Subscribe to a Weekly Series

Posted on February 8, 2018 (5778) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: # 1020 – Potato Baked in Fleishig Pan – With Butter or Margarine? Good Shabbos!

The Connection Between the Mizbayach and Mishpatim

Parshas Yisro ends with the laws of the construction of the “mizbayach of earth” for use in the offering of various animal sacrifices.  Parshas Mishpatim begins, immediately thereafter, with the pasuk, “And these are the judgments that you shall place before them:” [Shemos 21:1].  Rashi asks:  “Why was Mishpatim –the section that deals with judicial cases — juxtaposed with the preceding passage, which deals with the mizbayach?  It is to tell you that you should place the Sanhedrin adjacent to the mizbayach.”

The Maharal, in the sefer Gur Aryeh, asks the natural follow-up question:  So why is it that the Sanhedrin needs to be placed next to the mizbayach?  What is the significance of that?  They would seem to be two different worlds.  The mizbayach comes from the realm of Kedushah [sanctity], the Beis HaMikdash, and the Service in the Beis HaMikdash. The Sanhedrin has an entirely different function.  There does not seem to be a connection between the Supreme Court and the mizbayach.  Yet the halacha is that the Sanhedrin must be located in close proximity to the mizbayach.  Why is that?

I would like to offer two answers to this question — the first one is of a more homiletic nature (al pi derech ha’derush) from the sefer Yismach Yehudah, and then I would like to offer the Maharal’s own answer, with some elucidation.

The Yismach Yehudah writes that the mizbayach symbolizes Mesiras Nefesh — the universal Jewish capacity of a person to give up his or her life for the Ribono shel Olam and His Torah.  In fact, when a person brings an offering on the mizbayach, this is what he actually needs to have in mind — that “It should be as if I were sacrificed on this mizbayach.”  The mizbayach represents sacrifice, including self-sacrifice.

In the course of Jewish history, many Jews have been moser nefesh, but too often, unfortunately, they have been moser nefesh for the wrong things.  We apparently have this capacity for self-sacrifice and focused dedication to a cause through yerusha [inheritance].  It is part of the spiritual DNA we inherited from the Patriarch Avraham, who was willing to be moser nefesh several times — he was willing to jump into the fiery furnace; he was willing to sacrifice his own son; etc.  Jews definitely manifest this capacity for mesiras nefesh.

However, a person should not be moser nefesh for just any cause.  It is a historical fact that some misguided Jews were among those involved in the early days of the Communist movement. Jews obviously were in the forefront of the secular Zionist movement (a Zionism devoid of any relationship to G-d or Torah).  There were people who gave their lives for the concept of creating “the New Jew.”

While it is certainly an admirable quality that Jews are willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause they believe in, we must make sure that our mesiras nefesh is directed and channeled into the right causes.  This is the job of the Sanhedrin.  The Sanhedrin must be next to the mizbayach because the Sanhedrin needs to stand guard to make sure that the mesiras nefesh that is symbolized by the mizbayach is channeled into the right causes and not into some new-fangled movements.

Even in the United States, there are movements which are quite questionable to me, in which we see that Jews are in the forefront.  I have always commented that it almost seems that to be a member of the ACLU (American Civil Liberties Union), a person needs to be Jewish, wear glasses, and have a beard.  Without those three qualifications, they almost do not seem to accept a person into the ACLU.  This is the same ACLU that defends the rights of Nazis to march in Skokie and other cities.  This is not to say that everything the ACLU does is incorrect, but there are a lot of cases where the mesiras nefesh that Jewish people undertake is misdirected and misguided.  It is the job of the Sanhedrin to monitor mesiras nefesh, and that is why they must be located in proximity to the sacrificial mizbayach.

The Maharal himself answers his question differently.  The Maharal says that it is not even a question why the Sanhedrin should be located next to the mizbayach.  “They are to be equated completely.”  The mizbayach restores peace between Israel and their Father in Heaven (by allowing for proper atonement of sins to be brought for both individuals and the nation).  The Hebrew word for sacrifice is korban, from the root word k-r-v, meaning to come close, because the sacrifices bring the Jews close to their Father in Heaven.  So too, the purpose of Torah Civil Law, i.e., Mishpatim, is to bring peace to people.

The Mechilta asks, why were the Civil Laws presented (here in Parshas Mishpatim, right after the Aseres Hadibros) before all of the other laws of the Torah?  The Mechilta answers — it is because when people have arguments, fights and hatred between themselves, and then they resolve their dispute by means of a Din Torah [Torah judgement], the competition and the ill-feeling between the two parties is halted.  Peace now reigns between them.  Thus, the mizbayach and the Courts form a partnership to bring peace to the world.  This is the obvious connection:  The mizbayach brings peace between Klal Yisrael and their Father in Heaven; the Courts bring peace between man and his fellow man.  They thus serve the same function, albeit in different directions.

