Mishpatim -Properly Attuned to Gadlus HaAdam (Greatness of Mankind)

The last section of this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim goes into more detail about what took place around the time of Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah.
There are a few obscure pesukim in this week’s Torah portion. After the Jewish people said in unison, “naaseh vinishmah,” “we will do and we will listen,” the Torah records, “And Moshe and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel ascended, and they perceived the G-D of Israel, and beneath His feet was like the forming of a sapphire brick and like the appearance of the heavens for clarity. And upon the nobles of the children of Israel He did not lay His hand, and they perceived G-D, and they ate and drank. And Hashem said to Moshe, ‘Come up to Me to the mountain and remain there, and I will give you the stone tablets, the Law and the commandments, which I have written to instruct them’” (Shemos 24:9-12).
One of the opinions brought in the Tur Hashalem is that these pesukim are simply comparing Moshe to the seventy elders, Nadav and Avihu. “’They ate and they drank’ in order to differentiate them from Moshe. For Moshe ‘saw Hashem’ just as they did but he did not eat for 40 days and 40 nights but they saw and ate immediately.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
We must put into perspective what Moshe was doing and what the elders and Nadav and Avihu were doing. The Tur says they ate the peace offering that was just sacrificed, at the bottom of the mountain, because a peace offering is normally eaten within the walls of Jerusalem by the Beis Hamikdash. Similarly, they ate the offering right next to the alter they had burned it upon, and not in the camp. They also drank wine because there was a great celebration made on the day of receiving the Torah, as it writes, “And you shall slaughter peace offerings, and you shall eat there, and you shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-D” (Devarim 27:7), referring to a mitzvah of rejoicing over the covenant with the Torah. It would seem that they were eating and drinking purely for the sake of Heaven, as a mitzvah, to rejoice upon receiving the Torah. This is also done by a siyum, upon concluding the Torah or a tractate of Mishnah or Talmud, and they were eating from offerings sacrificed to Hashem.

The Mesilas Yesharim in fact says in his last chapter, the chapter of Holiness, that it is the highest wrung of spirituality, right before the level of prophesy, which they were on: “The matter of holiness is dual. Its beginning is service [of G-d] while its end is reward; its beginning is exertion while its end is a [divine] gift. That is, its beginning is that which a man sanctifies himself, while its end is his being sanctified…The exertion is that which a man completely detaches and removes himself from the physical, and clings always, at all periods and times to his G-D…Even when he is engaged in physical actions required for his bodily side, his soul will not budge from its clinging on high…However, it is impossible for a man to place himself in such a state. For it is beyond his ability. He is after all a physical creature, of flesh and blood. Thus I said that the end of Holiness is a gift. For that which is in man’s ability to do is the initial exertion, pursuing true knowledge and continual thought on the sanctification of deed…Behold, for the man sanctified with the holiness of his Creator, even his physical deeds become actual matters of holiness. A sign of this is in “the eating of temple offerings”, which our sages of blessed memory said: “the priests eat and the owners obtain atonement” (Pesachim 59b)… But for the Holy man who constantly clings to his G-D, whose soul treads freely among true thoughts in love of his Creator and fear of Him, behold, it is considered as if he is walking before G-D in the Land of the Living, while still here in this world…Such a man is himself considered as a tabernacle, a temple and an altar. This is as our sages said (Breishis Rabba 62:6): ‘and G-D went up from him(Breishis 35:13) – the forefathers are the divine chariot.’ Likewise, they said: ‘the righteous are the divine chariot’…For the Shechina (Divine Presence) dwells within them just as it dwelled in the Temple. Due to this, the food they eat is like a sacrifice offered upon the fire of the altar, for certainly it was a great elevation for those things to be offered on the altar, since they were offered before the Shechina. The elevation was to such an extent that its kind, all over the world, was blessed, as our sages stated in a Midrash. So too, the food and drink which the holy man eats elevates that food or drink as if it had actually been offered on the altar…In this way was all use they made of the things of this world. Since they were clinging to G-D’s holiness, blessed be He, behold, it was an elevation and an enhancement for that thing which merited to be of use to a Tzadik (righteous person)…” 

