Mishpatim - Shabat Shekalim

February 10th, 2018

25th of Shvat 5778


The purpose of the Creation

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

"And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them. Should you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall work [for] six years, and in the seventh [year], he shall go out to freedom without charge" (Shemot 21:1-2)

Rashi explains: “You shall set before them,” like a table, set [with food] and prepared to eat from, [placed] before someone.

Hashem commanded Moshe to teach Bnei Yisrael all the laws and ordinances that are the mitzvot of the Torah, and emphasizes that these laws must be clear and placed before Bnei Yisrael like a person whose table is prepared before him at a meal, so he does not have to search for food to eat. Similarly, Hashem commanded Moshe not to present the laws in such a way that they would later have to analyze and try to interpret the laws themselves, rather Moshe had to clarify and explain the laws until they were entirely clear to Am Yisrael, like a table set with food.

It is surprising why Hashem did not tell Moshe to first command Bnei Yisrael "And this is the Torah that you shall set before them." After all we know that without studying Torah it is impossible to observe the mitzvot. In fact, it is the Torah that leads to action, and anyone who performs mitzvot without first learning Torah, in the end they will not fulfill them properly, and they will omit complicated mitzvot, which they do not understand, and they will not observe them with excitement and enthusiasm. This is because through the study of Torah one acquires fear of Heaven and it instills the message that the commandments of the Torah must be fulfilled without distinction, only because Hashem commanded it, and in a situation in which a person does not learn Torah, he will not be able to achieve this understanding. If so, why did the Torah instruct Bnei Yisrael first about the laws and statutes before they were commanded to study Torah? It would seem that they should have first been instructed to study Torah and then to perform the laws and statutes.  

It is also puzzling why the Torah chose the mitzvah of the Hebrew slave as the first of all the laws. After all, the mitzvah of a Hebrew slave is not applicable in all generations; nowadays we have no practical application of this mitzvah. Thus, we need to clarify why the Torah chose specifically this mitzvah and not a more practical mitzvah practiced often, such as seperating meat and dairy, tzitzit, tefillin and the like.

We can explain this in the following way. Just as a person goes to the Beit Haknesset only in order to pray, and for no other reason, and just as a guest who comes for Shabbat comes with the understanding that he will be included in the meals, so too it was clear to Bnei Yisrael that their entire purpose in the world was to receive the Torah. Therefore, when Hashem turned to Bnei Yisrael and asked them whether they would receive the Torah, they immediately replied, without hesitation, "We will do and we will hear." They preceded "We will do" to "we will hear" which is unusual. This is because deep inside they knew that this was their purpose in this world, and even before the soul enters one's body, it is made to swear that it will learn Torah, because if not, it has no reason to exist in the world. This means that the entire basis for man's creation and his existence in the world is for him to learn Torah and perform mitzvot.

And just as other obvious things do not require proof, so too in this matter, Hashem saw no need to instruct Bnei Yisrael again about studying Torah, since this was already clear to them, as it is stated (Mechilta Beshalach Vayisa 2), "The Torah was given only to those who ate the manna." This signifies that the exalted level of Bnei Yisrael at that time is what granted them the merit to receive manna from heaven, which is what strengthened their commitment to receive the Torah, study it and fulfill its commandments.

This is why the Torah began with "And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them," without mentioning the Torah first, since the issue of studying Torah was clear to Bnei Yisrael and they had accepted it unquestionably, since this was the condition for leaving Egypt. Now it was just necessary to teach and instruct them about the mitzvot written in the Torah. The Torah began specifically with the mitzvah of the Hebrew slave, which does not apply to all generations, and not with a different mitzvah that is performed at all times, because the mention of a Hebrew slave reminds Am Yisrael that they are slaves of Hashem, and the purpose of their creation is to serve Hashem. When a person is subjugated to serving Hashem, he is uplifted and not dominated by his passions and all passing folly; then he is really a free man, as it is stated (Avot 6:2), "You can have no freer man than one who engages in the Torah."   

