FEBRUARY 23-24, 2001 1 ADAR 5761
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"You shall not taunt or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (Shemot 22:20)
Our perashah discusses many laws that govern our contact with our fellow man. Since the first comment of Rashi on this perashah says that all these laws were given at Sinai, even though they are societal laws, we must study them with care. The verse quoted above refers to our relationship to converts - that we must be kind and gentle. Many commentaries say that it also refers to any stranger or newcomer, be it to a neighborhood, a synagogue or a school. Rashi explains that the Torah forewarns us from being harsh towards anyone who would join us.
"After all," Rashi says, "the stranger can easily remind us of our forgotten experience in Egypt where we too were strangers."
Rabbi Mordechai Kamenetzky asks, why does the Torah have to mention our experience in Egypt? Wouldn't it be wrong to taunt the stranger even if we never went to Egypt? Why is the slavery a factor in this misvah? He explains that the suffering that we endured in Egypt was a needed ingredient in our development as a nation. It strengthened and unified us to be able to endure any future difficulty. As a result, we might make the mistake and put the stranger through the same difficulties that we had to go through. We might say it is for his own good. Just like we had to break into the club, so does he. Therefore we can now look at our verse in a different homiletic light. "Do not taunt or oppress the newcomer because you were strangers in the land of Egypt." Do not impose your difficult experiences in life on others. Life has a personal trainer for every individual, and each soul has a particular program mapped out by the Almighty. Do not view the world from the rear view mirror of your personal experience.
So, the next time you see a new face in shul, in school, in work or in your social circle, give a big smile and ease him in. Shabbat Shalom.
- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"You shall not cause pain to a widow or orphan. If you cause him pain, if he shall cry out to Me, I shall surely hear his outcry" (Shemot 22:21-22)
When the Torah prohibits us from afflicting a widow or orphan, it uses three double words to describe the outcome. "If you shall afflict them (aneh t'aneh), they will cry out to Me (sa'ok yis'ak), and I (Hashem) will listen (shamo'a eshma) to their cry." Why so many double words?
The Kotzker Rebbe gives a very insightful explanation. When a widow or orphan is afflicted, they feel sorry for themselves and wonder why they are being tormented so. They come to the conclusion that it is because they have no father or husband, and they relive that pain all over again. Even if they lost their loved ones many years ago, they feel it anew as if it is a fresh wound.
Hashem considers it as if the tormentor is responsible for the original loss since he causes the victims to cry for their loss all over again. So it comes out that the orphan and widow cry double for their double pain, and Hashem "hears" both cries, and therefore the penalty is that much more severe.
We learn from here an amazing insight into human nature. When a person is down from something else, any more distress can bring up the old pain, and whoever does so is responsible for both! We have to be so careful with the widows, orphans and downtrodden to help lift up their spirits, and then Hashem will reward us doubly as well! Shabbat Shalom.
"And these are the laws that you shall set before them" (Shemot 21:1)
Rashi explains that whenever the term "elleh" (these) is stated, it excludes the preceding sections, but when the term "v'elleh" (and these) is stated, it adds to the preceding sections.
Just as the preceding laws were given at Mount Sinai, so too, were these given at Mount Sinai. Rashi reveals here the essential difference between Torah and the laws of the nations. The laws of the nations are founded upon the decision and approval of individuals who are readily influenced by the environment and age in which they live. Their various lifestyles and value systems will play a great role in the development and acceptance of these laws. The laws are a reflection of the personalities of the legislators who can change their minds as a result of the legislators who can change their minds as a result of pressure or coercion. Therefore, their laws are often inconsistent and illogical.
Torah law, however, is an act of Hashem. It is not based upon human agreement and acceptance. On the contrary, it is the Torah which is the foundation of man. The Zohar says: "Hashem gazed at the Torah and created mankind." Man was created, shaped and perfected according to the Torah and its misvot.
To illustrate this thesis, let us look at the misvah of honoring one's parents. We commonly assume that this misvah was given to us because parents exist. Rather, according to the Zohar we must say that since there is a misvah of honoring one's parents in the Torah, it necessarily mandated that parents be a part of creation. It is the misvah that makes it necessary for parents to exist! Our society is shaped according to Torah laws and precepts, while the laws of the nations are shaped according to the society wherein they exist. (Peninim on the Torah)
"And his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve forever" (Shemot 21:6)
The ear, as opposed to any other part of the body, was selected to be pierced because it heard on Mount Sinai, "You shall not steal," and nevertheless the person stole. In addition, the ear heard on Mount Sinai that B'nei Yisrael are to be servants of Hashem, and the person acquired a different master for himself.
According to these explanations, why do we delay boring the ear until the person decides to stay on as a slave after six years, instead of boring immediately when he is sold or sells himself as a slave? When a Jew acquires anything, he must do an action (kinyan) to demonstrate his ownership. Originally, the slave was bought for a period of six years. At the time of the sale the buyer paid money, which is a way of acquiring ownership. If the slave desires to stay after the original six years, the owner must make a new kinyan to establish new continued ownership. The Mishnah (Kidushin 14b) states, "The slave whose ear is bored is acquired through the boring of the ear." Thus, the boring of the ear is not a punishment, but a form of kinyan.
Since this form of kinyan is not found anywhere else, we have to search for a reason for such a strange method. Therefore, Rashi quotes the above explanations to help us understand the reason for boring the ear.
[If someone damages another person, he must pay for the doctor bills, as the Torah states:] "And he shall be healed" (Shemot 21:19)
From this verse the Talmud (Berachot 60a) derives the principle that a doctor is permitted to heal.
The Hozeh of Lublin commented on this that a doctor only has permission to heal. He does not have a right to despair about a person's being healed. Even though a doctor might see that from his experience and from all that he was taught, people in situations similar to this patient's usually do not recover, Hashem has the final say about the reality of any person's recovery. Never give up hope. There are plenty of people who have lived for many years after doctors have said that they would not get well.
This is true as regards medical problems, all the more so when it comes to areas pertaining to a person's behavior and emotions. While one can never be certain that a person will change for the better, one can never be certain that one will not. While we should not expect miracles to happen, as long as a person is still alive, there is always hope for improvement if someone is motivated to make the effort to change. (Growth through Torah)
This week's Haftarah: Melachim II 11:17 - 12:17.
The regular haftarah for Parashat Mishpatim is from Yirmiyahu. It tells about King Sidkiyahu, who proclaimed freedom for all Jewish slaves. The first concept in the perashah also deals with the laws regarding Jewish slaves.
However, since this week is Shabbat Shekalim, and a special maftir is read, the regular haftarah is not read. Instead, we read about King Yehoyada, a righteous king who did away with the idols that the people had been worshiping. He instituted a system to collect funds for the repair and fortification of the Bet Hamikdash. This section contains a reference to the half-shekel contribution that each person was required to bring every year, which is also the theme of the special maftir which we read this week.
Answer to Pop Quiz: Yehoshua.
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