This is certainly at least the level the Elders and Nadav and Avihu were on, if not a bit higher. Yet Moshe’s level transcended theirs to the point that he went up to Heaven for forty days and forty nights to receive the Torah without eating or drinking. In fact, the Moshav Zekeinim says that when the Torah says in pasuk 1 and 2 “And to Moshe He said, ‘Come up to Hashem, you and Aharon, Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the elders of Israel, and prostrate yourselves from afar. And Moshe alone shall approach Hashem but they shall not approach, and the people shall not ascend with him,’” Hashem sent the angel Michoel to be the guide to bring Moshe up to Heaven to receive the Torah. It would have been Matatron, the minister of all the angels, but he is very strict in judgement and Moshe asked for someone more merciful to guide him to the Throne of Glory. And in pasuk 16 it says, “And the glory of Hashem rested on Mount Sinai, and the cloud covered it for six days, and He called to Moshe on the seventh day from within the cloud,” the Moshav Zekeinim says there that the gemara in Yoma 4b says that for those six days when Moshe was already on the mountain, before he ascended to Heaven to receive the Torah, he was being emptied of all food from his innards. (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Medrish Kitapuach Bi’Atzei HaYa’ar, an obscure medrish which relates Moshe’s first encounter by the burning bush and certainly should apply also when receiving the Torah, says that after Moshe complained that he did not deserve to be leader, Hashem promised he would honor him and said, “’I will give all the ministers into your hands and I will bring you up to Heaven to see My throne of glory, and I will show you all the angels in Heaven.’ At that moment Hashem commanded Matatron, the Internal Minister of Heaven and said to him, ‘Go and bring Moshe my servant up to Heaven and take with you 15,000 angels on you right side and 15,000 angels on your left side with joy, song, drums and trumpets. And you all should sing praises to Moshe my servant. Matatron then said to Hashem, ‘Moshe can’t go up amongst the angels because there are angels who are made of fire and he is flesh and blood!’ Afterwards Hashem instructed Matatron and said to him, ‘Go and change his flesh into torches of fire and strength the might of the angel Gavriel.’ Matatron came to Moshe and when Moshe saw him he was immediately afraid of him and asked, ‘Who are you?’ [Matatron] said back to him, ‘I am Chanoch ben Yered, your great grandfather. Hashem has sent me to bring you up to His throne of honor.’ Moshe said back to Matatron, ‘I am flesh and blood and I can’t gaze at angels!’ Immediately he turned his flesh into torches of fire, and his eyes into balls of stars, and gave him the strength of the might of angels, and his tongue turned into a flame, and then he brought Moshe up to Heaven and with him 15,000 angels on his right, 15,000 angels on his left and Matatron and Moshe in the middle.” This was the awesome greatness of Moshe Rabbeinu which clearly amassed a very great level of closeness to Hashem, more than anyone one else can even truly fathom! So, we clearly see that as great and close to Hashem as the Elders, Nadav and Avihu were, Moshe Rabbeinu was much, much greater. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
However, Rashi has a different opinion of what happened to the Elders Nadav and Avihu. They clearly were on the level described above, for if not they could not have intellectually seen what they saw. But Rashi says on pasuk 10, and they perceived the G-D of Israel: “They gazed and peered and [because of this] were doomed to die, but the Holy One, blessed is He, did not want to disturb the rejoicing of [this moment of the giving of] the Torah. So He waited for Nadav and Avihu [i.e., to kill them,] until the day of the dedication of the Mishkan, and for [destroying] the elders until [the following incident:] “And the people were as if seeking complaints… and a fire of Hashem broke out against them and devoured at the edge (בִּקְצֵה) of the camp” (Bamidbar 11:1). [בִקְצֵה denotes] the officers (בִקְצִינִים) of the camp [i.e., the elders]. -[From Midrash Tanchuma Beha’alosecha 16]. In the next pasuk, 11, Rashi comments, “And upon the nobles: They are Nadav and Avihu and the elders. -[From Midrash Tanchuma Beha’alosecha 16] He did not lay His hand: This indicates that they deserved that a hand be laid upon them. and they perceived G-D: They gazed at Him with levity, while [they were] eating and drinking. So is the [interpretation of] Midrash Tanchuma (Beha’alosecha 16).”
What was the pinpoint error they had done wrong that deserved death, and how could such great people, of such a high spiritual stature, make such a mistake?

