Aliya-by-Aliya Parashat Mishpatim 5760

Numbers in [square brackets] are the mitzva-count of the Sefer HaChinuch. When a mitzva is mentioned and no number is indicated, it means that the mitzva is counted elsewhere, but is still found in Mishpatim. This being the case, it makes Mishpatim even more mitzva- filled than its high count indicates.

Kohen First Aliya - First Aliya -19 p'sukim - 21:1-19

[SDT] V'EILEH HAMISHPATIM ASHER... The final letters of the opening three words of Mishpatim spell out the word MARA. This is the name of the place en route to Sinai at which we received the "civil code" as presented in the sedra.

The EVED IVRI, a Jewish male indentured servant works for 6 years and goes free in the 7th year. He leaves as he entered, i.e. if he had a wife and children previously, they, of course, leave with him. If, on the other hand, his master had given him a SHIFCHA CANAANIT, she and any children he fathered remain the possessions of the master - they are not his wife or children.

[By the way, if the SHIFCHA and/or the children are subsequently freed, they become Jews - unrelated to their biological father the EVED IVRI. The process is analogous to conversion. It's more complicated than presented, does not apply in our time, but that's the idea.]

If the EVED IVRI wants to remain in his master's service, his ear is pierced (a symbolic rebuke: "The ear that heard at Sinai that we are G-d's servants, should not want to be a servant to a servant.") and now he serves "forever" (until Yovel). The details of EVED IVRI constitute a positive commandment [42].

[SDT] Of all the topics to begin this mitzva-filled sedra, we see a significance in the Torah's choice of SERVITUDE. This is part of the definition of Belief in G-d, the first Commandment. G-d puts Himself in the context of He Who freed us from slavery. We should not be slaves anymore; we probably shouldn't have any. But at a time when it was still practiced, we are duty bound to treat the EVED in the manner commanded by the Torah, thus reflecting our belief in G-d.

A man can arrange for his daughter to be "in service". She, the AMA IVRIYA, does not have the same rules as an EVED IVRI. Either her master, master's son, or someone else, takes her as a wife [43] with the full rights and respect accorded a Jewish wife [46], or she is to be redeemed or returned to her family [44], but she may not be sold to anyone else [45] or belittled or disgraced.

The alternative to the above options is to free her completely. (Apparently, the purpose of AMA IVRIYA is to help the young maiden improve her status in society.)


It is interesting and important to note that mitzva #46 includes giving ALL wives (not just the former maidservant) their rights under Jewish Law. This is an example (there are others) of a mitzva whose context in the Written Torah is narrow, but whose scope, as taught to us by the Oral Torah, is much broader. Please note that this is NOT a case of Rabbinic extension of Torah Law, nor of Rabbinic legislation. It is a DEFINITION of the Torah's intent, as transmitted to us via the Oral Tradition. Our Sages did both - transmit G-d's law and legislate their laws... and to tell us which is which.

Murder is punishable by beheading, known as HEREG or SAYIF. This is an example of the Torah's presenting both a warning LO TIRTZACH, Thou shalt not murder, and a punishment - He who strikes a man and he dies, he shall be put to death.

Unintentional killers are provided with a place of refuge. A murderer who flees to a city of refuge is forcibly returned to stand judgment.


Actually, anyone who kills another will flee to a city of refuge. Then, the court in whose jurisdiction the case is will bring the killer to court for trial. If the verdict is intentional murder, the person is executed. If the verdict is SHOGEG, inadvertent but careless, then he will be sent back to a City of Refuge, thereto remain until the death of a Kohen Gadol. If the court decides that the killing was purely accidental, they will release the killer from custody. And if the guilt is decided to fall somewhere between two of the official categories, the court will exercise its discretionary powers and do what it decides is in the best interest of all concerned, including society at large.

Striking one's parents (and drawing blood) is a capital offense [48].

There are 4 capital punishment, each fitting particular crimes and sins. Rambam considers that there are four separate mitzvot commanding the courts to carry out executions when someone is thus sentenced. At this point in Mishpatim, the Rambam counts the mitzva to execute by strangulation he who is tried, convicted, and sentenced for a sin whose punishment is strangulation [47].

