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   by Jacob Solomon

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PARASHAT MISHPATIM - FOR THE STUDENT AND FOR AROUND THE TABLE - from 5766


Note: The nature of the text is such that reference to Rashi is vital to link it with its Halachic meanings.

1. Although the Torah permits an Israelite to acquire a Hebrew slave, it deeply frowns on the practice. Where may that be seen in (a) the text (b) Rashi's commentary to the Parasha?

2. How, according to the text and Rashi, is justice applied to manslaughter?

3. How are the words 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' (21:24) legally interpreted by Rashi?

4. In which situation does the Torah give the individual an ownership of public property, and with what results?

5. Where Reuben's ox fatally attacks Shimon's ox, when does he pay half damages, and when does he pay full damages?

6. From where may it be learnt, following Rashi, that one may kill in self-defense?

7. Following the Talmud's understanding of the relevant verses of the Torah (quoted by Rashi), what are the differences in liabilities between the following:
(a) a person who looks after your goods for nothing.
(b) a person who looks after your goods for payment.
(c) a person borrows an article for his use with your permission.
(d) A person who hires an article for his own use.

8. What powers does the Torah give to the Courts to deal with the offences of (a) seduction and (b) rape of a completely single woman?

9. The text states that 'one must neither taunt (toneh) nor oppress (tichatzenu) the stranger' (22:20). What is the difference between those two words according to the sources brought by Rashi?

10. What is the difference, given by the sources quoted by Rashi, between the prohibition of taking bribes (23:8), and the prohibition of perverting justice (Deut. 16:19)?

11. When Moses and the leaders of the Israelites began the ascent of Mount Sinai, 'they saw the G-d of Israel, and under His feet was the likeness of sapphire brickwork, and it was the essence of the heavens in purity' (24:10). What is the meaning of this sentence according to Rashi?

12. What, according to Saadia Gaon (quoted by Rashi), is the relationship between the Ten Commandments and the 613 Mitzvot?

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS ON THE TEXT OF THE PARASHA, FOLLOWING RASHI'S COMMENTARY

1. The fact that the laws of taking a Hebrew slave act against the interests of the owner would indicate that the Torah wishes to discourage the practice. Thus a person who entered slavery as a convicted thief (22:2) who was sold by the court to raise the funds to pay his victims (following Rashi) may only serve for six years. Furthermore, the Torah disdains the Hebrew slave who spurns his freedom and wishes to serve beyond the six year period. His ear is pierced with an awl at the door (21:6). As Rashi quotes from the Talmud, let it be the ear that heard 'you must not steal' at Sinai be the organ that is pierced (as theft caused the person to be sold into slavery). Let the Israelite ear be pierced, as it heard that Israelites are servants to G-d (Lev. 25:55) and not to other people. And it should be at the doorpost - as the doorpost symbolizes the freedom that the Hebrew slave rejected - and on which the Israelites put the blood of the freedom offering - the blood of the Passover offering in Egypt.

2. Where a person 'did not lie in ambush' (21:13), and killed accidentally, G-d would provide a place of refuge - in one of the 'cities of refuge' designated after the laws in Num. 35 and Deut. 19. However, in describing the case of an accidental murder, the Torah states that 'G-d had caused it to come to his hand.' (21:13). It is a fundamental principle of the Torah that events are not haphazard. If a person did kill someone by accident, he should realize that G-d caused it. He must have committed a sin that went unpunished, and his current victim must have been guilty of a capital offence that went undetected. (See Rashi to 21:13)

3. The meaning of the words 'an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth' is that the magnitude of the injury must be legally assessed and due financial compensation be paid.

4. The Torah gives the individual an ownership of public property when he digs pit in the street and does not adequately safeguard the public. It calls the person 'the owner of the pit' (21:34) - saying that even though it is in the public thoroughfare, he is treated as though 'he is the owner' and he is liable for any damages it causes.

5. He pays half damages when the ox was not known to be a dangerous beast - on the first and second attack. Once it is established as such, the owner is liable for full damages if he does not take full precautions in safeguarding it from the public.

6. The Torah states: 'If a thief is discovered when tunneling in, and he is struck and he dies, there is no blood guilt on his account'. (22:1) That is understood to mean that since the householder will fight to protect his property, it may be assumed that the thief would be prepared to overpower and if necessary, kill the owner. The wider legal application of this law is that killing is permitted in self-defense - if someone comes to kill you, act first to kill him - 'there is no blood guilt on his account'.

7. Following the verses as explained by the Talmud and quoted by Rashi:

(a) a person who looks after your goods for nothing: liable only for negligence or unauthorized use of the article.

(b) a person who looks after your goods for payment - liable in addition if the article is lost or stolen.

(c) a person borrows an article for his use with your permission - liable, in addition to the above, for accidents. He is only exempt where the owner is 'borrowed' with him.

(d) A person who hires an article for his own use - not in the Biblical text - and is the subject of a Tannaitic dispute: according to R. Meir, as an unpaid guardian; according to R. Judah, as a paid guardian.

8. In both cases it is a fifty-shekel fine. [Derived from Deut 22:29. It appears that the G-d, not the court, makes the distinction between seduction and rape, and He intervenes to settle the account, treating each case on its individual merits. Compare with the answer to #2, above.]

9. The word 'toneh' means to taunt him - verbally - to remind him of his previous murky background and past, or even generally insult hi. 'Tilchatzenu' oppressing - means extorting him financially.