Rashi on Bamidbar 11:16 says  “They perceived G-D” (Shemos 24:11), behaving irreverently, like someone munching his bread while speaking to the king, and this is the meaning of “they ate and drank” (ibid.). 
The Mizrachi, a commentary on Rashi, says on pasuk 10 that the staring they did was a vision in their hearts, not physically staring with their eyes, but that they had this vision while eating and drinking, which was rude (and maybe even a bit haughty). The Mizrachi goes on to say that this staring was just a vision in their heart , not physical, for eyes cannot even perceive demons which eat and drink like humans and are mere mortals but they can only see but not be seen as Chazal say in Chagiga and Brachos, and many other places, therefore certainly in spiritual matters, and all the more so in terms of the Shechina (Holy Presence) itself. Since that is the case, they deserved to die because they entered within the inner walls. And from here Chaza”l learns that one should not ask what is above, below, within, or on the other side. (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Rashi and the Mizrachi are teaching us that the exact sin of the Elders, Nadav and Avihu is that they decided to look too closely into something which they were not on a level to perceive. Though they were on a very high level of spirituality to the point that they were fit to have prophecy, they went too far and crossed boundaries that only Moshe, who was totally void of physicality at the time, was allowed to perceive and engage in. We see in fact that Moshe did ask to “Show me Your glory” (Shemos 33:18), while beseeching mercy on the Children of Israel after the sin of the golden calf. Rashi there says, Moses perceived that it was a time of [God’s] good will, and his words were accepted, so he continued to ask that He show him the appearance of His glory. Moshe was not punished for this request and Hashem compromised and said, “’You will not be able to see My face, for man shall not see Me and live.’ And Hashem said: ‘Behold, there is a place with Me, and you shall stand on the rock. And it shall be that when My glory passes by, I will place you into the cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with My hand until I have passed by. Then I will remove My hand, and you will see My back but My face shall not be seen’ (Shemos 33:18-23 see Rashi there).”

We learn a very important lesson from here, that we have to know ourselves and know what level we are holding on, and must not try to jump the gun and attempt to understand or perceive things which we aren’t ready for or deserving of understanding yet. For example, I have a tradition from my rebbeim that a person should not even think about learning kabbala until he is at least forty years old and knows all of Shas. It takes knowledge and experience to start learning the depths of Torah that are extremely complex and esoteric. To start learning about it beforehand could be dangerous and devastating. Also to expect to find answers to questions like what exactly did the world look like before creation, or what will happen after 6000 years, or by the resurrection of the dead, or what does Gan Eden or Gehenim really look like are things that one might ponder but cannot and should not expect to get clear and precise answers about. One has to be on an extremely high level, like Yaakov Avinu was at the end of his life, to know what will be at the end of days, or before creation, and beyond this physical world in the seven Heavens.

One cannot just demand answers and expect to understand things which are beyond one’s scope of understanding and to pretend one can be on the level when they aren’t can be devastating physically and spiritually.

