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Parshat Mishpatim (5762)

This week's Torah portion contains 53 laws. The first is the law of the Jewish Slave and another is the commandment to observe the Three Holidays Pesach, Shavuot and Succot (23:14).

The connection between slavery and the holidays, is a very deep and personal one.

I hope the following story will illustrate what I mean:

Once everyone in the town of Braditchev was worried; it was just 12 hours before the holiday of Succot and they still had no Esrog (A citrus fruit used in one the 613 Commandments).

The entire town gathered in the large Shul (Synagogue) to read Psalms with the hope that G-d would have mercy on them and send them a miracle… and sure enough, the miracle happened!

Into the Shul walked a uniformed man, obviously someone's servant, and began asking for directions to the hotel. It seems that his master, a devoutly religious and very wealthy Jew, was waiting in the carriage parked outside, and wanted to rest for a while before continuing the last leg of a long journey. Immediately Rabbi Levi Yitchak, the holy Rabbi of Braditchev, approached the carriage and invited them both personally to his home.

Minutes later they were sitting in the Rabbi's study.

"Ahh yes I have certainly heard of you Rabbi," Said the rich man "and it is a true honor and privilege to be your guest, I am so grateful to HaShem for this opportunity." .

"That is a beautiful silver Esrog case you have there, Mister Goldblatt," said the Rabbi, pointing to the silver box that his guest was careful to not let out of his possession, "surely it must house a splendid Esrog, and may I see it? Ahh, exquisite!"

The Rabbi slowly closed the lid of the silver box and looked Goldblatt squarely in the eyes. "You know, Mr. Goldblatt, you look like a very unique man, a man of principle and extreme kindness."

"Thank you Rabbi" Said the obviously flattered Goldblatt "And I plan to give a fine donation to your wonderful community. Now, please, if you will excuse me for just one-half an hour, I would like to just lay down for a while, I'm very tired from the road and I have a six hour drive ahead of me, please excuse me Rabbi"

"Yes, of course" Said the Rabbi "But that is exactly what I want to talk to you about. You see we need your Esrog here in Braditchev"

"My Esrog?" gasped the incredulous guest, "My Esrog is the entire reason that I took this arduous five day trip. Why it cost me Five hundred Rubles not including the time and bother. No no, Rabbi, please understand and forgive me but I cannot be parted from this Esrog… and my family and friends are all waiting, no, it's simply out of the question. Excuse me, Rabbi, please forgive me but I will be forced to leave now and forgo my rest, I am sorry I will, I can not part with my Esrog."

The Rebbe, however, was not to be discouraged so easily. "Mr. Goldblatt, how would you like half of my place in the world to come?"

Suddenly Goldblatt forgot his dismay and snapped his mind to attention as he sat back down in his chair looking all the while into the Rabbi's holy eyes.

He was no fool, he knew a good deal when he heard it, and he knew a serious deal when he heard it, and this was probably the best and most serious deal he ever heard in his life.

The words made his mind spin "Half of my place in the world to come!"

Goldblatt was a believer, an observant Jew, he knew very well what the Rabbi meant. He knew that after one dies he is at the mercy of the Creator, and who could describe the terrible pain and horrors of Hell. Similarly Heaven!

The pleasures of the 'world to come' were indescribably infinite!

Especially such a Heaven as that of Rav Levi Yitzchak!!!

"Of course I would" He answered. "But is such a thing possible?"

"If you will agree to stay here for the holiday with your Esrog then it's yours" answered the Rabbi.

Without hesitating he answered, "Yes, I agree!"

Rabbi Levi Yitzchak called to ten of his pupils, took out a quill and a piece of parchment and began to write out the deed of sale. He wrote his name, Mr. Goldblatt's full name, all the conditions, had the pupils sign, and ceremoniously gave the document to the trembling hands of his new guest.

That night the Shul was in an unusually joyous mood, first, it was the Holiday of Succos, secondly; G-d did a big miracle and sent them an Esrog, and finally they had an honorable guest; the generous Mr. Goldblatt.

After the prayers, the entire congregation filed by Goldblatt to express their gratitude and wish him a Good Yom-Tov, first the Rabbi and then the people, one by one until finally he was left standing alone in the huge Shul with a big smile on his face after receiving hundreds of smiling handshakes.

"Hmm" He thought to himself, "They forgot to invite me to eat, I'll just sit here until they realize their mistake."

After fifteen minutes of waiting he decided he would go outside and have a look around, maybe he would see someone, but no one was to be seen, they were all sitting in their Succot enjoying their Holiday meals. Melodies and laughter echoed vaguely in the emptiness of the cold, autumn night. He went arbitrarily to the first house he saw with a Mezuza on the door, walked to the Succa attached to the house and knocked on the Succa door.

"Ahhh, Mr. Goldblatt, what an honor! What! No one invited you to eat? How can that be? Go to the home of the Shul President, he will set this thing aright."