Guard Your Tongue

Whether a man or woman

There is no difference regarding the prohibition of relating lashon hara whether the narrator is a man or woman, or whether it is a relative who is closely related. Even a relative, who when he relates gossip about his cousin, does not mean to degrade him, but only means to be correct, and he believes his cousin did something wrong, so he relates the matter; it is still considered lashon hara and is forbidden. 

The Haftarah

The haftarah of the week: "And Yehoiada enacted the covenant" (Melachim II 11)

The Ashkenazim begin from: "Yehoash was seven years old" (Melachim II 12)

The connection to the parashah: On this Shabbat, "Shabbat Shekalim," we read the parashah about the half-shekel, which is similar to the haftarah which mentions the shekels contributed by Bnei Yisrael, which was used to maintain the Beit Hamikdash.

Words of our Sages

"You shall not oppress any widow or orphan. If you oppress him, [beware,] for if he cries out to Me, I will surely hear his cry" (Shemot 22:21-22)

The commandment concerns a widow or an orphan that we must be careful not to oppress them. However, the warning, "for if he cries out…" is stated in the singular form, regarding only the orphan.

The "Ohr L'meir" explains according to what Chazal say: "A person should always be cautious not to oppress his wife; because she is more emotional, [lit. she cries often,] she gets hurt quickly." A woman is more easily hurt and cries freely, and the punishment for causing her pain is quick to come.

The widowed woman is included in the commandment "You shall not oppress any widow or orphan." She is not included in the following warning about the punishment, because the punishment for oppressing an orphan is only when the orphan cries out, as it is stated, "for if he cries out…" But regarding oppression of a widow, Hashem hurries to punish the oppressor even if she does not cry out!

It is well-known that before the disciples of the gaon Rabbi Yisrael Salanter, zt"l, went to bake matzot, they asked him which stringencies they should be careful about during the baking. Rabbi Yisrael replied that one of the workers in the bakery was a widow and therefore they must be careful not to slight her or oppress her.

The Rabbi of Antwerp, Rabbi Chaim Kreisworth, zt"l, explains that in the Tosefta it is stated, "The oppression of an orphan or a widow is forbidden even in the slightest manner." This implies that any minute oppression of a widow is a Torah prohibition, whereas a minute chametz (on Pesach) is only a Rabbinical prohibition.

The gaon and tzaddik Rabbi Eliyahu Lopian, zt"l, said that he heard from the gaon Rabbi Naftali Amsterdam, zt"l, that once he noticed that Rabbi Yisrael was not keeping his regular schedule, which he never failed to do. He asked his Rabbi about this, and his Rabbi told him that his wife had brought a new maid to their home who was a widow. He was afraid that if he got up early as usual and left the house, she would wake up and feel compelled to get up and lock the door from the inside. He feared from the prohibition, "You shall not oppress any widow or orphan," and added a few more changes to his usual schedule because of this.

Rabbi Yisrael continued: "What do you think, Naftali? Should I fire her so she should leave my house? If so, it would imply that it is preferable not to bring a widow or orphan into one's home, because maybe they will get upset. But how can we even suggest such a thing? ("Divrei Asaf" page 61)

Walking in Their Ways

Faithful Dreams

Mrs. Merguy of Miami has a son who decided to move to Paris. He went to the French consulate in order to obtain a visa.

Obtaining a visa is a quick process, taking no longer than a couple of days. But, for some inexplicable reason, this young man was met with all sorts of bureaucratic red-tape, which blocked his way in getting the visa. A friend advised him to visit a gentile fortune-teller, who would be able to help him out.

At this point, Mrs. Merguy approached me, telling me of her son’s intentions to visit this gentile. She also admitted that, left with no other choice, she had decided to visit a gentile who writes amulets, in order to be blessed that her son should be finished with the paperwork quickly.

“Honored Rav,” she began, emotionally. “Last night, something happened that made me decide not to go to the gentile amulet-writer, after all. Your grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Pinto, visited me in a dream. He ordered me to forbid my son from seeking fortune-tellers and amulet-writers, who draw their powers from the forces of impurity and witchcraft. Rather, my son should come to you, Rabbi David, for a blessing for success.”

She continued, “When I awoke, I was terribly distressed. I hurried to call up my son and relate my dream. He followed my instruction and came to you. He received your blessing and, Baruch Hashem, everything worked out in the best way possible.”