Mishpatim- Witches and Sorcerers

There is a societal view nowadays that there can theoretically be both good and bad witches and sorcerers, as we find in Harry Potter or the Wizard of Oz. However this is far from the Torah’s perspective. Though the magic that magicians perform in today’s day and age are for the most part only slights of hand, in the past there was indeed such thing as real magic, where the “myths” of witches and sorcerers come from.
In fact, Rabbeinu Bachye defines what magic is, and brings an argument between the Rambam and Rabbeinu Chananel about how far its powers can effect existence. The Torah in this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim states, “You shall not permit a sorceress to live” (Shemos 22:17). Rabbeinu Bachye defines “the concept of magic as connecting things that are supposed to be separated from each other and when connecting them together down here on earth, so to their powers in the celestial world mix and connect with each other and what results from amongst them are strange but incredible phenomenon! The prohibition of forbidden mixtures is an offshoot of this prohibition because it also mixes the celestial powers where they should be separated and distant from each other. Their connection does a lot of damage.
Behold the necromancers in Egypt their main knowledge was in magic and they did things which were absolutely wondrous according to natural means. Chaza”l taught, why are magicians called ‘kishufin’ in Hebrew because, they are ‘machishin pamalya,’ they disrupt the astrological spheres. The disruption of the astrological spheres is when a person on earth grafts two things which are opposites in simple powers that were decreed for the motions of the planets (and stars) and the decrees of gravity which is there their life force, this is what’s referred to as the astronomical spheres. A person who is placed in this world is supposed to act with in the customs of the world, and according to its basic nature. This is the will of his Blessed Creator that created it in this way. And if one is involved with magic that is a sort of disruption. This is also the view of the Ramban.
But the view of Rabbeinu Chananel z”l in his explanation in tractate Sanhedrin holds that magic does not disrupt the fabric of nature but rather it only appears to make a disruption. Magicians have no power in their actions rather it is only what Hashem decrees as Rebbe Chanina told a woman, ‘There is no one else beside Him.’… You might ask that since magic is useless unless where Hashem decrees it should work then why did the Torah prohibit it and why are magicians that practice it liable for the death penalty? The reason is because they transgressed the decree of Hashem by trying to do something He prevents them from doing. Just as if a person transgressed the decree of a human king and is liable for execution, all the more so for transgressing the decree of The Holy One Blessed Be He King Of All Kings. These are the words of Rabbeinu Chananel.
Now, because the Jews were habituated in this wisdom since they were coming from Egypt, it is something they were used to and easily drawn after, therefore the Torah had to prohibit them from being involved in this type of wisdom. To impress upon us the severity of the matter the pasuk does not say a sorceress shall surely die, but rather ‘shall not live,’ for the Torah wanted to stress the stringency of the matter with a prohibition of not allowing her to live just as it stressed a stringency by the seven Canaanite nations, ‘you shall not let live any soul’ (Devarim 20:16). It specifically mentions that a sorceress, or witch shall not live and not a sorcerer (even though this prohibition applies to men as well) because magic is found amongst women more often…” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
 Chas vishalom, one should think according to the Ramban, a real magician could go around Hashem and do things beyond Hashem’s power and jurisdiction! Rather, the argument between Rabbeinu Chananel and the Ramban is to what extent Hashem allows magicians to control heavenly powers. The Ramban holds that they have the ability to disrupt and mix up the spiritual powers that bind and control nature on earth. Rabbeinu Chananel holds that Hashem would not give them the power to disrupt the celestial spheres in heaven but only to do things on earth, which looks like they are having an effect on heavenly powers. Either way, Rabbeinu Chananel’s question of why this deserves execution should still stand, because even if they are rebelling against the decrees of the King Of All Kings why is this any different than transgressing any of His other mitzvos? Indeed, Chaza”l say that even though every transgression deserves capital punishment, Hashem had mercy on many of the mitzvos and allowed for an offering to be brought, instead of death, if transgressed by accident. Many sins also only have the punishment of lashes, even if done on purpose; so why should this prohibition be more severe if it’s the same issue of going against Hashem’s decree? Especially since the prohibition of kilayim, forbidden mixtures, is only punishable with lashes. Why should magic be worse, if it has pretty much the same effect?

We must therefore say that there is a difference between magical practitioners and Farmers (or anyone else that mixes forbidden mixtures), or any other prohibitions that only deserve lashes. Those prohibitions are action of rebellion against Hashem and those actions should be eradicated, as we find that one should get rid of the kilayim, the forbidden mixture of plants that were mixed together, or take out the mixture of wool and linen in one’s garment, etc. Even if kilayim was formed with a neighbor’s plants, that’s considered a damage to the neighbor (see Ramban Dina Digarmi) and one is liable to pay for damages. Therefore, prohibitive actions of this type are punished with lashes, if there are witnesses and warning before doing them, in a Jewish court of law.

However, when it comes to magic, the whole essence of the person is a rebellion against Hashem’s rule and order. That is why it says a witch (or sorcerer) may not live, whereas it only discusses the actions of prohibitions by forbidden mixtures. Therefore, just as the results of the actions by forbidden mixtures must be eradicated, so too the essence of the issue itself by magic must not live; in this case the witch or sorcerer. They were executed if there were two witnesses and a warning. And if they still acted as magicians after the warning, then they were put to death by the Sanhedrin in the times of the Beis Hamikdash.