Cursing one's parent (even after death) is a capital offense. As such, it is more serious than "striking", since if one strikes a parent after death, it would not be a capital offense (although it too is forbidden).

If one inflicts a non-fatal injury upon another, he must pay full compensation based on five factors: damage, pain, insult, expenses, and lost earning potential [49].

Implied in this concluding portion of the first Aliya is our Jewish and human obligation and challenge to heal the sick. This derives from the double wording of V'RAPO Y'RAPEI. We do not see G-d as the only healer, so to speak. Of course, everything depends upon G-d, but He expects us, so to speak, to do our share at the task of healing. He supervises that, and takes over when we've done all we can.

Levi Second Aliya - 21 p'sukim - 21:20-22:3

Next we have the command to the courts to carry out the punishment for murder, namely, execution by beheading [50]. It is significant that the Torah "chose" as the context for this mitzva, the situation of one who beat his EVED CANAANI to death. This is considered an act of murder, the world's mistreatment of slaves notwithstanding. In Jewish law, one may not mistreat his slaves.

On the other hand, corporal punishment which does not result in death or even the loss of limb, is within the prerogative of the slave's owner. (But even causing a tooth to fall is considered excessive and results in the slave being freed.)

The Torah next elaborates on the rules of personal injuries requiring the guilty party to pay compensatory damages. The famous "an eye for an eye..." passage has stimulated much slander against the Torah and Judaism by being construed literally. Our Oral Tradition explains the passage as requiring a thorough evaluation by the court to determine the proper amounts to be paid to the injured party.

The next passage of the Torah deals with damages caused by one's ox (all animals are included; the Torah uses a practical example) [51]. We distinguish between damages that can, and therefore must be foreseen by the owner (for which he is completely held responsible), as opposed to an unexpected and unusual action by the animal that causes damage, for which the owner is held only partially responsible for.

An animal that causes the death of a human, is to be destroyed by stoning and its carcass may not benefit anyone [52].

The Torah then discusses damages caused by a pit dug in the ground and negligently left unprotected [53].

The Gemara enumerates various categories of damages. Each case is to be examined on its own merits, so that the fairest treatment of the parties will result.

Stealing an animal for slaughter or sale is punished by compensation of 4-5 times market value. This reflects the seriousness of stealing another's livelihood.

If a thief is caught "red-handed" and is killed by the home-owner, there are certain circumstances for which the killer would be justified, and other cases where he would be held responsible. This is the very sensitive passage that deals with self-defense and preemptive action to protect oneself. The Torah presents both possibilities; it is the Sanhedrin that would have to rule on specific cases and perhaps provide is with rough guidelines to distinguish between cases. This is the Torah source of "He who comes to kill you, beat him to the draw (so to speak) and kill him first."

A thief who voluntarily turns himself in is penalized by having to add 25% of the value of that which he stole (which becomes one fifth of the amount that he must repay). If a thief is caught, he pays double [54], of 4-5 times, as above.

A thief (male, not female) who cannot make full restitution can be sold by the court as an Eved Ivri in order to pay off his debts.

Sh'lishi Third Aliya - 23 p'sukim - 22:4-26

Compensation must be made for damages caused by one's animal's grazing on another's property [55] or from a fire which one carelessly caused [56].

Next, the Torah presents the responsibilities of guardianship - when one is watching that which belongs to someone else without being paid for the service [57] and when he is being paid [59]. Included in the latter case is the rule for renting. The courts are charged [58] with careful handling all of these types of cases. The fourth "guardian" is the borrower who is responsible for all losses except the death of a work animal in the normal course of work [60].

A man who seduces an unmarried woman is required to pay punitive damages to her &/or her father. And he must marry her, if she wants [61].

Sorcery is a capital offense, as is bestiality. Sacrificing to other than G-d is a capital offense.

A convert to Judaism must not be embarrassed or taken advantage of with words [63] or in money matters [64]. These rules vis a vis the Ger are in addition to the "regular" prohibitions of embarrassing and taking advantage of anyone. Thus the Torah sensitizes us to the plight of the more vulnerable members of our society. The Torah spells this out vis a vis the orphan and widow [65].