The following may be going through our minds when we hear this explanation of the Maharal:

Yes, that is true perhaps in a perfect world.  But all too often, when people have a dispute that leads to an argument that winds up in a beis din for adjudication, the result is quite different. Under normal circumstances, the court will rule in favor of one party over the other.  One person will win, and the other person will lose.  Maybe the winner will be happy with the result and ready to make peace.  However, many times, the loser does not have such warm feelings — neither towards his litigant, nor towards the beis din.

And yet, the purpose of beis din is to make peace between neighbors.  How do we understand this?  We are not talking about corrupt batei din.  We are talking about batei din who ruled based on Torah law.  However, sometimes the verdict does not go our way and we are upset with the beis din.  How do we deal with that?

I saw a very interesting Nesivos Shalom (the Slonimer Rebbe), who cites a story involving the Baal Shem Tov.

A person came to the Baal Shem Tov after having lost a Din Torah [civil case decided by a Rabbinic court].  The person told the Baal Shem Tov, “I believe in the power of beis din and in the veracity of beis din, and I believe that the Almighty participates in the ruling of beis din when they judge a true ruling according to Torah law.  However, they ruled against me and they were wrong, because their ruling contradicted the facts as I know them to have occurred.  They paskened a Din Torah based on the facts they were presented by witnesses, but I know the facts were not true.  How do I deal with this?  How do I deal with the fact that I am now out thousands of dollars? I am not questioning the truthfulness of beis din or their halachic ability or their judicial authority — but I do know they issued an unjust and untrue ruling?

The Baal Shem Tov told him about the concept of “gilgul.”  This is a mystical idea involving the transmigration of souls.  According to this concept, for most of us, this is not our “first trip” to this world.  We have been here before in the body of other people, and because we did not complete the mission that we were sent here to complete, our souls have had to come down again (in a new body) to complete the mission.  The Baal Shem Tov told him that in a previous gilgul, he owed this person money, and the reason he needed to come back to this world was to make restitution.  Therefore, the reason he lost the Din Torah, even though the facts may have supported him, was because this is the way the Almighty wanted him to make restitution to the party to whom he owed the money.  He would now be able to go back to the World of Truth, having completed his mission on earth.

The Nesivos Sholom cites a Zohar on the words, “And these are the statutes…” (v’Eleh HaMishpatim..) at the beginning of the parsha. The Zohar explicitly says on these words, “And this is the secret of gilgul.”  In other words, the fact that sometimes we are unhappy with the verdict handed down in Jewish civil disputes, the fact that sometimes we cannot see the justice in the decision, and sometimes we, in fact, know the decision to be wrong based on our inside knowledge of the situation — all this can better be understood and more easily accepted by recognizing the concept of the secret of gilgul neshamos.

Many tragedies in life cannot be explained except through the secret of gilgul.  The Zohar applies this principle to court judgements that we find displeasing.  This is what the Baal Shem Tov told the person who sought his counsel.

In this context, the Nesivos Sholom explains the Talmudic passage [Shabbos 10a] “Whoever judges a true Torah judgment truthfully (Dun Din Emes l’Amito) even once in his life, the Torah considers it as if he became a partner with the Holy One Blessed be He.”  The Nesivos Sholom points out that the expression Dun Din Emes l’Amito seems redundant.  Truth is truth (Emes is Emes) — what is the implication of the added modifier “l’Amito” [truthfully]?

The Nesivos Sholom explains that “Dun Din Emes” [he judges a true judgement] means he ruled correctly based on the principles codified in Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat.  It was a correct Torah ruling.  L’Amito refers to the Truth of the Almighty.  The Almighty knows what needs to happen to rectify sometimes-ancient wrongs that were committed, so that this soul can successfully complete his mission in this world.  By judging with this added element of the Almighty’s Truth (even though it might be unbeknownst to the judge), the judge has become a partner with the Holy One Blessed be He.

The Poor Donkey, the Poor Beggar, and the Pool of Vodka on the Innkeeper’s Floor

The pasuk in this week’s parsha says, “Perhaps you will see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its burden, will you refrain from helping him? — you shall surely help along with him (azov t’azov imo).” [Shemos 23:5].  Normally, the Hebrew word azov means to abandon or leave, which would be the exact opposite of the way the Rabbis interpret this mitzvah.  Rashi points out here (and also in Parshas Teruma) that there are some words in Hebrew that can have opposite meanings, depending on the context.  This is an example thereof.  Since the expression is azov t’azov imo (with him), we understand that in this context, azov t’azov does not mean “to abandon,” but rather “to help.”

This is how Rashi understands the pasuk.  Despite the fact that azov also means to leave or abandon, and despite the fact that the Torah could have picked a simpler and less ambiguous word to indicate helping, Rashi says that here the word azov does indicate helping.

Targum Onkelus interprets the pasuk somewhat differently:  “When you see the donkey of a person you hate suffering under its burden, and you are tempted to let him and his donkey suffer. Abandon that which is in your heart regarding this person, and unload (the donkey) with him.”  Thus, the way the Targum is learning is consistent with the traditional interpretation of the word azov.  It means abandon.  However, according to the Targum, it does not mean to abandon this person and his donkey.  It means to abandon ill-feelings and animosity towards this person, and help him anyway.

