Parsha Mishpatim

FEBRUARY 8, 2013
SHEVAT 28, 5773

Candle-lighting Time: 5:10 PM

This week’s edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated anonymously in the merit of a complete and
speedy recovery for R’ Avraham Yosef ben Meryl, Shifra Chana bas Sarah and Penina Bracha
bas Shifra Chana.


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In preparation for Purim, I find myself turning to the age-old source for great costumes – It’s not as old as the Megillah itself, but it has a better feedback rating.I love eBay. With over 100 million active users, eBay is the world’s largest online marketplace, where practically anyone can buy and sell practically anything.Ecommerce is a far cry from the mom-and-pop drugstore down the street. While it provides a significantly higher quantity of opportunities to buy and sell, it also allows for anonymity, misinformation and deceit. How does eBay function so successfully on such a massive scale?The answer, I think, is their rules of fair trade and protections for those in the marketplace. People leave publicly available feedback after each transaction, so if someone abuses the system,the rest of the eBay community will know. If the monetary transaction takes place through eBay, they provide arbitration and buyer protection up to several thousand dollars. Without these mechanisms in place, it would be absolute chaos, and the grassroots ecommerce would simply cease to function.
This is what our Sages meant when they taught (in Pirkei Avos) to pray for the peace andprosperity of the government, for without it there would be anarchy. Law and order is the glue that allows life to flourish.
Parshas Mishpatim is filled with laws that mandate proper interaction between people. From the prohibitions of murder and kidnapping to the commercial responsibilities incumbent upon employers and investors, there’s a lot of laws demanding fair market practices and a healthy society.
However, the utilitarian reasons for having such laws are NOT why we as Jews uphold them. We follow them because they are G-d’s commandments.The first letter of the parsha is a ‘vuv’ meaning ‘and’. The ‘and’ links these laws to the last thing mentioned in last week’s parsha, instructions regarding the construction of the altar in the Tabernacle. The laws of the marketplace and the laws of the altar are intimately linked.

Society would get along fine without the instructions for building the altar. We fulfill them because they are G-d’s instructions. Just as they are G-d’s law, so too are our civil, criminal, and business laws. And we follow them for the same reason, because G-d demands it of us. And after all, He has infinitely positive feedback ratings.

If someone intentionally injures someone else, Torah law obligates him to remunerate the victim.This payment covers permanent injury, pain suffered, loss of work, medical expenses, and even any embarrassment the victim sustained at the time of injury. All of these payments are understood as compensation to the wounded person. However, the Torah’s language is rather puzzling regarding reimbursement for permanent injury. It states that we must punish the attacker ‘an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand and a foot for a foot’. If the Torah means monetary compensation rather than corporal punishment, why does it employ such misleading language?
Sforno explains that the Torah intends to teach us that the attacker should indeed be punished exactly the way he wounded his fellow man. If he blinded someone else, he deserves to become blind in the same fashion that he attacked and wounded the other. However, practically speaking,it’s impossible to punish the attacker with the identical wound that he inflicted on his fellow. Therefore, since we cannot be certain that we are doling out the identical punishment for the offense, we consign the punishment to monetary reimbursement.
Ibn Ezra explains further that the Torah considers the monetary payment as atonement for harming another individual. The attacker has sinned and must repent. In the process of repentance he must reimburse the victim for the various types of injustice that he perpetrated and the compensation thus serves to complete the atonement process.
From this halacha we can glean a very important lesson. Certainly, the attacker is at fault and hehas harmed another person in a very serious manner. However, that does not mean that he has forfeited all of his rights. We are not entitled to say that since he has acted so terribly, therefore we will deal with him unfairly. The Torah forbids us from treating him inappropriately. We cannot punish him in the slightest way more than he injured his fellow man. Hashem’s mercy applies to everyone single person in the exact same way, with totality and to its fullest extent. Furthermore, we see from this halacha and from many other examples the Divine foundation which forms our system of municipal and criminal law. All of our laws are deeply rooted and clearly reflect the mercy and kindness that Hashem has for each and every person regardless of their behavior. Although we are inclined to be judgmental and accord varying responses to othersbased upon their respective conduct, this is neither the Torah’s attitude nor its reaction to such situations.
This Shabbos we read the parsha that deals with the mitzvah of donating a half-shekel to the BeisHamikdash. The primary obligation was that each and every person would participate in the
acquisition of the sacrifices that were brought daily. Each person only gave a half because thisemphasized that each person is only whole with the contribution and involvement of his fellow man. This is the only way that we can survive as a people amongst the nations of the world. As we approach Purim, we are additionally reminded of the tremendous unity of spirit and action that led to our eventual salvation from the hands of Haman and his henchmen. May we imbibe the lessons that these occasions offer and use them to further good will within our ranks.
Joke of the Week
Both don’t want any more kids.– Lori, age 8

Question for the Rabbis

Mishpatim contains 53 mitzvos touching almost every aspect of Jewish life. Included in thisparsha are the bases for laws concerning Jewish servants, relations between parents and children,civil fines, monetary obligations of borrowers, renters, owners of animals or utensils which damage persons or their property, and the responsibility citizens owe to the public welfare. Thereare prohibitions against witchcraft, against shaming or defrauding the true convert, the widow, the orphan, and the poor. There are requirements to lend money to Jews in need. We are commanded not to blaspheme against Hashem, and not to curse the judges of the Bais Din. Many kashrus (kosher) laws are included, as are procedural matters in courts of law insure that all who stand before the court will be treated fairly. Circumstantial evidence may not decide the law. Only direct and incontrovertible testimony of witnesses is admissible. We must assist a fellow Jew to unload an animal struggling under its load. Agricultural requirements of the Shmittah (Sabbatical) year are included. Shabbos and Yom Tov laws are here. Strict prohibitions are enacted against making a treaty with the 7 Canaanite nations and against introducing any form of idol-worship. Hashem reminds the nation that their well-being in Eretz Yisroel will depend directly on their loyalty to His Torah. After the Giving of the Aseres Hadibros, Moshe is called back to Har Sinai for 40 days and nights.

Parshas Mishpatim contains laws which mandate our responsibility for property that other peopleask us to watch. Likewise, we should be responsible to guard the property that God gives us, i.e. our health and our resources, and not waste them.