There is a major difference between actions that are against Hashem’s, to which Hashem has more mercy when handling such rebellion, versus when the whole essence of a person is undermining the way Hashem runs the world. Then He has to take action to get rid of that sort of rebellion.

Mishpatim – “I Was Born That Way” is No Excuse

The events of the revelation at Sinai before and after are split up into 3 sections in the Book of Shemos. The first is in last week’s Torah portion of Yisro, a detailed account leading up to and including the actual giving of the Torah, andthe Ten Commandments. The second is at the end of this week’s portion of Mishpatim, which according to Rashi is an overview of what took place right before the Torah was given, including the famous proclamation by the Jewish people of na’aseh vinishma, “we will do and then we will listen.” The third section is in Ki Sisa, discussing what took place after the Jews received the Torah, specifically concerning the sin of the golden calf.

There is a famous Chaza”l about how Hashem went around to all the nations, giving them a chance to accept the Torah before he came to the Jews and they wholeheartedly said na’aseh vinishma, without even asking what was inside the Torah. There is a very important lesson that could be learnt from the version of the story presented in the Pesiksa Rabasi of Rav Kahana (21:3).
The medrish writes that in the beginning Hashem went to the descendants of Esav. He asked them, will you accept the Torah? They said before Him, “Master of the Universe, what is written inside it?” He said, “Don’t kill” (Shemos 20:13). They said, “The whole essence of our being is that our forefathers guaranteed we will live by the sword, as it says, ‘By your sword you shall live’ (Breishis 27:40), we can’t accept the Torah.” Afterwards Hashem went to the descendants of Ammon and asked them if they will accept the Torah. They said before Him, “Master of the Universe, what is written inside it?” He said to them, “Don’t have incest.” They said to Him, “The whole essence of our being came from incest, as it says ‘Thus, Lot’s two daughters conceived from their father’ (Breishis 19:16), we can’t accept the Torah.” Afterwards Hashem went to the descendants of Yishmael and asked them if they would accept the Torah. They said before Him, “Master of the Universe, what is written inside it?” He said to them, “Don’t steal.” They said to Him, “The whole essence of our being lives off of stealing and burglarizing, as it writes, ‘And he will be a wild donkey of a man; his hand will be upon all, and everyone’s hand upon him’ (Breishis 16:12), we can’t accept the Torah.” Afterwards Hashem came to the Jews, and they said na’aseh vinishma, “we will do and then we will listen” (Shemos 24:7). For this reason the Torah writes, “He appeared from Mount Paran and came with some of the holy myriads; from His right hand was a fiery Law for them. Indeed, You showed love for peoples” (Devarim 33:2, 3). (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Bi’ur on this medrish, explaining why the medrish brings the pasuk of “from His right hand was a fiery Law for them. מִֽימִינ֕וֹ אֵ֥שׁ דָּ֖ת (כתיב אשדת) לָֽמוֹ,” says in Hebrew, “ “ואפשר דדריש מימינו כמו מאמינו  . This means that it is possible to understand the Hebrew term that refers to “from His right hand” to be read as the Hebrew term for believers. The intention being that because of the faith and trust that the Jews entrusted in Hashem, and said, “we will do and then we will listen,” as it says in Gemara Shabbos 88a “About us, who proceed wholeheartedly and with integrity, it is written: “The integrity of the upright will guide them” (Proverbs 11:3), whereas about those people who walk in deceit, it is written at the end of the same verse: ‘And the perverseness of the faithless will destroy them,’” therefore the medrish concludes that they merited to have ‘a fiery law for them.’ (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The other nations seemed to have very valid excuses for why they couldn’t accept the Torah. What could they do, what could you expect from them if it is within their genetic makeup, the way they were born was with a drive to kill, act immodestly, or steal? They even proved it was part of their destiny because of the traditions they had from their progenitors which were even quoted in the Torah. For example the blessing Hagar received for Yishmael her son by an angel, and the blessing that Yitzchak gave to Esav. If that is the case, then why did Hashem pick the hardest mitzvah for them when they asked what was in the Torah? Why doom them from the start?

