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Posted on February 17, 2010 (5770) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

Parshas Mishpatim

The Metaphor of Coming In and Going Out With His Coat

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape #669, Rabbinical Contracts. Good Shabbos!

We are taught with regard to the indentured Hebrew servant (eved ivri) that if “b’gapo yavo” then “b’gapo yeitzei” [Shemos 21:3]. What does this ambiguous term mean?

Rashi translates — based on Onkeklos’ rendition — if he comes in by himself (i.e. – unmarried) then he will leave by himself. This interpretation fits in smoothly with the continuation of the pasuk [verse] “if he is married (im baal isha hu), his wife goes out with him.”

In modern Hebrew, we would use the term “ravak” [bachelor] for a single man and “nasui” for married person. The term “b’gapo” is very peculiar. It does not even appear in Mishnaic Hebrew. How does the word “b’gapo” indicate a person is single? The most common explanation is that it comes from the word “b’gufo” – meaning “with his body” (and with no one else). Rashi, however cites another derivation for this word. Rashi equates “b’gapo” with “b’knafo”, meaning with his garment (i.e. – the shirt on his back).

According to Rashi, the metaphor for being single is one’s garment. The pasuk is saying: If you come in with (only) your coat, you leave with only your coat. What is the connection between a person’s garment and being single? The answer is that we define a person who is single as being one whose world ends at the end of this garment. He is a self contained unit. His world ends where he ends.

If the definition of a single person is one whose world ends where his coat ends, then carrying the metaphor one step further, a married person is one whose coat extends over other people as well. A married person’s world extends to all others who have to come under his protection.

With this idea, we can understand an old Jewish custom. At both a traditionally Yekkeshe [German Jewry] wedding as well as at a Sephardic wedding, the groom puts on a Tallis and spreads it over himself and his bride. This ritual acts out the very implication of our metaphor. Under the Chuppah, at the mome nt of his marriage, the Chosson demonstrates that his world has now been extended by spreading his garment over someone else in addition to himself. My coat now has to cover someone else.

The Biblical source for this custom is the Book of Rus. Rus tells Boaz, in suggesting that he marry her, “And you shall spread your garment over your maid-servant” [Ruth 3:9]. In other words, “take me into your world.” Let your world no longer be the world of a single man that ends where your coat ends, let it be an extended world that includes someone else as well.

This recognition is the hardest adjustment to married life. Until that point, a young man only has to worry about his own coat, his own comfort, his own life. Marriage introduces responsibility for taking care of the needs and comforts of someone else as well.

The Greatest IRA Investment

The laws of Shmitah in Parshas Mishpatim contain an interesting implication: “Six years shall you sow your land and gather in its produce. And in the seventh, you shall leave it untended and unharvested, and the destitute of your people shall eat, and the wildlife of the field shall eat what is left; so shall you do to your vineyard and your olive grove.” [Shemos 23:10-11]. The implication of six years you should sow is that just as there is a mitzvah to let the land lie fallow in the seventh year, indeed there is also a mitzvah to work it for the first six years of the shemita cycle.

The Daas Zekeinim m’Baaley haTosofos cite a Medrash: “Even if a person has only a single furrow in his garden, he must toil therein on a daily basis.” However, they qualify the ruling. “It appears to Rabbi Moshe that this only applies in the Land of Israel so that there may be an increase in the produce subject to the laws of Terumos and Maasros [Priestly gifts and agricultu ral tithes].

The Imrei Shammai suggests an alternative interpretation of the pasuk “Six years shall you sow your land…” and of the above cited Medrash. The Medrash, the Imrei Shammai suggests, applies even outside the Land of Israel. The intent of the commandment is not to increase the income of the Priests and Levites, but to keep the landowner busy. The worst thing for a person is to be idle.

Avos D’Rav Nosson [11:1] presents an idea that is totally out of synch with today’s mentality. “If a person has nothing to do and he has a little garden, he should go to the garden every day and work the garden, as it is written, “Six years shall you sow your land…”. Rabbi Tarfon states: A person dies only out of idleness (m’toch ha’batalah).”

There is a mindset in America: A person works until 65 and then he has reached the moment he has been waiting for – the greatest thing in the world! Retirement! A person can start drawing (reduced) Social Security alread y at 62 if he/she retires early. Already at age 50, people begin receiving mail from the AARP (American Association of Retired People). They encourage people to build up a little nest-egg in the stock market and retire at 55, or worst-case at 59!

Finally, a person hits that golden age when he can retire. On the first day of retirement, he asks himself, “So what do I do now?” Most people drive their wives crazy. They go to the grocery store together. What can a person do in retirement? This is one of the tragic myths that have been hoisted upon American society — that retirement is the greatest blessing. It is not true. It can be the worst curse!

The greatest thing in the world is to keep busy. A person only dies out of idleness. Sociologists and medical professionals can back this idea up with one study after another. People work and work and are productive and have energy. They retire and suddenly they start getting sick and depressed. They do not know what t o do with themselves.

This does not mean that a person needs to die on the job. A person does not need to work forever, but must try to remain productive even after leaving his lifetime career. This is why people do themselves a great favor by learning — at a young age — how to get intellectual satisfaction (geshmak!) out of Torah study. Beyond all the other benefits and positive factors associated with serious Torah learning, if a person can enjoy such learning — in whatever sub-category of Torah knowledge it may be — then he has something to be productive with for the rest of his life.

We have an answer to the ubiquitous dilemma of retired people: What am I going to do today? The answer is — learn Torah! Let it be Daf 23 (in Talmud) or Siman 23 (in Shulchan Aruch) or Chapter 23 (in Tanach) or anything else. Learning how to appreciate Torah learning when young is the greatest possible IRA investment!

This write-up was adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tape series on the weekly Torah portion. The complete list of halachic topics covered in this series for Parshas Mishpatim are provided below:

Tape # 043 – Malpractice
Tape # 086 – Withholding Medical Treatment
Tape # 134 – Hashovas Aveida: Returning Lost Objects
Tape # 181 – Medicine, Shabbos, and the Non-Jew
Tape # 227 – Taking Medicine on Shabbos
Tape # 271 – Experimental Medical Treatment
Tape # 317 – Wrecking a Borrowed Car
Tape # 361 – Bankruptcy
Tape # 405 – Litigating in Secular Courts
Tape # 449 – Is Gambling Permitted
Tape # 493 – Bitul B’Rov
Tape # 537 – Losing Your Coat at a Coat Check
Tape # 58 1 – Lending Without Witnesses
Tape # 625 – The Kesuba
Tape # 669 – Rabbinical Contracts
Tape # 713 – Adam haMazik and Liability Insurance
Tape # 757 – M’Dvar Sheker Tirchak: True or False?
Tape # 801 – Oy! My Wallet Went Over Niagra Falls
Tape # 845 – Is Hunting a Jewish Sport?
Tape # 889 – Mishpatim — The Neighbor Who Forgot To Turn Off The Fire

Tapes, CDs, MP3s or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

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