This is what we sometimes need to do when we are called upon to do a chessed.  For whatever reason, sometimes we may have reservations against doing a certain chessed, particularly when we need to do it for a specific individual for whom we may not have the warmest feelings.  The mitzvah of gemillas chessed sometimes requires a person to overrule his evil inclination, to get rid of those resentful feelings, and to do the act of kindness for his fellow man anyway.

I once heard an incident — I believe it involved the Rebbe Reb Bunim. The Rebbe went to an inn on a very cold night.  He walked into the inn, sat down, and while the innkeeper was providing food, he started telling the Rebbe his tale of woe:  “Business is terrible, nobody comes by anymore. I am nearing bankruptcy because I am losing my customers.  I do not know what it is.  Nobody stops at my inn anymore.”

On this bitterly cold night, there is suddenly a knock on the door.  “Ah!  A customer!”  The inn keeper goes to the door.  “Who is it?”  It is a shlepper — a beggar!  The beggar said, “I have no money but I’m terribly cold.  Can I please come in and warm myself up?”  The innkeeper said, “Okay,” thinking to himself, “Just my mazal.  Finally, a knock on the door, and it’s a beggar!”

The beggar sat down in tattered clothes, and warmed himself up by the fire, and then said to the innkeeper, “I know this is a chutzpah, but could you give me a glass of vodka.  I just cannot get the chill out of my bones.  I need a strong shot of vodka to warm me up.  I cannot pay for it, but please give me a shot of vodka.  The innkeeper went to the barrel of vodka and poured the beggar a glass of vodka.  He looked at the glass and spilled it on the floor.  The Rebbe Reb Bunim is watching, and cannot get over it — the innkeeper spilled a glass of good vodka on the floor!  The innkeeper again puts the glass by the spout of the vodka barrel, and once again fills it up.  Again, he spills it on the floor.  This happened two or three times, until finally he filled up the glass and gave it to the poor beggar.

The Rebbe Reb Bunim says to the innkeeper:  I will tell you why your business is going down the drain.  If you keep spilling good vodka on the floor, it is no wonder you are not making a living!  Why are you spilling out the vodka?  The innkeeper responded to the Rebbe as follows:  I know I am not going to get any money out of this fellow.  So what am I doing?  I am doing a chessed.  When I filled up the glass the first time, I said to myself, “Augh!  Not only am I not making any money, I am wasting money on this beggar.”  So, I said to myself, “I cannot give him the vodka like that.  With such an attitude, I will not even fulfill the mitzvah of doing a chessed.  I am giving it to him with the worst of feelings.”  So, I poured it out.  I tried again.  No!  I still did not feel good.  The guy is taking my money, I cannot afford this.  I knew it was a bad attitude in which to do a chessed, so I poured out the vodka again.”

The innkeeper did this three or four times, until he was able to reach the level of “azov t’azov imo” — until he was able to abandon his ill feelings and say, “Okay.  I am not going to make any money on this guy, but at least let me do a chessed, and let me do it with a complete heart.”  Finally, when he got to that level, he gave the vodka to the poor beggar.

Transcribed by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Technical Assistance by Dovid Hoffman; Baltimore, MD [email protected]

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissochar Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Series on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Mishpatim is provided below:

  • # 043 Malpractice
  • # 086 Withholding Medical Treatment
  • # 134 Hashovas Aveida: Returning Lost Objects
  • # 181 Medicine, Shabbos, and the Non-Jew
  • # 227 Taking Medication on Shabbos
  • # 271 Experimental Medical Treatment
  • # 317 Wrecking a Borrowed Car
  • # 361 Bankruptcy
  • # 405 Litigating in Secular Courts
  • # 449 Is Gambling Permitted
  • # 493 Bitul B’rov
  • # 537 Losing Your Coat at a Coat Check
  • # 581 Lending Without Witnesses
  • # 625 The Kesuba
  • # 669 Rabbinical Contracts
  • # 713 Adam Hamazik & Liability Insurance
  • # 757 Midvar Sheker Tirchak: True or False?
  • # 801 Oy! My Wallet Went Over Niagara Falls
  • # 845 Is Hunting a Jewish Sport?
  • # 889 The Neighbor Who Forgot To Turn Off The Fire
  • # 933 The Mitzvah of Lending Money
  • # 976 Will Any Doctor Do?
  • # 1020 The Potato Baked in a Fleishig Pan – With Butter or Margarine?
  • # 1064 The Doctor That Erred
  • # 1107 5772 or 2012 What Should It Be?
  • # 1150 Taking State Farm To Beis Din
  • # 1193 “Dayan, If You Know What’s Good For You, Rule In My Favor”
  • # 1237 The Case of the Sefer That Was Borrowed and Never Returned
  • # 1282 Treating Ebola Patients; The Har Nof Massacre and Kidney Donations

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.