09 Feb PARSHAS MISHPATIM
Immediately following mattan Torah is parashas Mishpatim. It teaches us judicial laws, how to relate to our fellow man’s property, and to assist the poor, the widows, and the orphans. This shows us that one of the key lessons of the Torah is to help our fellow man. As the Vilna Gaon zt’l writes in a letter, “Most mitzvos of the Torah are to bring joy to others.” Similarly, Tana d’Bei Eliyahu (Rabba 28) writes, “Hakadosh Baruch Hu says to Benei Yisrael: ‘What am I asking from you? Only that you love one another, honor one another, and fear one another.”
The Shlah HaKadosh writes that there are 620 words in the Aseres HaDibros. 613 of them correspond to the 613 mitzvos, and the last seven correspond to the seven mitzvos deRabanan. 2 We can therefore conclude that the final words “Vchol Asher Lreacha” is a summary of the entire Torah. “Vchol Asher Lreacha” means to care about and to do kindness with our fellow man.3 The parashah begins with the laws of the Jewish slave. Rashi (21:2) explains that this person stole money and didn’t have enough money to pay back the victim, so the court sold him into slavery.
The Chassam Sofer zt’l asks, why does this mitzvah follow the Aseres HaDibros? We might think that following the great revelations that took place at mattan Torah, the Torah would discuss something like Shabbos, tefillin, kriyas Shma, or other mitzvos that are in sync with the divine and exalted experience of mattan Torah. Why does the Torah begin with the laws related to theft? The Chasam Sofer answers with an analogy: The father of a sick child will always be thinking about that child. He thinks about this child more than all of his other children. Hashem is our Father, keviyachol, Hashem is intensely concerned about this child who listened to his yetzer hara and stole. It’s like Hashem says, “I need to deal with him first. He needs help.” Therefore, immediately after mattan Torah, the Torah discusses the thief, and what can be done to help him repent and become a righteous person.
Further in the parashah, it says, “If you see your enemy’s donkey collapsing under its weight, will you not stop to help him? you shall help him” (Shmos 23:5). Unkelos translates “Drop the negative thoughts you have in your heart against him, and help him unload the animal.” The Bris Menuchah explains these words of Unkelos in the following way: if you will drop all negative feelings against your fellow man, Hashem will remove from you all your problems. Heaven interacts with us according to the principle of measure for measure, and if you forgive your fellow man and do kindness with him, Hashem will forgive you and do kindness with you too. It says in Tehillim 18, “to the one who does kindness with others, Hashem will do kindness with him”. The parashah (22:26) also discusses a poor person who borrowed money, and wasn’t able to pay back on time. The Torah gives permission for the lender to take something away from the pauper as collateral. However, sometimes the poor person needs that object. In those situations, the Torah requires that he return the object whenever the pauper needs it: (22:26) “Because this is his only coat… and [in a situation when you took his mattress away] where will he sleep? If he shouts to Me, I will listen, because I am merciful.”
The Siforno explains, “I have compassion on anyone who prays to Me when he doesn’t have anyone who can help him, other than Me.” When we feel desperate, and we turn to Hashem because we know that Hashem is the only One who can help us, Hashem will stand at our right side to help us. As long as a person feels that he can manage on his own, Hashem’s compassion will not be fully expressed. But when we attain the realization that we are helpless without Hashem’s help, Hashem says that he will be there to help us. This parashah also discusses the mitzvah of lending money. The Chinuch (66) writes, “The reason [for this mitzvah] is because Hashem wants people to be accustomed in the attributes of kindness and compassion…”