However, it would seem from Hashem’s response to the Children of Israel that what Hashem was really looking for was a people who truly believed and trusted in Him. So, when the other nations asked what was in the Torah, Hashem gave them the hardest mitzvah for them to observe to test their faith in Hashem and His Torah and obviously they were not willing to be faithful. If they would have been trusting and faithful, they would have realized and believed in the fact that they had the ability to overcome their inborn challenges and that Hashem would not have given them or even created mitzvos they would not be able to adhere to. But the Jewish people showed the ultimate enthusiasm and wholehearted true faith by not even asking what was inside the Torah but by blindly accepting “we will do and then we will listen.” For showing Hashem they were willing and ready to accept whatever Hashem commanded and expected of them they merited to have ‘a fiery law for them,’ they received the Torah, Hashem’s blueprints of creation and the handbook for mankind.

Mishpatim – Excuses, Excuses, Excuses…

In an introduction to this week’s Torah portion of Mishpatim, the Rashbam mentions that even though the specific halachos gleaned from the Torah portion are the most important thing, which could be found in the Talmud and is brought by his grandfather, Rashi’s commentary on the Torah, here in there, but the Rashbam is coming to explain the basic understanding of each pasuk, and therefore he will explain each mitzvah and law according to derech eretz, the proper mussar lesson, i.e. character development, that can be learned through the general understanding of the pesukim. (Click Here for Hebrew text.)

As an example, within the Torah portion there is the discussion of the laws of damages, including damages due to a pit. “And if a person opens a pit, or if a person digs a pit and does not cover it, and a bull or a donkey falls into it, the owner of the pit shall pay; he shall return money to its owner, and the dead body shall be his” (Shemos 21:34, 34). The Gemara in Bava Kamma 51a asks why the Torah has to mention both opening and digging a pit, for if one is liable for opening a pit, all the more so he should be liable for digging a pit? The Rashbam on the Torah answers this question saying, “When a person opens a pit which is deep and finishes his job already and is negligent and does not close the pit, or even if a person digs a pit and does not cover it each day by nightfall when he finishes his work, since he has to enter it the next day and dig some more, and it’s a hassle for him to cover it each day, nevertheless he is liable.” 
The Rashbam is answering the gemara’s question by saying that if one is in the midst of digging a pit, let say at a jobsite, he has every excuse, which might even make sense, or he can at least convince himself he has a logical argument of why it’s not worth covering the pit at the end of every workday as long as he has not finished the job yet. Maybe he blocked it off, put warning signs next to it, but to properly cover it, why should that be needed; what could really happen from now until the job is finished? The Torah is emphasizing that this is a lazy excuse, and one must take proper precautions to remove the potential damage one creates, even if it means covering and uncovering the pit each day until the job is done.

The Chizkuni alludes to the point the Rashbam is making and then explains in more detail the parameters of this damage. There is an important lesson that will be learnt through our responsibility to act as cognizant, mindful human beings. The Chizkuni says, “Either when a person opens a pit which was already finished for some time, or even if he digs a pit now and does not cover it in the evening because he wants to come back to it the next day to do more work of digging in the pit and he does not cover it [then he is liable]. But if he covers it then he is exempt, but only if it was covered properly. What is considered properly? Heavy enough for a wagon carrying stones to be able to ride over it, as stated in the Gemara Yerushalmi Bava Kamma 5:6, ‘Don’t make a hole under the street unless a wagon carrying stones can ride over it.’ Now if an ox falls into the open pit [then there is liability], but not if a person falls in because a person is a mindful being who would be watching where he is going, so if he falls in, he is the cause of hurting himself. The pasuk also mentions a donkey, to exclude vessels, for vessels don’t move without the protection of a person, and since he didn’t watch them well, he caused a loss to himself.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
The Chizkuni explained all the basic laws of damages due to a pit. Whether a person opened a pit that was completed a while ago, or he is in the midst of digging a pit and is too lazy to cover it at the end of each day, which is granted not easy to do because the covering must be heavy and sturdy enough to hold a wagon carrying stones going across it. However, liability is only for animals that fall into it or tripped over it; injuries to human beings and their possessions who are not animals that have a “mind of their own,” the one responsible for the pit is exempt for those damages in general because a person is expected to have enough sense to take care of himself and his possessions and be cognizant of his surroundings.
One can still wonder why this is true, for the person who opened or dug up the pit was acting negligibly by not covering it up properly, and even with all his excuses and rationales he is still liable if an animal gets hurt by the pit. So why should human injury and his vessels be any different? The pit owner was still negligent, that hasn’t changed; why should anyone else be more careful, shouldn’t it be the person who dug up or opened the pit’s fault for causing such an obstruction and danger in the street?

