These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: #1193 “Dayan, If You Know What’s Good For You, Rule In My Favor.” Good Shabbos!
The beginning of Parshas Mishpatim contains the halachos of the Eved Ivri, the person who was sold into slavery (for lack of ability to make restitution for money or property he stole). The Eved Ivri remains a slave for six years, during which time his master is allowed to give him a shifcha Canaanis with whom he can produce avadim Canaanim, who will remain slaves of the master. We do not find such a phenomenon anywhere else in the Torah. After six years, however, this slave goes free.
At that point, the pasuk says, “But if the slave shall say ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children – I shall not go free.’ Then the master shall bring him to the court and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost and his master shall bore through his ear with the awl, and he shall serve him forever.” (Shemos 21:5-6)
A famous Rashi here teaches in the name of Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai that the ear was chosen to be bored to teach a homiletic lesson: That ear which heard on Har Sinai “Thou shalt not steal” and he nevertheless stole—that ear shall be pierced. It is the ear that needs to pay the price for not listening to the commandments at Sinai. Rashi quotes this teaching in the name of the Mechilta.
All the Meforshim ask – if by stealing, the person is guilty for not listening to what was commanded at Har Sinai, then why didn’t we pierce his ear right away when he stole? Why wait six years, and only do it in the case of someone who decides he does not want to go out to freedom?
I heard an interesting approach to this question from the Anfei Erez, who was Rav Avrohom Gurvitz, the Rosh Yeshiva in Gateshead. One of the most well-known Haftorahs is the Haftorah of Parshas VaEschanan. This is the Haftorah of the Shabbos which follows Tisha B’Av, called Shabbos Nachamu. Everyone is familiar with the first pasuk: “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami Yomar Elokeichem.” – “Comfort, comfort My people, says your G-d” (Yeshaya 40:1). There is another pasuk in that chapter that is perhaps not as familiar: The Navi talks about a time in the future when the Ribono shel Olam will come to comfort us: “Every valley will be raised, and every mountain and hill will be lowered, the crooked will become straight, and heights will become valley.” (Yeshaya 40:4) The Almighty will literally move mountains for us. He will flatten out the earth – lowering the mountains and raising up the valleys.
Perhaps it is understandable that the Ribono shel Olam will flatten the mountains, because who wants to climb (or even drive over) mountains! But what is wrong with valleys? Valleys are beautiful. Who complains about the presence of a valley?
The Yalkut Shimoni explains that these words are a metaphor. The Navi does not literally mean that the mountains will be flattened or that the valleys will be raised. The Medrash explains that the Navi is talking about the future, when Knesses Yisrael will say before the Almighty “Master of the Universe, I see the places where I have sinned, and I am embarrassed by them.” The pasuk is talking about the future time when Klal Yisrael will desire to do teshuva. Peaks and valleys represent “life”. There are times in life when we are on the peaks, but there are times in life when we are in the valleys.
Valleys are a metaphor for the times in life when we don’t act as we should. When we have tzores, when we do aveiros, we fall into a valley. Klal Yisrael comes to the Almighty and confesses “I see the places where I have been corrupt. I pass by so many places that remind me of my sordid past. They remind me of the times in life that I fell down. It pains me. It bothers me. I remember what happened there and what I did there. I am embarrassed by it.”
Hashem responds, “Don’t worry about the valleys. I am going to raise the valleys so that they will no longer be recognizable.” Hashem promises to remove all those places and all those incidents that embarrass us. I am going to wipe the slate clean and you will start fresh again.
Klal Yisrael persists – but there are still witnesses around to testify about all the bad things that I did, as it is written “I proclaim the Heavens and the Earth to be witnesses against you” (Devorim 30:19). Hashem says, “Don’t worry about that. I will get rid of them as it is written “Behold I will create a new Heaven and a new Earth, the earlier ones will not be remembered, they will no longer come upon the heart.” (Yeshaya 65:17) Klal Yisrael still persists: “But my bad name will still be around.” Hashem puts Klal Yisrael’s mind to rest again: “I will call you a new name”, etc., etc.
