box. Whenever the box was found to be relatively full, the king's scribe would accompany the Cohen Godol to empty it and to count its contents. The money would then be handed to the Beis ha'Mikdosh's treasurers, who in turn, would pay the many contractors involved in the building and repair work. They would then proceed to effect all the necessary repairs.
The money was not used to manufacture musical instruments to accompany the Levi'im's choir, except for money that remained after the completion of the repairs.
The men who handled the money to pay the contractors, were never asked to account for the money that passed through their hands - and it is from here that Chazal learned not to ask officers of tzedokoh to give account for the charities entrusted to them, since it is only trustworthy men who are picked for this task, and 'one does not suspect righteous people' - Redak.
Money that a man donated for his sin-offering and for his guilt-offering, and that was found to be in excess of the amount required, went to Bedek ha'Bayis, and was used for 'Kayitz ha'Mizbei'ach' - meaning that they would buy with the money, burnt-offerings, which would be sacrificed on the Mizbei'ach whenever it was not in use - mostly on the long summer days (hence its name). This is the only case of voluntary communal offerings being brought on the Mizbei'ach.
About The Mitzvos
The text of the b'rochoh that we recite over mitzvos contains the phrase 'who sanctified us with His mitzvos'. Indeed, the Torah, in Parshas Tzitzis, writes "In order that you should remember, and perform all of My mitzvos, and you will be holy to your G-d" (Bamidbor 15:40).
Evidently then, it is the performance of mitzvos which sanctifies a Jew - not ascetisism or abstention, nor even the learning of Kabboloh - no doubt, if practised by the right person under the right circumstances, these help to purify a person and to attain higher levels of sanctity - but it is the basic performance of the Taryag mitzvos, which elevates each and every Jew, and crowns him with the title 'holy'. When G-d described the Jewish people as 'a kingdom of priests and a holy nation', He gave us that title, first and foremost, because we undertook to perform all of His mitzvos - all of them, and not just some of them,.
And by the same token, it is the performing of the mitzvos which bring us close to Hashem, and our sins which distances us from Him. This is evident from the second and the third parshiyos of the Shema, and from the fact that we were banished from the Beis ha'Mikdosh and from Eretz Yisroel, after we had sinned. That is why Dovid ha'Melech (in the third Hellelu-Koh) describes Yisroel as 'am k'rovo' - the nation who is 'His relative'. That is only because of Hashem's mitzvos, which render us a unique nation, bring us close to Him and grant us the unique privilege of being members of His family.
Holiness - Kedushah - as defined by the early commentaries - means something eternal, incorporating continued life in the World to Come. By connecting to the eternal source - G-d Himself - through keeping the mitzvos commanded by Him (see "About the Mitzvos", Parshas Beshalach), we are given the opportunity of living eternally, much in the same way as an electric appliance (to which our Neshomoh can be aptly compared) vibrates with power the moment it is plugged in to an electric socket. And it is to that eternal life, explains the Seforno here, that the Torah is referring, when at Mattan Torah, it confers on Yisroel the title 'Mamleches Cohanim ve'Goy Kodosh" (Sh'mos 19:6).
THE MITZVOS OF TODAY
(The Mitzvos Asei)
Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim.
18. To revere the Beis ha'Mikdosh - as the Torah writes in Va'yikro (19:30) "and my Mikdash you shall revere". Our Shuls and Botei Medrash are referred to by Yechezkel as 'Mikdash me'at' - a mini-sanctuary. Consequently, one should take care not to indulge in them in joking, fun-making and idle chatter. Nor should one do one's accounts or sleep there, since their sanctity is very strict. Talmidei Chachamim however, who learn in them day and night, are permitted to eat and sleep there, since they are considered to be their home. This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.
19. To sanctify Shabbos with words - as the Torah writes in Sh'mos (20:8) "Remember (verbally) the Shabbos day to sanctify it." Chazal have said, in Toras Kohanim - sanctify it with words, when it comes in (with Kiddush) and when it goes out (with Havdoloh). It is the Rabbonon who added that Kiddush should be recited over a cup of wine or over bread, and Havdoloh over wine or over another beverage that is a common local drink ('chamar medinoh'). It is forbidden to eat or drink before Kiddush and Havdoloh. This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.
The Nevi'im add two mitzvos: namely, that of 'Oneg Shabbos' and of 'Kovod Shabbos'.
The mitzvah of 'Kovod Shabbos' includes washing one's face, hands (and feet) in warm water, and wearing special, clean clothes for Shabbos. Oneg Shabbos incorporates enjoying Shabbos through food and drink (and sleep). One is obliged to eat three meals on Shabbos.
The more one spends in honour of the Shabbos, the more praiseworthy he is. Someone who fulfills that mitzvah, receives an inheritance without borders. He is given all the desires of his heart, and is spared from subservience to the gentile nations. Regarding the mitzvah of Oneg Shabbos, Chazal have quoted Hashem as saying 'Borrow on My account, and I will pay back'. But that only applies to someone who knows that he will be in a position to repay the loan. Otherwise, they say 'Make your Shabbos a weekday, rather than make use of people’s services'. It is also a mitzvah to lay the table and to eat on Motzei Shabbos, even though one only needs a kezayis - in order to accompany the queen as she takes her leave.
The Ramban writes that, included in this mitzvah is to remember the Shabbos on a daily basis. This we do, by calling the days of the week the' first day of Shabbos', 'the second day of Shabbos' etc. (a mitzvah which we fulfill each day by reciting the 'Shir shel Yom' at the end of Shachris) etc. And the mitzvah also includes anything that one does in honour of the Shabbos. Therefore, when someone obtains something which is fit for the Shabbos meal, he should reserve it for Shabbos, and specifically say 'This is for Shabbos!' This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and to women alike.
20. To desist from work on Shabbos - as the Torah writes in Sh'mos (23:12) "And on the seventh day you shall rest." This positive mitzvah also applies to our animals - that we are obliged to make them desist from working for us, too. The prohibition of asking a gentile to work on Shabbos is a rabbinical one and falls under the category of a 'sh'vus'. (Refer also to the mitzvos lo sa'aseh, la'av 6.) This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and to women alike.
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