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Parsha Mishpatim
(in translation)

Rabbi Avraham Brandwein of Jerusalem


(The commandments of the Torah are divided into two groups: 1) The Mitzvos between man and Hashem, e.g. faith in Hashem, loving Hashem, prayer, etc. and 2) the Mitzvos between man and his fellow man, social-related Mitzvos, e.g. honesty in business, social behavior, etc.)

Immediately following the story of the standing at Mount Sinai and receiving the Torah comes Parshas Mishpatim, which deals with the laws concerning issues between man and his fellow man.

Mishpatim begins with the Hebrew word Vi’ayleh (And these Mishpatim (laws)…) (The usage of the conjunction “And” exactly explains to us the main meaning of the Mitzvos of the Torah, especially the Mitzvos between man and his fellow man. “And these are the laws.” “And these,” (the word “And”, represented by) the extra (Hebrew letter) Vav, come to teach us that this Parsha continues from what was written above (in Parsha Yisro, about the receiving of the Torah).

Rashi writes, “Every place where the verse uses the word Ayleh (these), the verse is coming to disqualify the previously mentioned items. (The word these means exclusively these, and not what was mentioned earlier.) (For example, in Genesis, it says, “These are the descendants of Jacob, (which followed the listing of the descendants of Esau) in order to disqualify the descendants of Esau as evil, when compared to the new list of the descendants of Jacob beginning with the words “These are the descendants of Jacob). Rashi continues, “But if the word “these” (has an extra Vav (the conjunction And) and says Vi’ayleh (And these), it is coming to add to the earlier mentioned ideas. Thus, just as the earlier (G-d related) laws and Mitzvos were from Sinai, and these (social-related) laws too, of our Parsha, were given at Sinai.” This is coming to teach us that the Torah, and even the Mitzvos between man and his fellow man, were given at Sinai.

Even the Nations of the World have laws and rules to establish the appropriate guidelines for their community and society. However, these secular, social laws are founded on one principle, which is to benefit the community. This is not the case by the Mitzvos of the Torah, which were given according to the principle of how to come closer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu. The difference between secular laws and Torah laws is that when a person fulfills the laws for the benefit of the community, they are not refining themselves. On the contrary, their “ego” increases in strength, since the individual’s giving or relinquishing of something, for the benefit of the community, is based on the principle of “Take care of me and I will take care of you.” The reason being that it is worth giving, since the individual will receive in return.

This is not the case by the Mitzvos of the Torah. Their goal is for the person to reach attachment to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, which is dependent on a person refining their self-centered desires. Therefore, even with regard to the (social-related) Mitzvos between man and his fellow man , even though they also contain guidelines for establishment of a proper community, their explicit goal is to come to attach to the Creator.

This is the meaning of the word Mitzvah (commandment). The fulfillment of a command is effective in accomplishing a bond between the one making the command and the one fulfilling the command, since there is a Mitzaveh (the one making the command). Therefore, the Hebrew word Mitzvah can also mean a connection, a bond together.

Therefore, the Torah begins our Parsha with a Vav (the conjunction And), since in the Holy Tongue (Hebrew) the letter Vav signifies a continuation from before. This shows that these social-related Mitzvos of our Parsha are not, G-d forbid, like man-made laws, just to establish the guidelines for a community, but rather they are also from Sinai and their role is to bring man closer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, through the fulfillment of the Mitzvos with this proper intent.

The difference, between the laws which come from heaven and the laws which come from man, is that man’s laws are based on man’s determination as to what is good and bad, which is based upon man’s own desire and will, which understandably is not the truth. As an outside example, let us take the laws of the city of Sidome (Sodom), where based on the principles of their democracy, they murdered people. But the laws of the Torah, which come from Hakadosh Baruch Hu, are not, G-d forbid, with any selfish interests, therefore they are the laws of the Torah, which are laws of the absolute truth.

In the continuation of the opening verses of the Parsha, it is written, “When you acquire a Hebrew slave, the slave will work for six years, and in the seventh year, the slave will go free.” Let us ask two questions. 1) Why does the Torah begin the laws between man and his fellow man specifically with the laws of a slave, which is uncommon? There are many more commonly occurring laws in the Parsha, as it is written further on, “And if two men have a dispute etc.” 2) The laws of a slave only apply during the time the Temple is standing; yet, the Torah is eternal!

Rather, there are many reasons. 1) This is to teach us that the main part of the Torah is the innermost part, not the external part. 2) This is according to the commentary of the Holy Ohr Hachayim, a commentary on the Torah (Rabbi Chaim Ben Atar, a Sefardic Kabbalist of the early 1700’s who lived in North Africa and then Israel), “Man is divided into two parts. One part is spiritual and it is the main part, and the second part is the physical, whose role is to serve the soul, since through the medium of the body, it is possible to fulfill the practical Mitzvos. This is what is written in the Parsha, “When you acquire a Hebrew Slave, (Eved Ivri) the word Ivri can also mean Ovair (transient, passing), something that does not last forever. Its time is sixty years, and this is what is written, that the slave should work for six years, and in the seventh year, he will go free, to hint to the seventieth year as it is written, “The days of our years in them are like seventy years.” And after the soul departs from the body, the person becomes free from performing the Mitzvos, as it is written in Tehillim, “With the dead, they are free.”” This concludes the words of the Holy Ohr Hachayim.

This comes to teach us that if the slave, which is the body, serves the soul, then it fulfills its role. However, if, G-d forbid, it is the opposite, and the slave is the ruler, as it says in Koheles (Ecclesiastes), “A slave who rules,” then the person has no freedom, since they are subjugated to their own desires. But, if the soul rules over the body, then the person has freedom and it is true.


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