06 Feb TO BE A MENTCH
Parshas Mishpatim. The word “mishpatim”
(mishpat) means justice. It is a parsha of
civil and ethical laws – laws that create a
sphere of social justice in society.
The mishpatim include – but are not limited
to – returning lost items to the rightful
owners; not causing stress or pain through
either words or actions to a convert, widow
or orphan; not to be the bearer of false
rumors or gossip; not to accept bribes; the
penalties for causing bodily injury or
property damage; laws of moral offenses;
laws of borrowing and lending; and staying
far from falsehood.
Simply put – to be a mentch!
“V’eileh hamishpatim, And these are the
laws…” (Shemos 21:1) Rashi questions
why a new parsha begins with “v’eileh”
meaning “and” these are.
Our sages teach that “and” links Parshas
Misahpatim to the previous parsha of Yisro
– the parsha that tells of the giving of the
Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments.
Just as the Aseres HaDibros were given at
Sinai, so too were the mishpatim. Both are
HaShem’s Torah. Both are fundamentals of
Parshas Mishpatim tells us of Bnei Yisroel
famously saying upon accepting the Torah
“Na’aseh v’Nishma, we will do and we will
listen.” How interesting that this pasuk is in
Shemos 24:7, and is a mantra that should be
on every Jew’s lips 24/7.
The Midrash tells us that HaShem offered
the Torah to all the nations of the world.
Each one inquired as to what commandments
are included. Each one found an
objectionable law, thereby rejecting the gift
of Torah. Only the Jewish people cried out
“Na’aseh v’Nishma, we will do and we will
listen”. Even before hearing all the details,
Bnei Yisroel accepted Torah and mitzvos.
Their emunah and bitachon in HaShem was
so strong, that their acceptance was
Na’aseh v’Nishma. Words repeated in every
generation. Na’aseh – we will do, then
v’Nishma – we will listen, we will learn. To
immerse ourselves in the richness of Torah
study. Na’aseh v’Nishma – a creed to live
During the summer months, my
mother, Rebbetzin Esther Jungreis
a”h, would lecture at the Pine View
Hotel, then a popular Catskills resort.
One Friday morning, a young man
showed up. He was very antagonistic
and ready to challenge my mother to a
debate in Jewish belief.
My mother didn’t even go there.
Instead, she invited him to join the
family for Shabbos, and said that
they’ll talk after Havdalah, when
Shabbos was over.
Na’aseh v’Nishma. Torah action first.
To live as a Jew, to experience Shabbos,
keep mitzvos, and then to study and to learn.
My mother was so right. By the time
Shabbos was over, after living through
twenty-four hours of the most beautiful
davening, seudos, zemiros and Torah
lectures, he was no longer in debate mode,
but ready to learn.
Observing mitzvos is life transforming. It
touches the neshama. The Baal Shem Tov
teaches that true listening is not with one’s
ears, but with one’s soul. To listen and let
the words enter our neshama. To elevate
our very being, enabling us to soar to new
spiritual heights. When Torah enters the
neshama, it impacts us in ways we can’t
begin to imagine.
“If you encounter your enemy’s ox or
donkey wandering astray, you must return
it to him.” (Shemos 23:4). One mitzva. So
many lessons. To care not only for
another’s well-being, but to show concern
for their possessions. To go out of our way
and make an effort to return a lost item to
its rightful owner. The Torah uses the
double expression “hosheiv t’shivenu”,
meaning you shall return it again and
again, even if one loses an article multiple
times, there is still an obligation to return
The pasuk mentions an “enemy’s” lost
possession, conveying an important
message. Acts of kindness are not only
reserved for friends and family, everyone
deserves a favor, even someone you may
not get along with.
Do a favor. Show a kindness. It’s the best
way to foster positive relationships. It
doesn’t have to be returning a lost item. It
could be saying a kind word, offering to
run an errand, bringing flowers or
dropping off challa for Shabbos. Little
things that mean so much. Small gestures
that break down barriers and bring people
Each of us is created with a cheilek elokah
mi’maal, an inner G-dly spark from above.
A touch of the Divine is within each of us. A
spark we must honor and respect. Not only
within ourselves, but within everyone
around us who is similarly endowed with
this special Heavenly spark.
There is a story of returning lost property
that made international headlines in 2013
and stands out in my mind. It is a story of
Rabbi Noach Muroff, then a yeshiva high
school teacher in New Haven Connecticut.
He purchased a desk for himself that he
found on Craigslist for under $200.
No matter how much he tried, the rabbi was
unable to fit the desk through his doorway.
Plan B came into action. Slowly he began
taking the desk apart. To Rabbi Muroff’s
great shock and surprise, there, hidden
behind the drawers were bundles of bills —
$98,000 in all.
Rabbi Muroff knew exactly what he had to
do. Even through the hour was late, 11:30
PM, he called the previous owner, Patti.
Patti was in utter disbelief. She spoke of an
inheritance she had received many years
earlier, and completely forgot where she hid
The very next morning, the rabbi, his wife,
and four children went to return the money
to Patti. The rabbi spoke of taking his
children along so they could see hashovas
aveidah, returning lost items, in action. A
life lesson he wanted them to experience
With great appreciation, Patti wrote to the
rabbi. “I do not think there are too many
people in the world that would have done
what you did.”
To live a Torah life. To go above and beyond,
and do the right thing. As the rabbi said on
national TV, “The most important thing in
life is to be honest.”