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Posted on February 16, 2023 (5783) 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: #1237 The Case of the Sefer That Was Borrowed and Never Returned. Good Shabbos!

The 25th of Shevat is the Yahrtzeit of Rav Yisrael Salanter, the founder of the Mussar Movement. Yeshivas Ner Yisroel is, in fact, named after Rav Yisrael Salanter, who was the Rebbi of the Alter from Kelm, who was the Rebbi of the Alter from Slabodka, who was the Rebbi of Ner Yisrael’s founding Rosh Yeshiva, Rav Yaakov Yitzchak Ruderman. This year is Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 140th Yahrtzeit.

In 1983, which was Rav Yisrael Salanter’s 100th Yartzeit, Rav Ruderman made a memorial in the Yeshiva for Rav Yisrael Salanter. In 1883, the year of Rav Yisrael Salanter’s passing, the 25th of Shevat was on Erev Shabbos Kodesh, Parshas Mishpatim. There was not enough time on Friday to do the burial, so it was delayed until Sunday, the first day of the week of Parshas Terumah. Rav Yisrael Salanter’s disciple, the Alter from Kelm, said the following eulogy on his teacher:

It is no coincidence that Rav Yisrael Salanter died Erev Shabbos Kodesh on Parshas Mishpatim. Why is that? It is because Rav Yisrael Salanter, among other things that he preached—after all, he founded the Mussar Movement—sought to elevate mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro (between man and his fellow man). His goal was that the mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro should be viewed as importantly in the eyes of the masses as the mitzvos bein adam l’makom (between man and G-d).

Unfortunately, we see that this is a common phenomenon even today. People go to great lengths in order to fulfill mitzvos bein adam l’makom, such as Kashrus, Lulav and Pesach, in the most optimum way (which is all well and good). But they do not give the same importance and the same alacrity to mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro.

This was Rav Yisrael’s life mission, and that is basically the theme of Parshas Mishpatim. At the beginning of the parsha, on the words “V’Eleh haMishpatim,” Rashi says “Wherever we find the word Eleh (these), it excludes or minimizes whatever preceded it. However, when the word Eleh is preceded by a vov—as in v’Eleh haMishpatim—the intent is to append what follows to whatever was mentioned prior.” The lesson, then, of the words “V’Eleh haMishpatim” is that just as the Aseres Hadibros (Ten Commandments), which were taught at the end of Parshas Yisro, were given at Mt. Sinai, so too the civil mitzvos in Parshas Mishpatim were all given at Sinai as well. In the eyes of the Ribono shel Olam, there is no difference between Mitzvos that are bein adam l’makom and mitzvos that are bein adam l’chaveiro.

Parshas Mishpatim is all about how to deal with people—how to deal with their cows, how to deal with their cars, and how to treat people. All these mitzvos are literally as important as the mitzvos bein adam l’makom. Therefore, the Alter from Kelm said that the timing of the passing of Rav Yisrael Salanter in the week of Parshas Mishpatim was very appropriate.

The Alter from Kelm added that the funeral itself took place on Sunday, at the beginning of the week of Parshas Terumah because Parshas Terumah discusses the construction of the Aron Kodesh, which houses the Luchos. This was very appropriate, because Rav Yisrael Salanter himself was like an Aron Kodesh and the Luchos haBris were deposited within his personality as well.

I would like to share another hesped which Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon said on his Rebbi, the Alter from Slabodka. Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon was the Lomza Rosh Yeshiva in Poland. People from Baltimore remember Rabbi Samson who was a disciple of Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon. Rav Gordon eulogized the Alter from Slabodka as follows:

Why does Parshas Mishpatim begin with the mitzva of Eved Ivri (the Hebrew indentured servant) given that the laws of Eved Ivri would not be applicable until the laws of Yovel (Jubilee Year) would be in practice, which was totally not relevant for that generation? Was there nothing more practical to teach them at this particular point in history?

Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon said that the Torah is sending us a message here. How someone treats a Jew is how one treats a Hebrew slave. A person must recognize that an Eved Ivri is not from the most elegant strata of Jewish society. He is a thief. Not only is he a thief, he is not a very wealthy thief, because if he was a wealthy thief then he would be able to pay back his theft. The reason he is sold into slavery is because he has nothing with which to repay his debt to society. So he is the lowest rung of society and yet, if we study how we need to treat such an individual (Rambam Laws of Slavery, Chapter 1), we become very enlightened:

We are not permitted to sell him in a slave market.