10. Perverting justice involves taking bribes to decide the case in X's favor even though it may involve a miscarriage of justice. Taking bribes concerns taking money from a party to judge the case correctly. The Torah lays testimony that a judge that takes money from litigants cannot judge fairly even if he wants to: 'for the bribes blinds those who see and corrupts words that are just'. (23:8)

11. Rashi, citing the Midrash, interprets this passage as follows. They saw a vision of G-d throughout the period of slavery in Egypt. During that time, God kept a sapphire brick at His feet, as it were, as a constant reminder of Israel's servitude. But when the Israelites were freed, His joy was as radiant as the very essence of Heaven.

12. According to Saadia Gaon - quoted by Rashi - each one of the 613 mitzvot comes under the head of one of the Ten Commandments. Thus the Ten Commandments are the entire laws of the Torah in short. (See Rashi to 24:12)

OTHER COMMENTARIES ON THE PARASHA.

1. Why, on several occasions in the Parasha, is the term 'elokim' used for human judges? - according to (a) Ibn Ezra and (b) the Ramban.

2. Why, according to the Talmud (Bava Kamma 79b - quoted by Rashi) is the penalty for stealing, slaughtering, and selling a sheep less that doing the same thing things to an ox?

3. What is the meaning of G-d's declaring 'Do not execute the innocent and the righteous, for I will not acquit the wicked' (23:7), according to Ibn Ezra?

4. Why, according to Ibn Ezra, are the milk and meat prohibitions expressed by the Torah as 'You shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk?' (23:19)

5. G-d declared that He would 'send an angel' before the Israelites 'to protect' them 'on the way... to the place that I have prepared' (23:20). To what specific circumstances was G-d referring to according to (a) Rashi and (b) the Ramban?

6. When, according to (a) Rashi, and (b) the Ramban, did the Israelites declare: "All that G-d has said - we will do and we will obey"? (24:7)

7. The text states that after the elders of Israel saw the sacred vision of G-d 'they ate and they drank'. (24:11) How is their conduct viewed by (a) Rashi and (b) the Ramban?

ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS FROM OTHER COMMENTARIES ON THE PARASHA.

1. Both explanations emphasize the close connection between the work of the judges and the work of the Almighty. Thus the word 'elokim' for judges also can mean G-d. Ibn Ezra makes the connection in stressing that the court applies and carries out G-d's law on earth. The Ramban, however, focuses on the Divine Presence - namely, that His presence and influence rest upon the judges.

2. The Talmud gives two reasons. R. Yochanan ben Zakai says that it is because the Torah takes into account the humiliation suffered by the thief. The ox is merely led, but the act of stealing a sheep means that the thief has to suffer the embarrassment of carrying it on his shoulder as he makes his escape. This is an important lesson in showing how important it is to respect other people's feelings in everyday life. R. Meir holds that the theft of the ox is more serious because it deprives the owner of the loss of productive work in his field - implying the importance that the Torah attaches to honest labor.

3. Following Ibn Ezra, the words 'Do not execute the innocent and the righteous', refer to the accused being innocent of the offence for which he is charged. Even though the judge knows that this defendant is guilty and deserving of death because of other things he has done, the meaning of the above phrase is that it is forbidden to rid society of a menace by finding him guilty of a crime that he did not commit. The judge should rely on G-d's pledge that He will see to it that justice catches up with the criminal: 'for I (G-d) will not acquit the wicked'.

4. Ibn Ezra stresses that the prohibitions of meat and milk are recorded in this way to teach that a person should also show sensitivity to nature and the way in which he interacts with it. Not cooking a young goat in its mother's milk cultivates a degree of sensitivity. Although the Torah permits one to eat meat, and generally to partake of the Creation, one should do so in such a way as to promote sensitivity and refinement to all living things, and not callousness, indifference, and greed.

5. The angel that He would send before the Israelites 'to protect' them 'on the way... to the place that (He) has prepared' is referring to the future sin of the Golden Calf - according to Rashi. G-d told Moses (33:2) that He would withdraw His presence from the Israelites and, instead, send an angel to lead them into the Promised Land. The Ramban, however, holds that this prophecy was not fulfilled in Moses' lifetime - for G-d did relent and He agreed to lead the people Himself (33:15-17). This verse refers to the angel which appeared to Joshua and identified himself as the head of G-d's legion (Josh. 5:13-15) as he was making his preparations to conquer the Promised Land - starting with Jericho.

6. According to Rashi, the story of the covenant, containing the words "everything that G-d has said, we will do and we will obey" occurred before the Ten Commandments - and that this story is not in chronological order: 'ein mukdam u-meuchar ba-Torah'. The Ramban however accepts this maxim in very few cases - maintaining that this Parasha is in chronological order and that the events described in this chapter all took place after the Ten Commandments.

7. According to Rashi, following the Tanchuma, 'they ate and they drank' records that the Israelite elders did not accord due respect to the intensely revealed Divine Presence. Although they deserved to die, G-d did not 'stretch out His hand' (24:11) to harm them, so as not to bring grief to the joy of the Giving of the Torah. The Ramban, however, understands the conduct of the elders more favorably. He holds that they were able to eat and drink normally, not coming to any harm - even though they had a holy prophetic vision that normally would be beyond the human capacity to endure.

ADDITIONAL QUESTION:

Why is the prohibition of taking bribes (23:8-9) put next to that of oppressing a stranger (23:10)?

My own attempts to deal with that issue may be found in the archives for 5761 in Shema Yisrael - on Parashat Mishpatim.

Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.

Also by Jacob Solomon:
Between the Fish and the Soup

From the Prophets on the Haftara

e-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il

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