In the merit of Mrs. Merguy’s unequivocal obedience to my grandfather’s instruction to come to me for a blessing in the merit of my forefathers, the blessing was approved, and her son moved to Paris without further delays.


Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

The connection between the Festivals and the prohibition of meat and milk

"Three pilgrimage festivals shall you celebrate for Me during the year" (Shemot 23:14)

"The choicest of the first fruits of your soil you shall bring to the house of the L-rd, your G-d. You shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk" (ibid. 19)

These pesukim state consecutively the mitzvah of the three pilgrimage festivals and the prohibition of meat and milk, and this parashah is even read during the festivals.

We need to clarify what the connection is between the Jewish festivals and the prohibition of eating meat with milk. Superficially, they seem like two completely different matters. See in the sefer "Rav Peninim" what the commentaries explain about the connection between the sacred festivals and the prohibition of meat and milk.

We can explain it in the following way. The festival of Sukkot, which is one of the festivals mentioned, is a festival that is symbolic of the final redemption, when Hashem will spread the shelter of peace upon us, and Mashiach ben David will come to redeem Am Yisrael.

In the future, the reality of the entire world will change; the wild animals will reside in peace with the sheep and cattle, as it is stated (Yeshayahu 11:6), "And a wolf shall live with a lamb." Also it is brought that the offering of sacrifices will cease, except for the offering of Thanksgiving, since there will no longer be a Yetzer Hara in the world and consequently there will be no need to bring sacrifices to atone for sin.

The Torah juxtaposed the subject of the festivals to the prohibition of eating meat with milk in order to teach Am Yisrael that as long as they are still in Exile, they cannot experience a complete redemption.

In other words, as long as Am Yisrael are still celebrating the festivals written in the Torah, they must still observe the prohibition of "You shall not cook a kid in its mother's milk." However, in the future, when the festivals will cease, also the prohibition of eating meat with milk will cease, and there will be no need to keep it.

Chazak U'Baruch

The mitzvah of "Love your fellow as yourself" is illustrated by the Ramban in parashat Kedoshim in the following way: "He should [demonstrate] love [for] his fellow in every matter just as he loves to have everything good [for himself]. Usually one loves his fellow [only] in an ordinary manner, but if he loves him in all matters, he will wish upon him to be rewarded with wealth, possessions, honor, intelligence and wisdom, without seeking to compare to him. The Torah commands us that there should be no jealousy in his heart and he should not withhold any love."

In light of his words, the mitzvah is to love one's fellow just as he loves himself literally. This doesn't seem possible because in reality one's sense of self is stronger than his ability to feel the pain or joy of his fellow. It implies that one should not be jealous over all the abundance his fellow has, and harbor no desire to be superior to him. Seek endless goodness for your fellow, just as you do not limit your desire for abundance for yourself.

Besides, there is an obligation to love everything the other has. Not only to accord him all the goodness, but also to love and enjoy that his fellow has all the abundance, even if his fellow achieves great heights and tremendous profusion, and you seem like a dwarf in comparison to him, it is also a mitzvah to "love him as yourself"!

The way to succeed is to remember that you are not the only one in the world. Just as Hashem created you, He also created all others. Just as you desire all kinds of things and require them, so do others. Hashem allots each person their portion of what they need, and your fellow cannot take away what is meant for you. A person tends to think that the entire world is his. Thus, when he sees what his fellow has, he feels as if he took it away from him and gets upset and jealous and angry.

An exemplary illustration of a great Jew practicing the mitzvah of "love your fellow as yourself," which teaches us the importance lent to this mitzvah, no less than any of the other 613 commandments, can be learned from the following story, which took place in the Beit Midrash of Rabbi Yechezkiel Sarna, zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva of Knesset Yisrael in Chevron.

It was in the later years of Rabbi Yechezkiel's life, when he was not in good health, and his old age was noticeable. Every effort, even the slightest, involved indescribable difficulty for him. Nevertheless, Rabbi Yechezkiel left his house and dragged his feet with self-sacrifice to the study hall of the yeshiva, in order to pray the evening prayer on motza'ei Shabbat.