Similarly, it is a mitzva to lend money to a poor person [66] and not demand repayment when none is reasonably forthcoming [67]. Included in this passage is the prohibition of charging interest on personal loans [68]. If one took a poor person's bedding as security for a loan, it must be returned each evening for his use. This is but one of the many lesson's in the Torah in G'milut Chasadim.

Note that the Torah requires a behavior of us that is far above the standards of the world, even the civilized world.

R'vi'i Fourth Aliya - 9 p'sukim - 22:27-23:5

Do not curse judges [69] nor The Judge (i.e. blasphemy) [70], nor may we curse our leaders [71]. Note that 69 & 70 are counted as two separate mitzvot (prohibitions) although they share the very same words in the verse - ELOHIM LO T'KALEIL. Here, Elokim is taken as referring to G- d, as well as Elohim, meaning judges.

A thought...

The YUD-HEI-VAV-HEI name of G-d is exclusive to Him. The Name is "jealously" guarded; we don't even pronounce it the way it is written.

Yet G-d's "second" name, ELOKIM makes the rounds. It is one of the seven sacred names that may not be erased. But it seems as if G-d lends this name out for different purposes.

The judges of Beit Din are called ELOHIM. And most surprising, the word is used for idolatry, as in the phrase ELOHIM ACHEIRIM. Why would G-d "lend" His name to people, much less to pagan gods?

Perhaps, the Torah calls judges ELOHIM so that we will take the concept of human courts VERY seriously. A person might say: I don't trust courts. Judges are prey to bribery, etc. I'll rely on G-d alone. HaShem wants us to accept the P'sak Din and the G'zar Din of true courts with the utmost of confidence. He has placed His rubber stamp to the authority of the Jewish courts in this special way.

As to idolatry... one possible answer is to tell us that at the core of every form of worship is the element of belief and reverence to someone higher than ourselves. As distorted and perverted as a form of idolatry can be, down deep - even if the practitioners don't realize it - is a belief in a Supreme Being. This idea is given credence by the use of ELOHIM ACHEIRIM, EIL ACHER, etc.

Another suggested answer (told to me by Chief Rabbi Lau) is that it stops the nations of the world from claiming "not fair". Just like they were given the great prophet Bil'am, whose prophetic "powers" rivaled those of Moshe, so that they cannot say: Israel's greatness is a result of their having a Moshe, a close relationship with G-d, whatever. Their forms of worship are called AVODA ZARA, but at least they pray to ELOHIM ACHEIRIM. This makes it possible for them to come to the true belief in HaShem, either as Bnei No'ach or converts.

Do not withhold the gifts of the produce - T'ruma, Maaser, etc. - nor confuse the order in which these gifts should be taken from produce [72].

First born sons are to "be given to G-d" (i.e. redeemed via Pidyon HaBen). First-born cows, goats, and sheep are sanctified and require special procedures.

The Torah here briefly mentions the prohibition of taking an animal for a korban from its mother before it is eight days old. Such a korban would be automatically invalid, a M'CHUSAR Z'MAN, lacking in time.

TREIFA, literally an animal torn up by a predator and left to die, is forbidden to eat (even though the animal was actually killed by sh'chita, ritual slaughter), but other benefits may be derived from it. Included in the laws of TREIFA are animals found, upon post-mortem examination, to have specific defects [73]. Note that the term TREIF is generic for all non- kosher, but actually describes one type of non-kosher.

[sdt] The choice of the suggestion to throw treif meat to the dogs is seen as a reward and an act of HAKARAT HATOV to the dogs who helped highlight the miraculous nature of the night of the Exodus, by not barking, even though they sensed death all around them.

On a different angle of HAKARAT HATOV to the dogs, we might think of the dog in question as a sheep dog. The one that was supposed to be guarding the flock that was attacked by the predator. The shepherd might be angry with the dog, but he must recognize the good service, long hours, and companionship that he has gotten from the dog. Specifically when one might be angry at the dog for a lapse in diligence in guarding the flock, that's when the Torah says to feed him the carcass.

