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Mishpatim

by Rabbi Yaakov Menken

"... and he shall surely heal him." [21:19]

This week's reading is called "Mishpatim," or judgments, and it is an appropriate name: many Mitzvos are found in this parsha (53, by one count), and most of them are interpersonal laws which we naturally understand to be requirements of a civilized society. The majority (all?) of "Judgments" are Mitzvos between human beings. But the parsha also offers us something more -- the Chofetz Chaim, Rabbi Yisroel Mayer Kagan, uses the short phrase above to help us develop an entirely new outlook on interpersonal relations, on our coexistence with others.

In the Talmud [Bava Kamma 88a], our Sages say, "From here (we learn that) permission is given to the doctor to heal." Rashi, Rabbi Shlomo Yitzchaki, adds, "And we do not say that 'G-d made him sick; He will make him well.'" the verse above refers to the obligation of one who caused an injury to heal the victim (by paying the doctor), and nonetheless, Rashi says that G-d made the victim sick.

The Chofetz Chaim says, we learn from here that all pain or injury that a person suffers comes directly from G-d. This is true even when one person hits another! A person cannot hit someone else unless G-d deems it appropriate for the second person to be hit. So the involvement of the first person is only because "Bad things come about by way of a person 'with deficiencies.'" [The Hebrew idiom is lost in translation, but the intent is clear.]

The Torah is telling us, "When someone hits you, why should you get angry at him?" Obviously, he is a bad person whom you should avoid in the future - but that's his problem. Rather than taking revenge, take stock of your own actions! Why was it appropriate that you be hit?

The story is told of a particular yeshiva student who misbehaved on several occasions, until the Dean decided that he would have to expel him. On his way out, the student decided to take his last parting shots - so he stood on the front steps, and while waiting for his ride home explained in a loud voice exactly what he thought of the yeshiva and the dean who stood at its helm.

A few observers noticed that the dean himself was standing by a second story window, not trying to stop the student, but rather listening carefully. After the student had left, one of these observers asked the dean why he did not have someone rebuke the student. "Because," he responded, "I knew that some of what he said might be true. I was listening to see what I might learn." [I have seen this story recorded in a number of places, but unfortunately do not recall which yeshiva and which dean were involved.]

Obviously, this is a very high standard of behavior, one which cannot be reached overnight. Nonetheless, it certainly doesn't hurt to set such a high goal!


Text Copyright © 1996 Rabbi Yaakov Menken and Project Genesis, Inc.

The author is the Director of Project Genesis.


 


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