By Dr. Meir Tamari
"This will be the reward when you listen to the social laws [mishpatim] and
you observe and perform them; Hashem, your G-d will safeguard for you the
covenant and kindness that He swore to your forefathers"(Devarim, 7: 12).
It is difficult to understand why the mishpatim should be the observance
that brings with it this reward, when there are in the Torah also Chukim
and Eiduyot [witnesses to the Covenant between Israel and HaShem, the
Our text mentions three different activities with regard to the social
laws, listening, observing and performing, corresponding to the brain, the
heart-nefesh and the body. When one listens to something this is
transmitted to the brain and becomes part of our wisdom. Performing is
something that is done by the body. Observing [shmirah] means to take it to
heart, to fervently desire the fulfillment thereof or to look forward to an
occurrence; "and his father [Ya'akov shamar] observed the matter", Rashi
explains, waiting and anticipating.
It seems that normally it would be better if we would have neither the
causes of such laws nor the laws themselves. However, the application of
these laws does not only have an effect here on earth and in regard to
material matters. All judgments in such laws have an affect also in the
Heavens above and G-d's treatment of human beings. For example judgments
regarding monetary matters awake in the heavens above, the justice that
prevents evil thoughts and desires from growing close to something that
does not belong to them; the definition of theft being anything that comes
into our possession but does not belong to us. When all of Israel's actions
are for the sake of Heaven and they desire and yearn for these Mishpatim
for His sake and not for their own welfare or interests, even matters of
this world acquire holiness. This demonstrates their devotion to G-d more
than the observance of the Chukim or Eiduyot, since thereby they subject
their own affairs to Him.
The Mishpatim require more wisdom than the Chukim and Eiduyot. In the
latter two cases, it is relatively easy to distinguish between that which
is permissible and that which is forbidden, between kasher and non-kasher
or between pure and impure, since there are obvious and clearly defined
definitions. However, to judge between conflicting claims of two parties,
both of whom earned their money in holiness- morally and legally- requires
great wisdom if one is to decide what the real holiness dictates.
Wisdom-chochmah- that is emotive, filled with astonishment and passionate
is something distinct from knowledge-da'at. The Chidushei Harim, the first
Admor of Gur, questioned why we did not recite the brachah for da'at, the
first one of the berachot of the weekday brachot, even on Shabbat, since
knowledge seems to be spiritual, unlike the other requests in the Amidah,
that are for material things. This is because da'at is not something
intrinsic of itself, rather the Midot react dispassionately to the
mind-seichel; like a scholar who foretells the future of a distant kingdom
with complete personal detachment. Nevertheless, da'at is an essential part
of human beings, distinguishing them from the animals, which is why we
use ' beseech'- the language of a gratuitous gift- in this beracha. Since
it is actually not a spiritual factor we do not pray for it on Shabbat.
If the text would mention the Merits of the Fathers, zechut avot, as being
the entitlement of Israel to Eretz Yisrael, the sons of Eisav would be able
to claim their part of the Abrahamic inheritance, since we learn that an
apostate has a share in the property of his father (Kiddushin, 18a). It is
the great desire and yearning for the mishpatim, the shemirah- observance,
that brings with it the blessings of this world and therefore retains the
Abrahamic covenant only for Israel.
Commentating on the verse, "He perceived no abuse of power [aven] in Jacob
and did not see worry [amal] in Israel"(Bamidbar, 23,21), the Admor relates
it to this same theme. ' Ya'akov-Jacob' refers to the nation in its lowest
spiritual stages, one who clutches the heel of Eisav or is an exiled or
persecuted person. In these conditions their material affairs and social
behavior, are devoted to satisfying the needs of a human society, without
dishonesty, fraud, and any exploitation of power. When they are at the
highest level, Israel, they are able to go beyond this. Here, they devote
their human activities to serving Him, using their money for charity and
their time for Torah.
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Project Genesis, Inc.
Dr. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.