Parsha Prep – Mishpatim
This week’s Torah portion is all about civil laws between man and his fellow.
In Psalms, King David says Hashem did not give civil laws to any other nation besides the Jews. (Chapter 147, Verse 19-20)
The question is, every nation and country has their own set of laws. This is not something unique to the Jewish people?
To answer this question, we need to first ask another question.
What is the difference between man and ape?
Scientists will say, man is just a more intelligent animal. But the Torah teaches us, it is much more than that. Man was created in the image of G-D, betzelem Elokim. Man comprises two opposing forces, guf and neshama, body and soul. The animal instincts yearn for the pleasures of this world; and the soul, a spark of G-D, yearns for the pleasures of the next world.
Rav Aharon Feldman, the dean of my yeshiva, Ner Israel, explained, every country has laws in order to maintain law and order, and stop people from taking advantage of each other, so that anarchy will not reign. But the Torah gives us laws to help each individual, society and the world at large reach its perfection. Each mitzvah (commandment) reflects the values of Hashem and is a window opening us to Hashem’s perspective and ideals. So the Torah’s laws are unique in that they not only restrain the animal instinct, but they develop the Godliness within each one of us. They help us refine our character, and become kinder and more sensitive people.
Take the first mitzvah of our parsha, the Jewish slave, as an example. Instead of punishing the thief, the Torah gives him a way to pay back. The Torah demands treating him with at least equal respect if not more than his master. If the master only owns one new suit or car, he must let the slave wear the suit and drive the new car.
Rav Simcha Zissel Ziv, dean of the Kelm yeshiva, known for its self-discipline, once remarked, Darwin only believed man descended from ape because he never saw R’ Yisrael Salanter. This doesn’t address the scientific proofs, but it points out the greatness in character which only man can reach.
R’ Yisrael was on a train with another man who not recognizing R’ Yisrael, totally mistreated him, screaming at him for every little thing he would do. Later when this man realized what he had done he came to seek forgiveness. Not only did R’ Yisrael forgive him immediately he helped this man become a certified shochet and earn a living. R’ Yisrael’s students asked why he had gone the extra mile? He told them, after forgiving this man, I still had an inkling of negative feelings toward him. By helping him, I made sure I would have positive feelings again.
Earlier this week I attended the AJOP convention. One session was about how to present the Torah’s view on same gender marriage. Putting aside that whole discussion, there is perhaps a more relevant question. Why does the Torah even take a position and have an opinion on how one chooses to live?
Perhaps, in the context of Mishpatim, we can understand this issue. The Torah is guiding us to develop our character, souls and godliness. The Torah provides detailed instructions, infused with divine wisdom for this goal.
Good Shabbos kodesh!