Sealed and Delivered
This parsha is called Mishpatim. Simply translated it means ordinances. The
portion entails laws that deal with various torts and property damages. It
discusses laws of damages, of servitude, of lenders and borrowers, employers
and laborers, laws of lost items and the responsibilities of the finder. Many
of these mitzvos that are discussed in the section of Shulchan Aruch Choshen
Mishpat. But there are quite a few mitzvos mentioned that engage the purely
spiritual quality of the Jew. Some of them deal with kosher restrictions,
others with our relationship with the Almighty.
One verse that deals with the requirement of shechita (ritual slaughter)
begins with a prelude regarding holiness. "People of holiness shall you be
to Me; you shall not eat flesh of an animal that was torn in the field; to
the dog shall you throw it (Exodus 22:30). The question is simple. There are
many esoteric mitzvos whose only justifiable reason is spiritual. Why does
the Torah connect the fact that Jews should be holy with their prohibition of
eating meat that was torn as opposed to ritually slaughtered? There are
myriad mitzvos that require self-control and abstention. Can there be
another intonation to the holiness prelude?
(I heard this amazing story a number of years ago from a reliable source; I
saved it until I was able to use it as an appropriate parable to answer a
scriptural difficulty. I hope that this is it!)
Dovid, a serious yeshiva student, boarded the last flight out of Los Angeles
on his way back to his Yeshiva in New York. He was glad that they were going
to serve food as he had left his home in a rush and did not get a chance to
eat supper. Sitting next to him on the airplane, was a southern fellow who
knew little about Judaism, and considered Dovid a curiosity. As the plane
flew eastward, he bantered with Dovid about Jews, religion and the Bible, in
a poor attempt to display his little bits of knowledge. Hungry and tired
Dovid humored him with pleasantries and not much talking. He was pleased
when his kosher meal was finally served. The kosher deli sandwich came
wrapped in a plastic tray, and was sealed with a multiple array of stickers
and labels testifying to its kosher integrity. His new-found neighbor was
amused as Dovid struggled to break the myriad seals and reveal the sandwich,
which unbelievably looked just as appetizing as the non-kosher deli sandwich
the airline had served him.
"Hey," he drawled, "your kosher stuff doesn't look too bad after all!" Dovid
smiled and was about to take his first bite into the sandwich when he
realized that he had to wash his hands for the bread. He walked to the back
of the plane to find a sink. It took a little while to wash his hands
properly, but soon enough he returned to his seat. His sandwich was still
on his tray, nestled in its ripped-open wrapping, unscathed.
And then it dawned upon him. There is a rabbinic ordinance that if unmarked
or unsealed meat is left unattended in a gentile environment, it is
prohibited to be eaten by a Jew. The Rabbis were worried that someone may
have switched the kosher meat for non-kosher.
Dovid felt that in the enclosed atmosphere of an airplane cabin, nothing
could have happened. After all, no one is selling meat five miles above
earth, and would have reason to switch the meat, but a halacha is halacha,
the rule is a rule, and Dovid did not want to take the authority to overrule
the age-old Halacha.
Pensively he sat down, made a blessing on the bread and careful not to eat
the meat, he took a small bite of the bread. Then he put the sandwich down
and let his hunger wrestle with his conscience.
"Hey pardner," cried his neighbor, "what's wrong with the sandwich?"
Dovid was embarrassed but figured; if he couldn't eat he would talk.
He explained the Rabbinic law prohibiting unattended meat and then added with
a self-effacing laugh, "and though I'm sure no one touched my food, in my
religion, rules are rules."
His neighbor turned white. "Praise the L-rd, the Rabbis, and all of you
Dovid looked at him quizzically.
"When you were back there doin' your thing, I says to myself, "I never had
any kosher deli meat in my life. I thought I'd try to see if it was as good
as my New York friends say it is!
Well I snuck a piece of pastrami. But when I saw how skimpy I left your
sandwich, I replaced your meat with a piece of mine! Someone up there is
watching a holy fellow such as yourself!"
The Pardes Yosef explains the correlation of the first half of the verse to
the second with a quote from the Tractate Yevamos . The Torah is telling us
more than an ordinance. It is relating a fact. "If you will act as a People
of holiness then you shall not eat flesh of an animal that was torn in the
field; to the dog shall you throw it. The purity of action prevents the
mishaps of transgressions. Simple as that. Keep holy and you will be watched
to ensure your purity. Sealed and delivered.
Best wishes to the Bergman Family of Flatbush thank you for your kind
Copyright © 2002 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Project Genesis, Inc.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the
Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation