Parsha Potpourri: Parshas Mishpatim


V’ki yigach shor … v’im shor nagach hu mit’mol shil’shom v’huad biv’alav (21:28-29)
A common criticism of yeshiva students is that they spend their days engrossed in the study of archaic and irrelevant laws such as the intricate minutiae of goring cows. In reality, the Torah is Hashem’s blueprint for creating the world, and the answer to every question and problem may be found therein, as evidenced by the following amazing story.

A panic-stricken woman once approached the Rogatchover Gaon, explaining that several weeks had passed during which her newborn baby nursed properly during the week but absolutely refused to nurse on Shabbos, thereby endangering his health. The Rogatchover nonchalantly suggested that on the following Shabbos, the woman should wear her weekday apparel rather than her Shabbos clothes.

Bizarre as his suggestion seemed, she followed his advice with blind faith and was amazed to discover that by donning her regular clothes the problem went away, just as the Rogatchover had predicted. To her incredulous inquires about the source of his supernatural knowledge and abilities, he casually explained that the answer to her dilemma was “explicit” in the Talmud.

The Torah differentiates between the laws governing an ox that gores only periodically, a “tam,” and one which is confirmed to gore habitually, a “mu’ad.” The Mishnah in Bava Kamma (4:2) rules that an animal which has gored repeatedly – but only on Shabbos – is considered to be a îåòã with respect to its actions on Shabbos but a “tam” regarding damages it may cause during the week. The Yerushalmi (19b) explains that the ox gets confused on Shabbos when it sees people wearing nice clothes to which it isn’t accustomed, causing it to attack and act wildly, but during the week it recognizes its surroundings and behaves normally.

Based on this, the Rogatchover deduced that the woman’s nursing difficulties stemmed from the fact that her baby didn’t recognize her in her Shabbos finery, and a minor wardrobe change indeed resolved the problem – archaic indeed!


V’chi yishal ish me’im rei’eihu v’nishbar o meis b’alav ein imo shaleim y’shaleim (22:13)
Of the four classifications of people who are required to take proper care of an object, the responsibilities of a borrower are the greatest. Due to the fact that he doesn’t pay for the item and is nevertheless able to fully enjoy it, he is obligated to pay for damages that occur through completely accidental breakage unless they occur at the time that he was actually using the item.

Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein recounts that when he was a young boy studying at the Eitz Chaim Yeshiva in Jerusalem, one of his classmates proudly arrived at school one day with a fancy new fountain pen. At one point during the day, another student asked if he could borrow the pen to jot down a piece of information that he was afraid he would forget. Much to the chagrin of the second boy, who came from an incredibly poor family, the expensive pen mysteriously broke in his hand just after he had finished using it and was about to return it.

Although everybody assumed that the law in such a case is black-and-white, obligating the borrower to reimburse the owner for his loss, the distraught boy refused to give up and went to ask Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank for his ruling. His classmates were shocked when he reappeared beaming with joy. The boy explained that the Rav ruled that because he had only borrowed the pen to write a few short words, the value of the small amount of ink he would be using in the process was less than a “perutah” (roughly $.05). A person who borrows such a small amount isn’t legally considered a borrower to be obligated to pay for complete accidents, and therefore the Rav ruled that the boy was exempt from paying for the broken pen.


Kol almanah v’yasom lo s’anun eem ano s’aneh oso ki im tzadok yitzak eilai shamoa eshma tza’akaso (22:21-22)
The Mishnah in Avos (3:17) teaches that without Torah there cannot be derech eretz, and without derech eretz there can be no Torah. This statement seems to present an enigmatic catch-22 regarding the initial attainment of both Torah and derech eretz.

In his commentary on this Mishnah, Rabbeinu Yonah resolves the apparent contradiction by explaining that the Mishnah is discussing two distinct types of derech eretz. The second derech eretz refers to what is commonly known as essential good manners and interpersonal skills, which one must possess as a prerequisite to Torah study. The first derech eretz refers to an exceptional and heightened sensitivity to others which can only be acquired through learning Torah.

One such example of this sensitivity can be gleaned from our verse, which cautions against causing pain to widows and orphans, who are often among the most helpless and tragic members of society. In doing so, the Torah, which never wastes a word, curiously doubles each of the verbs – three times in one verse! What lesson is the Torah teaching us?

An insight into these seemingly superfluous words may be gleaned from the following story. A young father and husband suddenly passed away one spring day. As his widow struggled to put the family back together and reassure the orphans, she was determined to make the upcoming Yom Tov of Pesach as beautiful as ever, even as she wondered who would sit at the head of the table and conduct the Seder.

As part of the traditional preparations, she took her children to get new shoes in honor of the holiday. The owner of the shoe store, familiar with the tragic plight of the family, attempted to cheer up the children by offering each a shiny balloon. While most of them seemed appreciative and momentarily forgot their troubles, one of the girls walked to the door and released her balloon skyward.

The mother, embarrassed at her daughter’s apparent lack of appreciation for the gift, proceeded to lecture her about the need for respect and gratitude. The innocent girl looked up at her mother, and through a tear-stained face explained her actions: “Daddy didn’t get one.”

Although any humane person would naturally feel compassion for the plight of a poor widow or orphan, the Kotzker Rebbe explains that the Torah is opening our eyes to a finer sensitivity that we are expected to internalize and strive to reach. Our verse uses three double expressions to alert us that the pain of widows and orphans is twofold.

The Kotzker explains that in addition to the natural hurt of the slight or insult which would be felt by any person, the cruel treatment reawakens deep wounds by causing them to think that if only their beloved father or husband was still alive, he could come to their defense. The intense cries which result will immediately arouse Hashem’s compassion, and it is for this reason that the Torah stresses the need to treat them with mercy. Such empathy and consideration doesn’t come naturally to even the most sensitive human being, but only through the study of Hashem’s Torah. This, then, is the Torah’s derech eretz.


Answers to the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) A Jewish slave who doesn’t wish to leave his master when the time arrives that he may go has his ear pierced (21:6), and he continues to serve his master until the Yovel (Jubilee year). Rashi explains that the piercing is done specifically to punish the ear which heard at Mount Sinai Hashem’s prohibition against stealing (20:13), and nevertheless proceeded to steal. Rashi writes (20:13) that the prohibition against stealing in the Ten Commandments that were said at Mount Sinai refers to the stealing of people and not to the stealing of possessions. Why is the ear punished for violating a prohibition which it didn’t hear at Mount Sinai? (Chizkuni, Rav Eliyahu Mizrachi, Chanukas HaTorah, Maskil L’Dovid, Chiddushei Riaf Ein Yaakov Kiddushin 22b)

2) If two men are fighting and one of them strikes a pregnant woman and causes her to miscarry, he must pay the monetary damage caused by the loss of the fetuses to the woman’s husband (Rashi 21:22). Why does the Torah refer to the standard case as one in which the woman is pregnant with multiple children? (Mayan Beis HaShoeivah)

3) A master who knocks out the eye or tooth of his non-Jewish slave must immediately free the slave (21:25-26). The Gemora in Kiddushin (24a) rules that a slave goes free not just through the loss of an eye or a tooth at the hands of his owner, but of any limb which won’t grow back. Why does the Torah specifically single out the eye and the tooth if many other body parts are also included in this law? (Rabbeinu Bechaye, Peninim MiShulchan HaGra)

4) A yeshiva student asked another boy to wake him up at a specific time. On his way into the room, his friend accidentally walked on top of the glasses of the boy who was sleeping and broke them. Is he obligated to pay for them? (Shu”t K’nei Bosem 1:154, Pischei Choshen Dinei Nezikin 8:10)

© 2013 by Oizer Alport.