This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Mishpatim (5769)
In this week's Torah portion are found 23 positive and 30 negative commandments; fifty three deeds that G-d, the Creator of the Universe, wants the Jews to treat differently than everyone else.
Many of them deal with the law of the Eved Ivri; a Jewish Slave. According to Judaism a Jew can sell himself or be sold as a slave to another Jew for a certain amount of time.
The Torah is a book of life, every word and certainly every commandment contains eternal and vital lessons for all time. But here seems to be an exception. This law of Eved Ivri has not been in effect for over 2,500 years. If so what is the eternal lesson?
To understand this, here is a story (Weekly Shabbat page 'Shmu U'tchi Nafshechem' #487)
Bentzi (short for Ben-Tzion) was 32 years old and he hadn't been an observant Jew most of his life, nor had his parents. He received a 'normal' Israeli education like all the other children but several years ago his brother began to take Judaism seriously which did something to him and he began to do the same.
So for the last few years he had been what is popularly known as a 'Baal Tshuva'; a Jew 'Returning' to his hidden Jewish identity; constantly improving his actions, speech and thought to be more spiritually and positively oriented in tune to the Torah.
For instance, as the holiday of Passover approached he made it a point to learn more about its mystical content and be more enthusiastic about its laws and customs. So when his brother suggested that he buy special, hand made Matzot (Unleavened bread) from a place called Kollel Chabad in Jerusalem he immediately took a bus from his home in a town called Maale Adumim and went there.
It took him a bit of searching through the winding streets of old Jerusalem but when he arrived at the building he was in for an unpleasant surprise. There was no one in the room except one respectable-looking white-bearded Chassid but when Bentzi asked if this is where they sell Matzot the Chassid turned to him and replied, 'Looking to buy Matzot? There aren't any here! Sold out!'
"Sold out?" Bentzi said incredulously. "But there's still a week before the holiday!? How could it be?"
He thought a few seconds and asked. "Well, maybe tell me where I can buy Matzot?"
"Go to the bookstore called HaMayfitz. There is a Rabbi called Gerson Henich Cohen. He'll sell you Matzot. But you should hurry!"
Benzi thanked the man and rushed out of the room as he yelled over his shoulder, "Have a Kosher and happy Passover!"
As he was running he couldn't help thinking to himself that the whole thing seemed very strange. How could it be that there were no Matzot in the Matza store? Especially a week from the holiday? That means that hundreds of families would suffer! Maybe even more! Where would they get Matzot?"
Suddenly he realized that he must have taken a wrong turn, he looked around for a few seconds to figure out where he was but he didn't exactly recognize the area. He was standing near the bottom of a steeply inclined side street that emptied into a busy main street.
He looked up to see if there was anyone around to ask directions to when suddenly he heard something rattling in the distance and what he saw made his heart skip a beat; it was a baby carriage barreling down the street in his direction from the top of the hill. It was approaching going fast and in seconds it would run into the busy street if he didn't move fast to stop it ….. if there was a baby in that carriage it would be a sure catastrophe! For a second he froze as the sound of the carriage wheels whistled louder and louder; louder than the noise of the cars in the street behind him. He ran as fast as possible, lunged and caught it!
He looked inside the carriage. There was a baby there! He had saved a life!
Bentzi looked up the street and saw in the distance a man and his wife looking in a store window and discussing something. He pushed the carriage up toward them and asked if it was theirs. "Why yes!" They both said in an almost in unison not understanding what he was doing and how it got in his hands. When he explained what happened they were ashamed, happy, grateful and confused at once.
Bentzi was as confused as they were, 'Good thing that Kollel Chabad ran out of Matzot!!' He thought to himself.
But what about his Matzot?! He had almost forgotten! He said a quick good bye, wished them a happy holiday and hurried away from the couple.
After asking a few people for directions to the 'HaMayfitz' book store he finally found it, entered and asked for hand-made Chabad Matzot.
"Matzot?" The owner replied "We don't sell Matzot here. Never did. If you want to buy a good book, or maybe a pair of Tefillin or a Mezuza, yes. But Matzot, sorry! If you want Matzot go to Kollel Chabad. Kollel Chabad has Matzot."
"But I was just there!" Bentzi tried to protest. "How could it be? They told me to come here! They said they ran out of Matzot and said I should go to HaMayfitz. This is HaMayfitz right?"
"Listen." The man behind the counter said. "I'm glad you came here, yes, this is HaMafitz and you can come every day if you want but we don't sell Matzot. Never did! And I don't believe that Kollel Chabad ran out. Can't be. Why, there's still a week before Pesach! Any case, here we certainly don’t have any."
Bentzi knew the way and in just ten minutes he was entering the Kollel Chabad building. This time when he entered their Matza shop someone else was standing at the counter. "Tell me," Bentzi said. "Have you got Matzot here? I was here a half hour ago and they told me you ran out. Are there Matzot or not?"
"Ran out of Matzot?" The man said incredulously. "Here, come here." He motioned to Bentzi to step behind the counter then turned around, opened a door behind him and told Bentzi to have a look. It was a room filled from floor to ceiling with large cartons of ….. Matzot! Hundreds of them! "How many cartons do you want?"
Bentzi told the story to many people since then and the usual comment is; "That Chassid who sent you from Collel Chabad must have been Elijah the Prophet. (Elijah who lived some 2700 years ago, never died and appears regularly in this world to help people.) HaShem must have sent him to send you to save that baby."
This answers our question.
When a Jew became an Eved Ivri he/she lost their independent will and became someone's slave every moment of the day.
At face value this is very bad but in a deeper sense this attitude is invaluable and basic to Judaism; to be a servant of the Creator in EVERYTHING we do. Even when we would like to give up.
Even when things don't go as we would like, or even opposite to our plans, we must never forget that G-d is the boss and we are but servants. Namely, we must do all we can to succeed but leave the results up to G-d.
Something like how Bentzi saw in our story that all his running around, taking wrong turns and 'wasted' energy was really for the best and without it a life might have been lost.
Similarly with us; we must be Jewish servants to the King of the Universe. Then we will see and realize that all the confusion and 'wrong turns' of our exile of the last 2,000 years was really for the best and soon Elijah the Prophet will announce to all of us ……..
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