Courts many not hear one side of a dispute without the other party being present [74]. Included in this prohibition is not being influenced by rumors. Judges may not accept testimony from unworthy witnesses [75]. A majority of one is insufficient to convict in a capital or corporal cases [76]. In their deliberations, judges must be careful not to do anything that might pervert justice or unfairly shift the feelings of the court against the accused [77]. Generally, rules of law are determined by majority vote of the judges [78]. Judges may not show favoritism, even towards the less fortunate [79].

[sdt] A judge's heart might go out to a poor person who stands before him in a dispute with a wealthy man. Would it not be an act of kindness, of Tzedaka, to see to it that the poor person wins the dispute? NO! Not at the expense of justice. A judge wants to give charity? Fine. He wants to convince the rich guy to help the poor guy out? Good. But justice must be fairly meted out. Every bent case shakes the whole society's confidence in the justice system. Unacceptable.

If one finds a stray animal, he shall return it to its rightful owner (even if it involves personal expense). This command is related to LOST & FOUND, whose "primary" place is Ki Teitzei.

One must help even his enemy unload his beast of burden [80].

This mitzva is one of several that are considered to be the sources of the Jewish concept of Avoiding cruelty to Animals, TZAAR BAALEI CHAIM.

[sdt] The Sefer HaChinuch says that if this mitzva applies to a donkey, how much more so does it apply to humans. If one sees a fellow person loaded down with bundles, it is a Torah mitzva to help him with them.

By the same way of thinking, if you are the one overburdened and someone offers to help carry a package, etc. - let him. Resist the temptation to automatically say "no thanks, I can manage". Accept the help. You will be helped and the helper will be fulfilling a Torah mitzva.

Chamishi Fifth Aliya - 14 p'sukim - 23:6-19

One must not pervert justice even by slanting a case against a wicked person [81]. Keep far away from falsehood and be careful not to build a case on circumstantial evidence and supposition. Do not take bribes, even if they will not affect the outcome of a case [83].

Do not oppress a stranger (convert?); this is a lesson of the Egyptian experience.

One's fields are to be worked for six years and rested during the seventh, so that the poor and even the wildlife will be able to enjoy the land [84].

One must abstain from all manner of creative Melacha on Shabbat [85]

(This mitzva is the positive counterpart of the prohibition against melacha from Commandment #4. It gives a positive slant to the restrictions of Shabbat. As Dayan Grunfeld z"l puts it, we lay at the feet of G-d in homage to Him the Creator, the various gifts and skills He gave us for our workaday week.)

Swearing in the name of (and sometimes even just mentioning) a deity is forbidden. One should avoid popular interjections whose origins are associated with other religions - Gee!, Holy cow! Etc.

Inciting others to idolatry (even without worshiping) is forbidden [87].

Chagiga offerings in the Beit HaMikdash are to be brought on each of the Three Festivals [88].

Some say that the term CHAG SAMEI'ACH should be used only for the Three Festivals, because the expression comes from the Korban Chagiga. Creative alternative greetings should be used for the other occasions. Most people are not MAKPID on this issue.

Matzot are to be eaten during the 7 days of Pesach. It marks the Spring season during which we left Egypt. We must not appear empty-handed at the Temple (but rather bring specific Festival sacrifices). Shavuot is the Festival of the First Harvest and Sukkot marks the final harvest at "the turn of the year". We are expected to go to Jerusalem for the Three Festivals. The Korban Pesach may not be brought while we are in possession of Chametz [89] nor may its fats be left over for the morning [90].

Bikurim are to be brought to the Mikdash from Shavuot time [91]; it is forbidden to cook meat with milk [92]. Some see the origin of the custom of having dairy on Shavuot in the two mitzvot that share the same pasuk.

