By Rabbi 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:
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 Chagim etc.]
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 is difficult to understand how this avodah of the heart and the fervent
desires, apply to these social laws. After all, such laws only come about
as a result of claims for damages, or because of a non- fulfillment of
obligations, or the need to transfer money and property from one person to
another. 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.
Shem Mi Shmuel, 5673.; 5676.
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.
Perhaps, the Shem Mi Shmuel’s approach here follows that of the Admor
Menachem Mendel of Kotsk, when he explains the opening verse of
Mishpatim, ” These are the Mishpatim that you shall place before them”
(Shmot, 17:1). The Talmud explains, “before them and not before the
nations of the world” (Gittin, 88b). How is this possible since we know
that all civilized nations have social laws and economic
ordinances? “Yes”, said the Admor of Kotsk, “but only by us are these
mishpatim an Avodah, a service of HaShem”.
Text Copyright © 2004 by Rabbi Meir Tamari and Torah.org.
r. Tamari is a renowned economist, Jewish scholar, and founder of the Center For Business Ethics (www.besr.org) in Jerusalem.