We see from here, and when looking into the matter this is true by other damages as well, that Hashem expects human beings to use the gift He gave us of intellect and thought in order to be cognizant of our surroundings and to take proper precautions to not hurt anyone, but also not to get hurt when it can be avoided. It does not make a difference if you are the victim or the perpetrator you are still a human being and there are expectations from Hashem to use the gifts He has endowed us with. Even if there are times when the perpetrator isn’t liable for the damage to the victim because the victim is responsible to take care of himself that still does not exempt the perpetrator from putting in his efforts to avoid the damage, he just isn’t liable if damage happens. If we don’t use our sechel prpoerly then excuses we make up are just excuses.

Mishpatim – A Glimpse into the Jewish Perspective of Slavery

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The Torah permits Jews to own slaves, but the way a slave must be treated by his master in Jewish law is very different than our perspective of how slaves were treated throughout history. In terms of a Jewish slave, the Torah opens this week’s portion of Mishpatim with the laws of Jewish slaves.  The Torah begins by saying, “When you acquire a Jewish slave, for six year he shall work, and on the seventh year he goes free” (Shemos 21:2). The master must treat his slave like a part of his household as the gemara in Kiddushin 22a comments: “The Sages taught: The verse states concerning a Hebrew slave: “Because he fares well with you,” which teaches that the slave should be with you, i.e., treated as your equal, in food, meaning that his food must be of the same quality as yours, and with you in drink. This means that there shall not be a situation in which you eat fine bread and he eats inferior bread, bread from coarse flour mixed with bran, which is low quality. There shall not be a situation in which you drink aged wine and he drinks inferior new wine. There shall not be a situation in which you sleep comfortably on bedding made from soft sheets and he sleeps on straw. From here the Sages stated: Anyone who acquires a Hebrew slave is considered like one who acquires a master for himself, because he must be careful that the slave’s living conditions are equal to his own.”  (Click here for Hebrew text.)