G'di in its mothers milk is a phrase that has generated a lot of misunderstanding concerning the laws of milk & meat. The Midrash says that when G-d dictated these words to Moshe and explained to him the laws of Meat in Milk, Moshe requested permission to write Basar b'Chalav, rather than the obscure, confusing G'di bachaleiv imo. G-d told Moshe: write the words that I tell you. For reasons that we sometimes can figure out and sometimes cannot, G-d chose what and how to write something in the Written Torah and how it is to be explained via the Oral Tradition. The words are not arbitrary nor are they superfluous. One thing we know for certain is that the Written Word is inseparable from the Oral Law. The rest of the world does not seem to understand this. They have their all-time best selling book in history - the Bible, translated into more languages than the Readers' Digest. But they only have part of the Torah. It cannot be properly under stood without the Oral Tradition.

Shishi Sixth Aliya - 6 p'sukim - 23:20-25

G-d will send an angel (a prophet?) to lead and protect the People upon our entrance into the Promised Land. We must heed his words so that our enemies will fall before us. We may not bow to idols, nor worship them, nor learn from the deeds of pagans; we must destroy their idols. We must serve G-d and He will bless us with wealth and health.

Sh'vi'i Seventh Aliya - 26 p'sukim - 23:26-24:18

G-d promises that we will live full satisfying lives and that our enemies will panic before us and will be driven out of the Land - not quickly, but slowly, so that the People of Israel may properly populate the Land.

[sdt] Wait a minute! Miracles, laws of nature turned upside down. Plagues. Splitting of the Sea. Manna. Water from this and that. MA PITOM (as we say in Israel) that we will only take over the Land of Israel slowly? What about a couple of miracles to handle the problem?

The answer is that miracles are nice, but we don't live by them. We get them when we need them. But if the purpose of going (coming) to Eretz Yisrael is to live a Torah life in the place it was made for, then we have to do it naturally. This is the difference between the suspended animation of the Midbar and the down to earth, practical life in Eretz Yisrael.

We may not make treaties with the 7 Nations nor with other idolaters [93], nor shall we permit idolaters a foothold in the Land [94], so that we will not be entrapped by them.

The sedra concludes with a description of Matan Torah, including the famous NAASEH V'NISHMA response of the People to the offer of a Torah way of Life. Moshe remains on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.

Haftara - 25 p'sukim -Shmuel Alef - 20:18-42

When Rosh Chodesh is Sunday (or Sunday and Monday), then the special Haftara for Erev Rosh Chodesh preempts the regularly scheduled Haftara of the week.

[Machar Chodesh itself is preempted on three occasions (each occurs from time to time - statistics to follow) ...test yourself before you read any further... Parshat Sh'kalim, Parshat HaChodesh, and R'ei (it would also happen on Chanuka, but 29 Kislev cannot fall on Shabbat).]

The connection between the Haftara and Erev Rosh Chodesh is obvious. The opening words are: And Yonatan said to him, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh...

The real question is why the Sages decided on a special Haftara for Erev Rosh Chodesh in the first place. No other "erev" gets a special reading. Why does Machar Chodesh? Perhaps it is because Rosh Chodesh is so understated and often ignored. This became a way - in addition to Rosh Chodesh benching - to say: Hear ye hear ye, tomorrow is Rosh Chodesh. It seems that the connection is mainly in the opening words. Rabbi Jacobs points out in his A Haftara Companion that there are some lessons we learn from this passage in the Navi, and the knowledge makes us more aware of the specialness and sanctity of Rosh Chodesh. We see that Rosh Chodesh was celebrated with a special meal which was to be eaten in a state of ritual purity. Many have the custom today of marking Rosh Chodesh with a special meal. The Haftara also serves as a source of the minhag of abstaining or reducing one's work on Rosh Chodesh. Rabbi Jacobs refers to a deeper connection between Rosh Chodesh and the Jewish People (which might explain why we take the extra opportunities to highlight Rosh Chodesh). The cycle of the Moon alludes to Jewish History. For 15 days (or so) the Moon increases in brightness and fullness, corresponding to the 15 generations from Avraham Avinu to Shlomo HaMelech. This is followed by 15 days of decline, matching the 15 generations from Shlomo to the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash and the Babylonian exile. But this is followed by MACHAR CHODESH. Tomorrow will see the brightening of the Moon and the fate of the People of Israel. The cycle continues until the Complete Redemption, when the Moon (and Klal Yisrael) will be completely restored.