JANUARY 31-FEBRUARY 1, 2003 29 SHEBAT 5763
"When you lend money to My people...do not lay interest upon him" (Shemot 22:24)
Our perashah discusses many laws that govern a Jewish society that runs according to the Torah. One major law is the law that forbids taking interest. Rashi adds that even though the Hebrew word "im" usually means "if," here it means "when." In short, the Torah is not telling us that lending your fellow Jew is an option, it is a must. However, when the lender fulfills his obligation to lend, it must be interest free. Our Torah is teaching us that your fellow Jew is not a stranger. If your father would ask you for a loan, would you have the gall to quote him an interest rate? If one Jew has money he does not need, he must view his fellow Jew as a family member and lend him. It is true that in Pirkei Abot it says that, "What's mine is mine and what's yours is yours," is an acceptable attitude. But it also says that this leads to the trait of Sedom. If one says, "What's mine is mine," and he intends to use it as the Torah requires, that is okay. But if he means that it's mine to do as I please, this is said by a citizen of Sedom.
A true story is told of a youth group in Israel that reads Tehillim every Shabbat. At the end of each week's reading, the organizers give out candy bags. One week brought an unusually large crowd, and there weren't enough bags to go around. The leaders made an offer: Whoever is willing to wait until next week will get an extra bag! This innocent offer was brought to the local Rabbi by the young children participating in the program. Is this a question of interest? The Rabbi pondered this interesting but complicated question. Some wanted to say that it depends on the nature of the reward. If it is like a payment it would be prohibited. If it is just an incentive to get them to read, it is not interest. The Rabbi was lenient and ruled that it was neither. The extra bag was a payment to the child who exhibited the good trait of forgiving what was coming to him.
More important than the answer by the Rabbi was the question posed by the children. That the children's only concern was to fulfill the wishes of Hashem, even to the extent of giving up their candy, this is a great sign for the future of our nation. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah
"And these are the laws that you shall place before them" (Shemot 21:1)
From the word lifnehem, before them, Rashi tells us that we must bring disputes before our court system; that is, one must go to Bet Din rather than go to secular courts. This is indeed the halachah that we may not go to a secular court to adjudicate a case between two Jews. It may seem to us that this would only apply when the power of Bet Din was absolute, like in the old days, whereas nowadays, when Bet Din is limited in enforcing its laws, we should not have to go to Bet Din. This is incorrect. We must always go to Bet Din first and only when Bet Din allows us to go to civil courts do we have the right to do so. It is considered a Hilul Hashem and a denigration of the Torah if we go to civil courts rather than Bet Din. Today, most civil courts recognize any agreement which was worked out in Bet Din, and will uphold it without having to reopen the case, which makes going to Bet Din more advantageous. We should hopefully never have to go to court for any reason, but if it ever becomes necessary, we would be doing a great misvah by following the halachah and going to Jewish courts. We will be upholding the Torah and making a Kiddush Hashem, sanctifying the Name of Hashem, which is certain to impact favorably on the outcome of the case. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"And these are the laws...If you buy a Jewish slave, he shall work for six years, and in the seventh he shall go free" (Shemot 21:1-2)
Why do the laws concerning a thief sold as a Jewish servant immediately follow the giving of the Torah?
If Jews would constantly bear in mind that Hashem is the Master of the world and its inhabitants, no one would ever sin. We mortals tend sometimes to forget this basic principle and, thinking that Hashem is not looking, furtively transgress His will.
To protect us from this misconception, the laws of the Jewish slave follow the giving of the Torah to emphasize that each individual should strive to be a totally dedicated servant of G-d.
The period of six years of a Jewish slave's servitude represents the six millennium of this world. During this stage we should submit ourselves to serving Hashem through performing Torah and misvot. Adhering to this guideline, a Jew can be certain that in the seventh year, which represents the seventh millennium, he will merit everlasting tranquility. (Vedibarta Bam)
"And bribery you shall not take, for a bribe will blind those who can see and distort the words of the righteous" (Shemot 23:8)
Rabbi Abraham of Sochotchov commented that there is a major difference between a person who is blind and a person who is prejudiced because of some bias. When a person is blind, he realizes it and will ask someone who can see to help him. But if a person has a bias, the bias blinds him to such an extent that he does not even realize that he is blind. He feels that what he perceives is reality and will refuse to listen to others.
There are many types of bribes that distort our judgment. We are not referring to an out and out bribe. Any bias will cause us to view things in a way that will fit our particular bias. This is especially true when someone tries to point out our mistake and faults. We all want to feel that we are correct. Awareness of our own blindness is the first step in overcoming it. When someone tells you something that goes against your bias, weigh the matter very carefully. Remember that bias blinds. Just because you do not immediately recognize a fault does not mean that you do not have it. If necessary, consult a few other people. (Growth through Torah)
Question: Why do we turn toward the West when reading "bo-iy beshalom" at the end of Lecha Dodi?
Answer: This is how we greet Shabbat, since the door of the synagogue was usually in the West. (Excerpted from Siddur Abir Yaacob, published by Sephardic Press)
Parashat Mishpatim deals primarily with laws involving man's interaction with his fellow man. Some of the topics include laws of damages, lending money, testimony and the responsibilities of watchmen and renters. Rashi comments that this perashah directly follows the perashah of the Ten Commandments to emphasize that just as the Ten Commandments were given at Har Sinai, so too were civil laws given at Har Sinai. The Ramban takes it one step further and says that civil laws are actually an extension of the tenth commandment, which forbids one to desire that which belongs to his friend.
In today's society, it has become commonplace for people to do anything within their power, within legal parameters, to take whatever they can from their fellow man. There is no lawsuit too outrageous, and no scam that hasn't been tried. The Torah has a completely different perspective. Whatever a person has was given to him by Hashem. Even if he manages to "legally" extract money from someone else, Hashem will arrange for him to lose the money in another way. If he causes damage to another, he must pay compensation even if the other person would not be able to prove it in a court of law. One who abides by these rules demonstrates his belief in Hashem's dominion.
Question: What would you do if you accidentally sideswiped a car in the parking lot, and nobody saw you? Would you buy something from a street vendor who is selling merchandise that is far below the true value (i.e. a genuine Rolex for $50)?
This week's Haftarah: Shemuel I 20:18-42.
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 tomorrow is Rosh Hodesh, we read a special haftarah known as "Mahar Hodesh - tomorrow is Rosh Hodesh." This is because the haftarah begins with a conversation between King David and Yehonatan, son of Shaul, which took place on the day before Rosh Hodesh.
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