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Parshas Mishpatim 5771

Rabbi Pesach Siegel

Parshat Mishpatim

Jan 30, 2011

Immediately following the giving of the Torah, Moshe Rabeinu is instructed to place before the Bnei Yisroel, a collation of mishpatim (statutes). He is to array the laws in an orderly manner, as one would set an elegant table, and indulge his charges with a veritable feast of Torah. 1

 

What follows are the laws that govern our interaction with one another; the prohibitions against murder, thievery, injury. Special attention is given to respecting the property of others. The parshah goes on to warn us to take great care in our dealings with the converts among us. The subject of honesty occupies an important place in this week’s portion. So does rendering assistance to a friend in need.

 

These are all practices that uphold the social fabric of our nation. Our ethical conduct with one another is not just a set or rules or practices decided upon by the majority in order to preserve the peace. They are of divine origin. There is an exact standard of where, when, and how. The guidelines of our national unity are set down from Above. They are designed by the Creator and, therefore, are flawless and foolproof. 2

 

The very first verses of the parshah deal with the topic of eved ivri, the Jewish slave. There are two ways that one may find himself forced into slavery. One may be induced to sell one’s self out of financial desperation. Additionally, if one is found guilty of thievery, the Beis Din is empowered to sell the thief into slavery. He enters into servitude for a period of six years. In the seventh year he goes free.

 

Questions

 

Of what relevance are the laws of eved ivri at this particular time? The Jewish nation was enriched through the spoils of the Egyptians at the Red Sea. Their every physical need was miraculously met. They had no need for food or clothing. It isn’t even remotely conceivable that anyone would consider life as a slave during their travails in the desert.

 

Even if one might have wished to become a slave, it would not have been possible. The laws of Jewish slavery depend upon the yovel cycle. 3 The yovel cycle wasn’t put into motion until 14 years after they entered Eretz Yisroel.

 

What message do the laws of slavery contain that are consistent with the fabric of the other mishpatim of the parshah?

 

Why are these laws given the prominence of being place first in the parshah?

 

Background/Deeper Understanding

 

The words of the Shem MiShmuel shed light on this matter. 4

 

The giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai centered on the Ten Commandments. The very first of the commandments is, “Anochi Hashem Elokecha asher hotzeisicha miEretz Mitzrayim” (I am the Lord, your G-d, who has brought you out from Egypt). There is more to this passage than meets the eye. On the surface it seems that Hashem is identifying Himself. He is the One who took us out and no other. But there is more to be seen within these words.

 

Hashem speaks to Pharaoh through the voice of Moshe Rabeinu. He tells him, “B’ni bechori Yisroel” 5 (Israel is my first born son), “Shalach es b’ni viya’avduni” 6 (send out my son so he may serve Me), “Shalach es ami” 7 (send out my nation). G-d created the world and everything within, but it is only with the Children of Israel that he seeks a relationship. We are His, and no one else’s.

 

Hashem wants Pharaoh to hear and understand that the Jewish people can never be enslaved. Any impression to the contrary is only a superficial one. Only a slave can be enslaved. A free man, one who rises above the animalistic tendencies of this world, is the antithesis of slavery. The enslavement of the Bnei Yisroel in Egypt cannot last or be of substance, for the Bnei Yisroel rise up above humanity. They are royalty; they are G-d’s people. Slavery, for them, is a foreign state.

 

It is within the words of the first commandment that this concept is expressed. Hashem says, “I am the Lord, I am your G-d, that is the cause of the inevitability of leaving Egypt.”

 

It follows, that if one tampers with the special relationship that one enjoys with the Creator, the process of yetzias Mitzrayim is reversed, and one finds himself back in slavery, enslaved to the passions, desires, and whims of the world.
The first of the aseres hadibros states that G-d is Hashem. He is omnipotent and all knowing. One who is sold into slavery due to thievery denies the hashgacha (supervision) of the all-knowing G-d. He plies his trade away from the eyes of men, ignoring the all-seeing eyes of G-d.

The next word that follows is “Elokecha” (your G-d). One who voluntarily sells himself into slavery, takes upon himself another master. He denies the unique relationship that he has with his G-d.

 

Even before the eved ivri is actually sold into slavery, he has already reduced himself to a state of slavery. The exodus from Egypt has had no effect on him. He is to be compared to the four fifths of Bnei Yisroel who died during the plague of Darkness. They died, because they wished to remain enslaved in Mitzrayim. 8 They severed their relationship with G-d. They preferred being ordinary. Ordinary people can be enslaved. They were dead even before they actually died.


Answers

 

The laws of an eved ivri are given to us out of G-d’s infinite kindness. He knows our nature. He knows that we may stray. An eved ivri is enslaved for six years. The number six represents the external nature of all in creation. All externalism exists within six dimensions; above or below, to the right or to the left, in front or behind. All matter has six sides. All matter emanates from a hidden source. This is the seventh dimension.

 

A member of the Jewish nation may stray, but he strays through his words, his actions, even his thoughts. The part of him that is hidden, his heart, remains true.

 

One who enters the state of slavery is being given a lesson. He has fallen prey to a foreign entity, his desires. He is enslaved for six years. At the end of this period of six, he has the opportunity to go free. The individual have the choice to enter the pathway out to freedom. The only question is; will the person walk through door that Hashem has now placed before him. It is Hashem’s will that during the period of his enslavement he will have made contact with his p’nimiyus, his internalism, and his source.

Seven personifies escape to truth. Seven is the gateway to salvation.

We may now understand why the Bnei Yisroel received this mishpat while in the desert, and why it was the initial one.

 

The Bnei Yisroel are special. Treat each other with care. Respect each other’s property. Help one another. Deal honestly with one another. You are the children of the Living G-d.

 

Hashem was expressing to His people that they are presently the perfect image of true avdei Hashem. “You, Klal Yisroel, are completely subservient to Hashem. He is holding you up. You are being provided for directly from His hand. Keep far away this darkness of avdus (slavery). And even if you slip, Hashem will always leave that "seven," that "spark" remaining for you to find your way back to Him.”

1 Rashi, Perek 21, Posuk 1

2 Rav Ovadia MiBartenura, Introduction to Pirkei Avos

3 Meseches Erchin, daf 29a

4 Rav Shmuel Borenstein of Sochatchov

5 Perek 4, Posuk 22

6 Perek 4, Posuk 23

7 Perek 5, Posuk 1

8 Rashi, Perek 13, Posuk 15

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