That is what this pasuk means. It is not talking about mountains and valleys. It is talking about a Klal Yisrael that wants to do teshuva but is pained by its visions of the past and the things and the places that remind it of a sinful past. The Ribono shel Olam consoles Klal Yisrael: “Don’t worry – I am going to get rid of all those places, you won’t have to look at them, you won’t have to think about them, it will all be erased.”
Such is the nature of a person who regrets what he did. I don’t want to walk by that place because it reminds me of what I did there. Rav Avrohom Gurvitz writes: “Truth be told, when this person stole, maybe he did not steal because he was a thief, but rather sometimes a person is in such dire straits that he steals because that is the only way he sees himself escaping from his predicament. We all have moments of weakness where we might do something which does not really reflect our true selves. Such may have been the situation of the slave who was sold into slavery because of his inability to make restitution for his theft.
Consequently, when he originally stole, we could not have pierced his ear and told him “You are a thief! You have willfully violated what you heard at Sinai: ‘Do not steal!'” Maybe he was not a ganav but rather just a weak person who grabbed something in a moment of desperation. But now, six years later, this person has been in servitude for six years. He is married to a shifcha Canaanis. This is a stigma that yells loud and clear: You are a ganav because only in that situation can someone ever marry a shifcha Canaanis. The fact that his children are avadim Canaanim also proclaims loudly and clearly: You are a thief, because only in that situation does someone produce avadim Canaanim.
His last six years have been shouting out at him that he has been a thief, and now after six years what does he say? “I love my wife. I do not care that my whole situation screams out that I am a ganav. After all, I am a ganav. It does not bother me.” If it doesn’t bother you, then we retroactively see that when you stole, it was not merely a momentarily lapse.
If you are not embarrassed by these “valleys” in your life, you are not like Klal Yisrael, that doesn’t want to see the valleys any more. They don’t want to see all the places that remind them of their past. You are not like that. If you are not like that, then you are now going to get the punishment you really deserved all along. Six years ago, we reserved judgement because we did not know definitively what type of person you really were. Your acceptance and enjoyment of your current status indicates you are deserving of having a permanent marker bored into your ear that did not listen to the Voice that it heard on Sinai.
One of Life’s Great Lessons: Strike While the Iron Is Hot
The normal Haftorah for Parshas Mishpatim is usually pre-empted because we replace it with the Haftorah of Parshas Shekalim. However, the normal Haftorah for this week’s parsha (to be read in fact this year – 5782) is from Chapter 34 of Sefer Yirmiyahu. The Haftorah says: “The word of Hashem then came to Yirmiyahu from Hashem saying: Thus said Hashem, G-d of Israel: “I sealed a covenant with your forefathers on the day I took them out of the land of Egypt, from the house of slaves, saying, ‘At the outset of the seventh year, each of you shall send forth his Hebrew brother who will have been sold to you; he shall serve you for six years and then you shall send him forth free from yourself’” (Yirmiyahu 34:12-14).
This pasuk informs us that there was something everyone needed to hear on the very day of Yetzias Mitzrayim—that whenever you buy a Jewish slave, he leaves your service after six years. They needed to hear the parsha of Eved Ivri on the very day they left Mitzrayim!
We might wonder: Was there nothing more relevant to them on the day they left Mitzrayim than the parameters of Jewish slave ownership? This is something that would not be applicable until they came into Eretz Yisrael. Even if they had not spent forty years in the desert, the first thing they would think about when entering Eretz Yisrael would not have been “Okay. Let’s go to the slave market.”
What lesson is being taught here? We may derive one of the great lessons of life from this teaching: Strike while the iron is hot! Seize the moment. There is no one who appreciates what it means to be a slave like a person who has just been a slave. Therefore, as you are just now coming out of slavery, you know what it is like. I am telling you right here and now: One day you may be slave owners. You need to treat your slaves properly and justly, and after six years, they go free.
But hear this specifically now, because now you are sensitive to the subject. If you do not act on the moment, the moment will dissipate. That is the way people are. If something happens and you are in a situation where you are sensitive to what just happened, then do something with that recognition, because if not – it will pass, like it always does.
