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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Exodus/Shmot - Mishpatim 101

Posted February, 2001
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Sefer (Book)

Shmot (Exodus)

Beginning Perek (Chapter):

Chav-Aleph (21)

Beginning Pasuk (Verse):

Aleph (1)

Concluding Perek:

Chav-Daled (24)

Concluding Pasuk:

Yud-Chet (18)

· Key Points of Parashat Mishpatim  
· This Weeks Psukim  
The Focus of the Week  
Commentary from the Stone Edition Chumash  
Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch  
Commentary by Reb Yosef

  Key Points of Parashat Mishpatim:
 The following are some of the laws that are discussed in detail:

  • Hebrew Slaves

  • Murder, death though not premeditated, and accidental death

  • Compensation and retribution for accidental and intention injury

  • Lost and stolen property

  • Intimate relations prior to or out of marriage

  • Idolatry

  • Treatment of strangers and proselytes

  • Proper behavior toward the poor - widows and orphans; especially in terms of causing them any embarrassment which is strictly forbidden

  • Oaths and witnesses

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Mishpatim, although not a long Parashah, is rich with various points of Jewish Law and warrants a deliberate and methodical read. There is a beautiful section of the work Pirke Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) that discusses this week's pasuk in great detail. Pirke Avot has another, more proper, name which is Mesechta (Tractate) Avot as this is one of the sfarim (books) of the Gemara (Talmud). 

This Week's P'sukim - Perek Chav-Gimel (23):

  1. Do not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind those who see and corrupt words that are just:

Translation by: Art Scroll Stone Edition Chumash.

  1. And no bribery shalt thou take, for bribery blindeth those that see clearly and maketh the words of just men waver.

Translation by: Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash.  

The Focus of this Week:  
How can such a short sentence have so much meaning? 

Commentary from the Stone Edition Chumash:
The Stone Edition Chumash does not list commentaries on this pasuk. However, Rav Hirsch's comments are quite extensive. 

Commentary by Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch:  
From the relationship of the first words in this pasuk, we get the basic idea of its meaning "to bring about the destruction of the spiritual and moral force of live of somebody." Bribery kills the intellectual and moral force of the one who receives it. The intellectual force which makes a man fit to be a judge is called pakakh (pei, koof, chet), a clear open sight for the right way to look at the facts, and the laws which apply to them. The moral force is called tzadeek (tzade, daled, koof) righteousness, which only recognizes what is right. Bribery blinds the sight of one who otherwise sees clearly, unconsciously prejudices his way of looking at the case. If we compare the meanings of the roots of these words and perhaps also the rabbinic commentary of [Mesechta] Yoma 53b, the wording would mean, not so much crooked and turned the wrong way, as shaking, faltering, or unstable. Bribery would make even an honest judge, who wishes nothing but what is right and just, not as clear and firm and decisive as he should be in giving expression to what is right. His sight becomes clouded, his word faltering.

The idea of bribery in the spirit of Jewish law is given the widest extension. Not only money or good but the smallest most unimportant favour, service or attention, the brushing off of specks of dust from the coat, the kicking away of a piece of dirt which happens to lie in front of the foot of the judge, etc. has caused Jewish judges to declare, "I have become unfit to be your judge." A Jewish judge must be conscious of absolute absence of any bias whatsoever, otherwise he may not be a judge (see Mesechta] Ketuboth 105, 106). Jewish administration of justice was completely free, and was not allowed to be paid for.

Commentary by Reb Yosef:
Rav Hirsch's complete comments on this small sentence are twice as long as what is listed here.

After reading this and looking over the Mishnah and Gemara in Pirkei Avot, I am struck with a question, "What happened?" Before going further, allow me to explain the terms Mishnah and Gemara. There is the written Law, the Torah. There is the oral Law, the Mishnah. The Mishnah was handed down verbally from Moshe (Moses), in an unbroken line, to the sages. In fact, if you want to see the lineage, read Pirkei Avot as the first chapter deals with the succession. The Mishnah is considered to have the same force as the Torah. The Gemara, on the other hand, is the commentary and rabbinical rulings and interpretations to the Mishnah. This is one of many reasons that I recommend that everyone have a copy of Pirkei Avot. It is the shortest of the Mesechtot (Tractates) and provides both a wealth of information in the most beautiful of prose and a wonderful insight into the Talmud and how it is constructed.

Now then… To the question, I posed, "What happened?" I do not have an answer to this question. Of course, we can consult fifty different dayanim (judges - rabbis who hold a higher degree of ordination [smichah]) and I suspect we will hear fifty different answers. Rav Hirsch tells us that a judge is not to be paid. This would seem consistent with the intention of the Torah on this particular issue as payment could easily lead to bias. Sad to say, in today's world, a Beit Din (House of Law, court) hardly resembles what we see in Torah and commentaries. In other weekly parashot, I have talked about some of the less than admirable current affairs of Klal Yisrael - this is but one more example.

At the same time, I would like to tell you about an exception. There is a group of four very courageous rabbis who are attempting to deal with a terrible problem in the Jewish community - agunot. An agunah is a woman whose husband refuses to give her a Jewish divorce (get). Of course, without the divorce, even though a civil divorce may be in effect, the woman cannot remarry. In most cases, the cowards who do this to their families pervert Jewish law as a means of extortion. About six years ago, three rabbis came together to form a Beit Din that dealt with this issue. They very carefully reviewed the Laws and found exceptions that could be applied in given circumstances. The result is that many of the women who were held in bondage are no longer. Of course, there are a large number of Jewish courts who say these decrees are not valid. Of course, they would say that - they have lost a source of income through what is prohibited by the Torah, bribery. And this leads me to the point I wish to make.

Klal Yisrael (the Nation of Israel) is called the Chosen People because they were chosen by God for a unique and very special mission - to lead the world back to spiritual perfection. There are those who say that this is the mission of the moshiach, the anointed one. I disagree and believe that to be a complete and utter cop-out. It is our mission, as people and as a People, to lead the world back to spiritual perfection. There is only one way to do this - by living in a way that is consistent with Torah, to the best of our abilities. By this, I do not mean that every Jew has to live an Orthodox or Ultra-Orthodox (and I will never really know what that means) lifestyle. It is as is stated throughout the entire Tanakh - chessed, tzedakah, Torah - kindness, justice, Torah.

Many commentaries suggest that these are three separate things to be lived. I prefer to see it another way - chessed + tzedakah = Torah. Acts of kindness and justice are living Torah. Acts of kindness and justice are Ahavat Yisrael (respect for all Jews). Perhaps, if we can demonstrate kindness and justice to each other, we will provide a Light to the Nations that will bring the whole world back to a state of spiritual perfection where God will be One, and His Name One. Of course, this means we have to give up some things - all those things that Rav Hirsch listed as bribes. We, as people and as a People, have to make our mission more important than ourselves.

But think what a wonderful world this would be then…


Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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