We cannot impose upon him avodas perech (back-breaking labor).

We need to provide him the same food, clothing, and living conditions as we do to family members.

All this prompts the Gemara to say, “Someone who buys a Hebrew slave, in effect, buys a master for himself.” (Kiddushin 20a).

This is how we need to treat a thief! So this is what Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon said about his Rebbi, the Alter from Slabodka, who was a talmid of the Alter from Kelm, who was a talmid of Rav Yisrael Salanter: The opening pesukim of Parshas Mishpatim are not just teaching how to treat a Hebrew slave, they are teaching how to treat everyone, because we are all—even the lowest of society—created btzelem Elokim, and must be treated as such.

That is why Parshas Mishpatim, which is the source of so many mitzvos bein adam l’chaveiro, begins with, of all people, Eved Ivri. If even an Eved Ivri needs to be treated such, how much more so does a person need to treat his neighbor, his friend, or anyone else with dignity and honor.

Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon had lived in Lomza. He lost his family in Europe, and then moved to New York and remarried. After he was in New York for a while, he went to Eretz Yisrael and was a Rosh Yeshiva in a Yeshiva in Petach Tikva with Rav Reuvain Katz.

I saw in a sefer that Rav Gordon’s nephew came from Eretz Yisrael to America to visit his uncle. The nephew sent a telegram that he would be arriving about midnight. As it turned out he did not arrive at midnight. He arrived at 3:00 am. He was about to walk into the house when he noticed that his uncle (who was not a young man at the time) was waiting outside for him. He was shocked. He told his uncle, “You could have gone to sleep. You could have just left the door unlocked or left a note on the door saying where the key was. Why was in necessary for you to wait up for me until three o’clock in the morning?”

Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon answered, “It is because I wanted to make sure I told you something before you met my wife. I want you to call her ‘Tanta‘ (Auntie).” Rav Gordon was the young man’s uncle but his second wife was technically not his aunt. Rav Gordon said, “She is so good to me and she takes such good care of me that I want her to feel part of the family. Don’t call her Mrs. Gordon and don’t call her by her name. Call her ‘Tanta‘ so that she can feel part of the mishpacha!”

Rav Yechiel Mordechai Gordon was yafeh doresh v’yafeh mekayem (he expounded beautifully, and he practiced what he preached). He talked the talk, and he walked the walk. All of us can preach about how you need to treat your fellow man with sensitivity, etc. etc. But listen to his sensitivity. He stayed up until 3:00 am to head his nephew off at the pass, so to speak, to instruct him how to talk to Rebbetzin Gordon with sensitivity. “Call her ‘Tanta’ so she will feel part of the family.”

That is the Torah of Parshas Mishpatim. That is the Torah of Rav Yisrael Salanter, the Alter from Kelm, the Alter from Slabodka, and that is our heritage as well. This is what the Rosh Yeshiva, zt”l, ((1900-1987)) always used to preach.

I remember that Rav Ruderman used to tell the following incident, which took place in his boyhood home of Dauhinava (Minsk). He remembers as a child: It was Hoshanna Rabbah, the chazzan went to the Amud to begin to daven, but the shames forgot to bring the kittel which is customarily worn by the chazzan on Hoshannah Rabbah. The President of the shul (or whoever it was) went over to the shames and made him feel like an idiot. (“How could you be such a schlemiel? Everyone knows the chazzan needs to have a kittel when he davens Mussaf on Hoshannah Rabbah)! The shames felt lower than dirt.

Rav Ruderman commented: Think about it. Wearing a kittel is a minhag b’alma (mere custom). Embarrassing someone in public is an issur diyoraysa! It is far more severe. Of course, a person’s prayers will be accepted without the kittel just as much as they will be accepted with the kittel. How must this shames have felt when he went home after davening that day. He was humiliated in front of the whole shul!

This is our problem, the Rosh Yeshiva used to say. We may act like the custom of the chazzan wearing a kittel on Hoshanna Rabbah overrides all Torah prohibitions. But embarrassing a fellow Jew—who cares about that? This is something the Rosh Yeshiva learned from the Alter from Slabodka, who learned it from the Alter from Kelm, who learned it from Rav Yisrael Salanter, who learned it from Parshas Mishpatim.

Edited by David Twersky; Jerusalem [email protected]

Edited 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 Milchig Bread and the Bimbo Bakery Controversy
  • # 1501 My Neighbor’s Son Threw a Ball Through My Front Window – Who Pays?

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.