There is a famous story about a bochur in the Volozhiner Yeshiva. In the Volozhiner Yeshiva, they learned all of Shas from the beginning of Tractate Berachos until the end of Tractate Niddah. The original Volozhiner Yeshiva was the granddaddy of all Lithuanian Yeshivas. Many great Torah luminaries learned there and emerged from there. This bochur knew Shas “forwards and backwards” and “backwards and forwards”.
One day, this bochur was sitting at a table eating his meal with a group of other bochrim. Another bochur entered and posed a question on the piece of Talmud he was studying. This bochur responded, “I don’t know the answer to your question.” Another young man at the table questioned him: “What do you mean you don’t know the answer? It is explicitly discussed by Tosfos in Maseches Gittin. When this bochur heard that he forgot a Tosfos, he was extremely shaken! How could I forget a Tosfos!?! Right then and there he got up and he said “That’s it! I am going to learn continuously for the next seven years. With the exception of eating and sleeping, I am not going to do anything else for the next seven years!”
He ran out of the lunchroom, ran to the Beis Medrash, and he in fact learned for the next seven years, except for eating and sleeping.
There is only one problem. He was in such a hurry to leave the lunchroom that he forgot to bentch. They asked Rav Chaim Volozhiner (the head and founder of the Yeshiva) – Did this bochur act properly or improperly? Rav Chaim Volozhiner said, “Of course he did not act properly. No one can sanction not bentching. But if he would have bentched, he never would have learned for the next seven years!” That moment of determination would have passed. If a person lets the moment pass, he can never recapture it.
That is indeed the lesson of “On the day I took you out from Egypt, I told you about the laws of Jewish slavery.” That was the perfect “teachable moment”. They would never again be as receptive to this teaching as they were on that historic day. If a person does not seize the moment, it is gone forever.
Who Did Whom the Favor?
Parshas Mishpatim contains the mitzvah of lending money to a fellow Jew. Even though the pasuk introducing this mitzvah (Shemos 22:24) begins with the words “Im Kesef Talveh…” which is normally translated “If you lend money…” this is one of the places in the Torah where the word “Im” does not mean “If”. It means “When”. There is, indeed, a positive Biblical mitzvah to lend money to your fellow Jew when he is in need.
It is not always easy to lend money, because a person can “make money with money.” It is therefore often hard to part with our money. I recently heard the following amazing story:
Reuven and Shimon are best friends, as close as brothers. Reuven went to Shimon and said “Shimon, I need to borrow $250,000. I need this money urgently. Otherwise, my business will collapse.” Shimon hesitates. “Where am I supposed to get $250,000?”
Reuven tells Shimon, “But Shimon, you told me just a couple of weeks ago that you finished paying off your house. Take out a new mortgage on your house.”
Shimon hesitated, but Reuven begged and pressed him for the loan. Shimon went home and consulted with his wife. She advised, “Go ask the Rav.”
The Rav told him, you are not actually obligated to do this, but if you trust the fellow then it would be a very big mitzvah to do it. Shimon went back to his friend and said, “Okay. I will do it.” He went to the bank and applied to take out a second mortgage on his house. Both these Jews live in Far Rockaway, N.Y.
The bank processed the paperwork and agreed to give Shimon a second mortgage, but they warned him that he lived in a flood plain and would not be eligible for the loan unless he took out flood insurance. Shimon took out flood insurance and received the mortgage. He lent Revuen the $250,000. Three weeks later, Shimon’s house was flooded by Hurricane Sandy… but he was covered because he took out the flood insurance.
Who did whom the favor?
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
- # 1325 Finding a $20 Bill in Shul / Finding A Comb in a Mikvah: Can You Keep It?
- # 1369 Lending Money Without Receiving an IOU Slip – Is It Mutar?
- # 1413 Reinstituting the Sanhedrin in Our Day and Age?
- # 1457 My Neighbor’s Son Threw a Ball Through My Front Window – Who Pays?
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