The Rabbeinu Bachye and Rashbam tell the reasons why a Jew would be sold as a slave. This pasuk talks about one who the court sold because he couldn’t pay for what he stole, as it writes, “If he has no [money], he shall be sold for his theft” (Shemos 22:2). But a Jew who sells himself as a slave because he is too poor to support himself is spoken about in parshas Behar, as it says, “And if your brother becomes destitute with you, and is sold to you, do not work him with slave labor. As an employee or a [hired] resident, he shall be with you; until the Jubilee year he shall work with you” (Vayikra 25:39, 40). But he shall not have heavily burdensome work or disgraceful work, as it says, “As an employee or a [hired] resident,” just as a hired worker does his skill, so too [the Jewish slave] should do his skill, and just as a hired employee works during the day and not at night so to this [Jewish slave] should work by day but not by night.
The Torah in this week’s portion goes on to say, “If he comes [in] alone, he shall go out alone; if he is a married man, his wife shall go out with him. If his master gives him a wife, and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children shall belong to her master, and he shall go out alone. But if the slave says, ‘I love my master, my wife, and my children. I will not go free,’ his master shall bring him to the judges, and he shall bring him to the door or to the doorpost, and his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever” (Shemos 21:3-6). A Jewish slave is treated quite well! After his 7 year indenture he might not want to leave so quickly; indeed, there was a whole ceremony to allow him to stay until the Yovel year (Jubilee 50th year), and the gemara in Kiddushin 22b elaborates, “Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai would expound this verse as a type of decorative wreath [ḥomer], i.e., as an allegory: Why is the ear different from all the other limbs in the body, as the ear alone is pierced? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: This ear heard My voice on Mount Sinai when I said: “For to Me the children of Israel are slaves.”    And Rabbi Shimon bar Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi would likewise expound this verse as a type of decorative wreath: Why are the door and a doorpost different from all other objects in the house, that the piercing is performed with them? The Holy One, Blessed be He, said: The door and the doorpost were witnesses in Egypt when I passed over the lintel and when I passed over the two doorposts of houses in which there were Jews (Exodus, chapter 12), and I said: “For to Me the children of Israel are slaves,” and they should not be slaves to slaves. And I delivered them at that time from slavery to freedom, and yet this man went and acquired a master for himself. Therefore, let him be pierced before them, as they are witnesses that he violated God’s will (Leviticus 25:55), which indicates: And they should not be slaves to slaves. And yet this man went and willingly acquired a master for himself. Therefore, let this ear be pierced.
Rabbeinu Bachye makes a very keen observation about a person who wants to stay a slave to his master. He says, “It is a known thing that it is customary in the world that the nature of a slave, standing in the control of his master, is disgusted by the very thought of his master, dislikes his life because of his work, and desires to be a freeman. This person who desires to stay with his work and to have a master other than the Blessed Hashem is an absolute nuance! Therefore this judgement comes about, that the master himself who chose this slave, and loved him, should be brought before the court and pierce his ear by the door in order to wound the limb that sinned, for it heard at Mount Sinai ‘Don’t steal’ and it went and stole, or because it writes ‘for Me are the Children of Israel slaves’ (Vayikra 25:55) and not slaves to slaves, and he bought for himself a master. Nevertheless for which ever reason it was, it is considered a sin on his part, for he is estranging himself from His Master on High who is Blessed, who warned him, when he accepted the Torah to not acquire any other master, and he now took off the yoke of that mitzvah.” (Click here for Hebrew text.)
Something incredible is going on here which needs a lot of analysis! Granted, this person did something wrong by stealing and because he couldn’t pay back he was sold into slavery to pay his dues, but first off, that was done by the court. Even the person that chose to sell himself because he was too poor to make ends meet, how can he be faulted for Hashem putting him into that position which compelled him to sell himself as a slave to a fellow Jew? Furthermore, how can we blame him for wanting to stay past the 7 years? He is being treated quite well, like a son or, even better, not overly worked, with room and board, possibly with another wife and children; Hashem essentially put him into the position of wanting to stay by commanding the master to treat him well, so why is he held as a sinner, who seems to be abandoning Hashem for wanting to stay longer with his master, especially if the Torah allows it?!

We have to first put into context what exactly happened. Almost everyone can relate that they hate working, mainly do it for the money, love getting time off, look forward to the weekends, and most likely hate their boss. It is human nature, for the most part, because work is a curse that Hashem gave Adam when he committed the first sin of mankind, as it says, “With the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, until you return to the ground…” (Breishis 3:19). Now, granted, a Jewish slave has tons of benefits, but he still is breaking the very nature of a human being, which seems to hate working even with all the benefits he might be entitled to and get. But not only is he going against human nature, which Hashem instilled into us, he is also going against the very command he as a Jew was given and accepted when Hashem took us out of Egyptian bondage and declared Himself as our master and us as His servants, which we, together, agreed to. So granted Hashem allows in His Torah for a Jew to enslave another Jew, that seems to be a consequence, but it was his decision to steal and it was also his decision to sell himself as a slave, so now that he wants to stay a slave he is admonished and punished for choosing to put himself into this situation. We see from here that even though Hashem might allow situations like this to happen, He very much shuns them and holds the person who got himself into the mess accountable for what he did even if it looks like Hashem “helped” him to get into this rut, but he had the choice to figure out a way to avoid it and he didn’t.

Chaza”l say that the path one chooses Hashem leads him on whether for good or for bad. But even if a person initially chooses a wrong path, Hashem gives him chances to correct his ways and get back onto the right path just like the Jewish slave who has the chance to go free after 7 years if he so chooses. Granted Hashem might let him enjoy the path he is on even if it is bad but that is all part of Hashem’s kindness of taking care of this person in the moment. However if the person so chooses to return to the right path he will be rewarded exponentially for making the right, albeit difficult decision.