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Parshas Mishpatim

No Favorites

King Shlomo writes in Mishlei (24:23), “These things, too, are for the wise [to consider]: Showing favoritism in judgment is not good.” Rabbeinu Bachya ben Asher z”l (Spain; 14th century) writes: From the beginning of the book of Mishlei until here, King Shlomo addresses himself to simpletons and youths. Indeed, he announces at the beginning of the book (1:4) that his intention is, “To provide simpletons with cleverness, a youth with knowledge and design.”

Now, he turns to the wise and says, “Showing favoritism in judgment is not good.” In truth, the Torah already prohibits a judge from showing favoritism (see Devarim 1:17). However, King Shlomo adds that there are negative consequences from showing favoritism. In Mishlei 24:24, the verse after the one with which we began, he writes, “One who tells a wicked person, ‘You are righteous,’ -- the peoples will curse him, the nations will hate him.” Even more so, adds R’ Bachya, will people hate a judge who does the opposite, i.e., he condemns an innocent man.

R’ Bachya continues: King Shlomo wrote, “Showing favoritism in judgment bal tov / is not good” rather than the more common “lo tov,” in order to hint that the entire Torah, from the letter “bet” at the beginning (“Bereishit”) to the letter “lamed” at the end (“Yisrael”) is dependent on the honest administration of justice. This is the reason that the first mitzvah in our parashah is to bring disputes before batei din that rule according to the Torah and not before secular courts.

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    “If the slave shall say, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children; I shall not go free,’ then his master shall bring him to the court and shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore through his ear with the awl, and he shall serve him forever.” (21:5-6)

Rashi z”l writes: “Why is the ear pierced rather than any other limb of the slave’s body? Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai said, ‘The ear which heard on Har Sinai, “You shall not steal!” yet its owner went and stole, and he was therefore sold as a slave, should be pierced. Or, in the case of one who sold himself because of poverty, having committed no theft, the reason is: The ear which heard on Har Sinai, (Vayikra 25:55), “For to Me Bnei Yisrael are servants,” yet its owner went and procured another master for himself, should be pierced’.”

A Jewish slave’s ear is not pierced until he has served for six years and he then refuses to go free. If the ear-piercing is a punishment for selling himself, why wasn’t it done six years earlier?

R’ Ovadiah Mi’Bartenura z”l (approx. 1445-1515; Italy and Eretz Yisrael; author of the eponymous Mishnah commentary) explains: Originally, he sold himself because of need. For that, he doesn’t deserve punishment. But, the Torah has pity on him and limits his term of service to six years. If he nevertheless wants to continue under a master other than G-d, he is deserving of punishment. (Amar Neka)

We could likewise ask: If the ear-piercing is a punishment for a theft that the slave committed, why wasn’t his ear pierced six years earlier when he committed the theft?

R’ Moshe Silver z”l (Yerushalayim; early 20th century) explains: The mere fact that he is sold as a slave is punishment for his theft; he does not need or deserve a second punishment. But, if he later says, “I enjoy being a slave,” then it turns out that he was not punished at all. Therefore, he now deserves a new punishment, i.e., to have his ear pierced, because he violated the commandment which his ear heard, “You shall not steal.” (Chashukei Kessef)

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    “When you lend money to My people, the poor person with you . . .” (22:24)

R’ Shlomo Algazi z”l (17th century) observes: This verse teaches that when you lend money or give charity to a poor person, you are not doing only him a favor. “When you lend money to My people, the poor person *with you*”-- you are doing a kindness for yourself as well. (Shaima Shlomo)

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    “If you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its burden, would you refrain from helping him? -- You shall help repeatedly with him!” (23:5)

Commentaries ask: About whom is this verse speaking? Is a Jew permitted to hate another Jew? They explain that it refers to a Jew who you witnessed committing a sin and who you are therefore permitted to hate.

Even so, writes R’ Moshe Cordervero z”l (Remak; 1522-1570), it is preferable not to hate such a person. We are taught to emulate Hashem, and one of His Thirteen Attributes of Mercy is “lo he’chezik la’ad apo” / “He does not hold on to His anger forever.” Even when a person continues to sin, Hashem withholds His anger and is not quick to punish; rather, he awaits the sinner’s repentance.

Likewise, R’ Cordevero writes, even when we have the right to harshly rebuke another person or our children, we should subdue our anger. Though we are permitted to hate a sinner, the Torah teaches us to help him with his struggling animal in order to draw him close, for maybe that is what will cause him to repent. (Tomer Devorah: midah 5)

R’ Mordechai Scheinberger shlita (Yerushalayim) asks: If we’re allowed to hate a sinner because he disobeyed Hashem and we are standing up for Hashem’s honor, then why should we not hate him? Indeed, what right do we have not to hate someone who has betrayed Hashem?

The answer lies in the last phrase of Remak’s statement: “Help him with his struggling animal in order to draw him close, *for maybe that is what will cause him to repent*.” We don’ t draw him close because it’s a humane thing to do or because we love all people, but specifically in the hope that he will change his ways. (Va’yomer Moshe al Tomer Devorah)

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    “Against the great men of Bnei Yisrael, He did not stretch out His hand--they gazed at Elokim, and they ate and drank.” (24:11)

Rashi z”l comments: “This implies that they were deserving of Hashem stretching out His hand against them.” What was their sin?

R’ Mordechai Banet z”l (1753-1829; rabbi of Nikolsburg, Moravia) explains: The Aramaic translation Targum Yonatan states, “They rejoiced at the acceptance of their offerings as if they had eaten and drank.” Seemingly this is a good thing, as we read (Nechemiah 8:10), “The enjoyment of Hashem is your strength!” Nevertheless, the great men of Bnei Yisrael were deserving of punishment because the fact that the revelation of Hashem brought them as much joy as eating and drinking means that they valued eating and drinking too highly. (Derashot Maharam Banet: Drush 5)

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Memories of Yerushalayim

    R' Ben-Zion Yadler z"l (1871-1962; "Maggid / preacher of Yerushalayim”), describes in his memoir, B'tuv Yerushalayim, some outstanding members of Yerushalayim’s working class at the turn of the 20th century.

In the generation before us, all Jews--Torah scholars, ba’alei batim, merchants, and working men--occupied themselves with studying mussar (works on character improvement). They were not satisfied with the excerpts found in works such as Chok L’Yisrael; rather, they set aside time to study mussar works in groups. . .

I will give honorable mention to the working class men of Yerushalayim who were among the students of mussar and were experts in those works: The shoemaker R’ Nissan Schuster; two tailors named Shmuel--one was R’ Shmuel der Amerikaner schneider, who sewed European-style clothes, and his friend was R’ Shmuel Schneider, who sewed Yerushalmi-style clothes. Along with them were R’ Nosson Becker, R’ Yitzchak Stolar, R’ Gershon Schmidt, R’ Naftali Meller, and R’ Zvi (Herschel) Blecher.

I will describe a little bit the characteristics and the pathways of holiness of these precious Jews, servants of Hashem. . .

R’ Shmuel der Amerikaner schneider, the American tailor, barely put down books of mussar for even a short time. He brought merit to himself and to the public by establishing the Shoneh Halachot society [whose members focused their study on halachah]. He traveled to America and became close to the wealthy man, R’ Menachem Nitin. Through R’ Shmuel’s efforts, R’ Nitin built the large and beautiful shul, Shoneh Halachot [in the Old City]. He also built the large shul Zaharei Chamah [the “Sundial shul” on Jaffa Street] for Torah and prayer, and a guesthouse in the Machaneh Yehuda neighborhood.


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