Parshas Mishpatim

February 17th,2012
24 Shevat, 5772

This week’s edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of the birth of a grandson to Steve and Ellyn Hutt in Israel. Mazel Tov!

The Ill-Fitting Mitzvah

by Rabbi Raphael Leban

In Parshas Yisro, which we read last week, G-d gave the Jewish People the Torah on Mount Sinai. According to our most reliable sources, He asked them if they would accept the Torah, to which they responded, “How much does it cost?” He told them, “It’s free.” They said, “We’ll take ten.” Don’t ask me which sources.

In this week’s parsha, Mishpatim, we actually read about much of what we got. The parsha lists many different laws from many different subjects. Civil laws, marital laws, the laws of the holidays, laws regarding the judicial process, agricultural laws and commercial laws. The whole spectrum of Torah law is represented. It’s a little like trying on a new outfit immediately after you get home from the store, with all the accessories.

Some of these mitzvos don’t seem to fit too well. Some are a little too tight, others just hang wrong, some are downright garish.

For example, one of the mitzvos is about Jewish servitude. This mitzvah just doesn’t seem to ‘fit’ what we expect of the ultimate source of morality and truth. Should we take the Torah to the tailor for some adjustments? Let’s hope not.

There’s another mitzvah in the Torah that puts it in perspective. The mitzvah of divorce. There is actually a mitzvah of divorce.

Now, obviously, this is not a Torah obligation the same way that saying the Shema is. Everyone is supposed to say the Shema, not everyone is supposed to get a divorce.

Occasionally, however, divorce is unfortunately appropriate. In such circumstances, the Torah gives us a mitzvah to do it properly, in a prescribed manner. For a couple who needs to get divorced, there is a mitzvah to do so correctly.

This is also the case with the ‘ill-fitting’ mitzvah. Jewish servitude is for a person who has been convicted of theft and cannot repay what he stole. In such a case the Torah prescribes a limited term of service in the home of an upstanding member of society where he can earn what he owes and be rehabilitated at the same time. Who would want such a person in their home? Only a wonderful, caring family that would be a role model for his return to righteous living. That’s the mitzvah.

There’s no commandment to put yourself in such a pickle, just a prescribed way of handling it. Whenever we find something in the Torah that looks like a ‘bad fit,’ with a little insight and study, we’ll realize that it’s just our size.

How to Respect

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

This week the Torah enumerates various municipal laws with which to govern a society. Why is it necessary for the Torah to set up this system? Every city in the world has its own laws and ordinances. Couldn’t the citizens of Jerusalem devise laws that would fit the needs of their citizenry? Furthermore, Rashi cites the Midrash that just as we know that the Ten Commandments were given at Mt. Sinai, so too, all the laws stated in this week’s parsha were also given to us at Mt. Sinai by Hashem. Do our Sages intend to equate the importance of the municipal laws stated here with the Ten Commandments that were uttered by Hashem Himself?

Another Midrash states that the world’s existence is based upon municipal law. Additionally, Jerusalem will be redeemed through our observance of these laws and the righteous develop spiritually through their fulfillment of these laws. Is the law that one’s ox should not gore another’s ox or the law governing how to treat an employee as spiritually uplifting as Shabbos observance or the mandate not to serve idols?

Rav Simcha Zisel Ziv, the giant of ethical teachings, who lead the Yeshiva in Kelm, provides the following insight. We live in an imperfect world and we attempt to elevate ourselves to emulate Hashem. However, we fall short of the mark and therefore Hashem has given us the ability to repent and mend our ways. In order to repent, we must be attentive and sensitive to the errors that we commit and desire to modify our behavior to meet the standards of the Torah. We must recognize that we have sinned and aspire to correct our faults. If we lack this sensitivity we will certainly fail since we will not even realize that we have floundered!

Perhaps the challenge that confronts us is how to develop the sensitivity necessary to successfully examine and critique our lives in an intelligent manner. Is it possible to gain the required insight simply through study of Torah or are there additional tools that we must acquire? The Midrash points out that prior to the Ten Commandments, the episode involving Moshe and the judicial system was mentioned in the Torah. Then in this week’s parsha the Torah catalogs numerous laws and regulations that pertain to the orderly functioning of society. The Torah is ‘surrounded’ by these rules that affect and mold our daily lives. This particular type of mitzvah is intellectually understandable and borders on common sense. The lesson in their Divine origin is that we cannot only serve Hashem in esoteric terms, we must rather harness our minds together with our souls to achieve the full gamut of expectations when we serve Hashem.

One might have thought that Torah was confined to pure spiritual experience and that employing the full capacity of our intellect on these ideas and topics was outside the purview of Torah. On the contrary, we absolutely must employ the entire scope of thought available to us in order to successfully observe the Torah.

We must exhaust every opportunity possible to enhance our lives as devoted adherents to the Torah. The world at large benefits from our contributions to civilization, our fellow Jews stand to gain from discussion of important issues and every individual will certainly profit in his own unique way as well.


This Shabbos we announce the impending arrival of the month of Adar. We are taught that we must increase our level of happiness in the month of Adar just as we decrease our level of happiness when we enter the month of Av. To the same extent that we limited our enjoyment and pleasure at that time, so must we increase our delight and joy at this time.



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