Walking heavily, step by step, Rabbi Yechezkiel made his way to the yeshiva building. Slowly he climbed the steps leading to the study hall. And just then, while climbing with self-sacrifice, drawing his last strength with great willpower, he realized that the prayer was about to end in moments…

So, what is there to do?

He continued climbing…

With ebbing strength, Rabbi Yechezkiel continued the arduous climb. He dragged his feet and went up to the study hall of the yeshiva to the astonishment of those accompanying him. They could contain themselves no longer and exclaimed: "Rabbi! Why do you bother? Why continue climbing? After all, the prayer is about to end, and until the Rebbe will reach the study hall, the congregants will already be on their way out from the Beit Midrash!"

But Rabbi Yechezkiel stood his ground.

"The prayer is indeed about to end… But after all, praying with a quorum is only a Rabbinical commandment…However, the mitzvah which is a Torah commandment is still waiting for me to fulfill in the Beit Midrash, and that is what I am seeking to accomplish."

"A Torah commandment? Which mitzvah?" the disciples asked in surprise, and the revered Rosh Yeshiva explained:

"After the prayer, the yeshiva students pass by me while they file out to get blessed with blessings for a good week… In this way, I fulfill again and again the mitzvah of "Love your fellow as yourself"! This mitzvah is a Torah commandment, and I can fulfill it even if I arrive at the study hall of the yeshiva after the prayers have concluded!"

Food for Thought

Training ourselves to tell the truth

In our parashah, the Torah warns us against the prohibition of falsehood, as it is stated, "Distance yourself from a false matter." Thus the Chafetz Chaim writes (in his sefer Sefat Tamim 87): How great the virtue of truth is; it is one of the pillars that the world stands upon, as Chazal state. One who upholds this, it is as if he sustained the entire world, and brings abundance to the world, as it is stated in the midrash (Yalkut Tehillim 85) on the pasuk "Truth will sprout from the earth." When there is truth in the world, Hashem performs charity with the people and saves them from calamity, and abundance comes down to the world.

And this trait, the Chafetz Chaim writes, brings a person to do good things and withdraw from doing anything evil.

Men of Faith

Rabbi Shlomo Afriat was the son of the wealthy Rabbi Yaakov Afriat. He possessed large sums of money, golden ornaments, and other valuable jewelry. In order to protect them from thieves, he hid his treasures in a special chest.

Only his immediate family members and their trusted gentile maid knew the location of the treasure chest. However, the maid was not loyal to the family, and she constantly sought ways to steal the precious treasures.

Every six months, the maid would travel to her parents’ house, in a nearby village. At every opportunity, she plotted to transfer the riches hidden in the chest to her possession.

Once, before leaving to her parents’ house, the maid decided to seize the contents of the treasure chest. She took all the jewels from the chest and hid them in a barrel filled with ashes. Shlomo Afriat immediately became aware that his treasures were missing and began to search for them all over.

While the wealthy man was out in search of the treasures, Rabbi Chaim passed by. Mr. Afriat hurried over to him to ask him for his advice and blessings. After thinking deeply for several minutes, Rabbi Chaim told him, “In the merit of my grandfather, Rabbi Chaim Hagadol, I advise you to search in the place where you store ashes. That is where you will find the treasures that were stolen.”

A few members of the family scorned the tzaddik’s advice and argued vehemently, “Who would steal such expensive jewels and hide them among soot and ashes?”

However, on the verge of despair, the family members decided that they had nothing to lose by looking in the place where they stored the ashes, as Rabbi Chaim had suggested.

They began an extensive search. Not long after, they found all the treasures in the barrel of ashes, where the maid had hidden them. They returned to Rabbi Chaim and declared, “Since at first we doubted the Rav’s advice to search among the ashes, we are hereby consecrating all these items for the Rav!”

Rabbi Chaim refused to accept even one item. However, after much continued pleading, he agreed that they should show him what was in the chest. Rabbi Chaim noticed a thin bracelet, and told them that he would take only the bracelet, which he gave his daughter Simchah, a"h, as a gift when she went to live in Eretz Yisrael in the city of Tiveria.


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