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Parshas Mishpatim

Remember the Feeling
By Rabbi Yisroel Ciner

This week we read the parsha of Mishpatim­Judgments. Mishpatim are laws that we understand their importance and relevance. They include the prohibitions against murder and thievery, honoring one’s parents, instructions for judges and laws for monetary damages.

What seems a bit strange is that the parsha opens with the laws of slaves. “When you acquire a Jewish slave, for six years he will work for you and on the seventh year he shall go out free. [21:2]”

The Ramban explains that this work/freedom cycle of the slave actually alludes to the very foundations of Judaism. The six years of work followed by freedom in the seventh year are an allusion to creation­the six days of “work” that were followed by the Sabbath. This same pattern is of course followed in the six years of farming that are followed by the Shmitah {Sabbatical} year and the seven Shmitah cycles followed by the Yovel {Jubilee}.

This mitzvah {commandment} also reminds us of the Exodus from Egypt, mentioned in the first of the Ten Commandments: “I am Hashem, your G-d, who took you out from Mitzrayim {Egypt}. [20:2]”

The Navi {Prophet} Yirmiyahu sternly rebuked Bnei Yisroel {the Children of Israel} when they failed to adhere to this commandment and didn’t free the slaves. The ultimate punishment was no less than galus {national exile}.

It seems that the association that should have been forged into our national consciousness by our slavery in Mitzrayim should have been so strong as to preclude our ever showing insensitivity to the plight of those enslaved.

When I was about ten years old, driving around my block on my bicycle, I envisioned myself as the next evil Kenievil daredevil stunt-rider. One particular area of the sidewalk afforded me an incredible opportunity to hone my skills. A tree root had lifted up the pavement giving me about a four-inch platform to fly off of. As I improved my ability to do ‘wheelies’ (pulling up the front tire of the bike and riding just on the back tire), I decided to do my ‘wheelie’ as I flew off my ‘platform.’ I would fly in the air for a few seconds and then make my two-point landing­my back tire followed shortly by the front one.

My stunt driving days came to an abrupt end one afternoon. My mom had been baking one of my favorite cookies and that distinct aroma had followed me as I left the house to ride my bike. I came to my ‘platform’ and performed my, by now, well-honed maneuver. However, instead of my classic two-point landing, I did a three-point. My front tire turned while I was in the air, resulting in a sequenced landing of: back tire, front tire, rider’s chin . . .

A neighbor saw me black out and brought me home. My mom interrupted her baking to bring me to the hospital and my plans to be the next Evil Kenievil were stitched along with my chin.

A few weeks later my mom was again baking those cookies that I had loved. The smell made me sick to my stomach . . . I was so nauseous I had to leave the house. I have never been able to eat one of those cookies again. The association between the smell and my pain was just too strong.

Our experiences as slaves in Mitzrayim were so horrifying that such an association should have been made. The very notion of not following the mitzvos for slaves should have sickened us. If we later reached the point that those lessons had been forgotten, then we had to return to exile and experience that pain once again.

We are the product of our experiences­both personal and national. Every experience is there for us to grow from in a way that otherwise would have been impossible. Only through learning from those experiences will we merit to leave the personal and national exile that we are presently subjected to.

Good Shabbos,

Yisroel Ciner

Copyright © 2003 by Rabbi Yisroel Ciner and Project Genesis, Inc.



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