But when he got to the house of the President no one was home; probably they were eating by someone else. Over an hour had passed since the end of the prayers, people were already coming out of their Succot and taking strolls to settle their meals, and Goldblatt was getting desparate. "Good Yom Tov Mr. Goldblatt!" People were calling in his direction. "Good Yom Tov" he answered trying to force a smile, "Can you tell me where is the Succa of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak?" He asked as good naturedly as possible.

Ten minutes later he was knocking at the door of the Rabbi's Succa. "Ahhh, Good Yom Tov Mr. Goldblatt! Probably you want to eat the Yom Tov meal. I have a full meal set for you… in my house."

"In your house?!" asked Goldblatt incredulously "I want to sit in a Succa like all the other Jews, I want to eat my meal in a Succa, that is the Mitzva, not in a house!"

"Ahhh… you want to do the Mitzva? All right just give me back the document."

"What!?" Cried Goldblatt, "My Olom HaBa! (World to come)" "No way! I'm not giving up my place in Heaven just to sit in a booth with some leaves on it.

What do I need it for, I'll get heaven whether I do the Mitzva or not, I have your promise, especially because you are forcing me not to observe the Mitzva for sure I have nothing to worry about. I'll eat in your house!"

"Very good" said Rabbi Levi as he took his guest by the arm and led him to the lavishly set table in his home, poured him a cup of wine and opened the prayer book to the 'Kiddush' blessing. Goldblatt took the cup in his hand and began to say the blessing and then he stopped, as though he suddenly realized that he was about to make a big mistake.

He stood like that for over a minute until he made up his mind. He put down the cup, put his hand into the inside his breast pocket and pulled out the deed that the Rabbi had earlier written for him. "Here" he said proudly "Now let me eat in your Succa."

"Very Good" Said Rabbi Levi Yitzchak and he took him back to the Succa.

This time, however, Goldblatt felt like a different man, he was no longer Goldblatt the rich businessman; he was now Goldblatt the Jew. Never ever in his life had he been so sure of himself; he was doing the Commandment of G-d!!

He said the 'Kiddush', drank the wine, washed his hands for bread and ate a few bites. Then he closed his eyes, began rocking back and forth in his seat, and started to sing a happy song, first quietly, then louder and louder, clapping and tapping his feet until he felt as though the whole universe was dancing. The hand of the Rabbi of Braditchev grabbed his and they were dancing to the song they were singing. Dancing and singing like... like JEWS!!

Finally, when he was out of breath and could dance and sing no more he looked at the beaming Rebbe and said; "Thank you, Rebbe, thank you! You have given me a new soul!!! Who cares about the after-life! Now I am really alive! For the first time in my life I am feeling what it means to do a Commandment"

The Rebbe succeeded in putting the Commandment inside of his guest.

My teacher of blessed memory, Rabbi Mendel Futerfass, told me that once, when he was in the Siberian 'Correction Camps' of Stalin (of cursed memory), he had nothing to eat for the full eight days of Pesach. The package that his wife sent from home didn't arrive and he refused to eat anything cooked in a not- Kosher-for-Pesach vessel, so he drank water with cubes of sugar for eight days. Miraculously he did not die. When his package did arrive a week late, the first thing that he did was to take a Matza, break it into several pieces and wrap it well in newspaper. "This Matza" said Rav Mendel "I kept with me at all times, I never let it out of my possession. I was always afraid that next Pesach I might be without Matza and I couldn't get over the trauma of that Pesach when I was not able to do the commandment of eating Matza." The only thing that really bothered him was the commandment.

This could be one of the reasons that our section about 'Mishpatim' (Laws) begins with the commandment of a 'Jewish servant' and comes immediately after the commandment in last week's parsha about the Altar in the Bait HaMikdash.

A 'Jewish servant' refers to every Jew. The purpose of the Laws is that we be 'Jewish servants' of HaShem. Just as a servant owns nothing of his own and all he does is only for his master (although a faithful servant also enjoys his work) so also the Laws of the Torah enable us to be the servants of, and connected to the Almighty. (In fact the word Commandment, 'Mitzva' is similar to the word meaning Connection 'Tzavta').

The Altar, upon which the Sacrifices were burned, must be built on or filled with earth. Similarly the doing of the commandments must be like the Altar; completely for serving the King of the Universe and yet filled with humility.

Something like the Commandments themselves; they are the will of G-d but they are from physical and mundane items.

The Moshiach will be the one to join and activate all these ideas in the Jewish people. This is hinted by the second sentence of our Torah section; "When YOU (singular) take possession of a Jewish servant" The Baal Ha Tanya informs us (Torah Or pg.148) that this refers to the 'Moshe', the leader of every generation, and it especially refers to the Moshiach, who will gather all the Jews of all the generations. He will make the Torah warm and alive i.e. put the Torah 'inside' of us, and transform all of the Jewish people into Servants of the King of the Universe.

And we can make it happen just one moment sooner. Just one more good deed, word or even thought can bring……..

Moshiach Now!!

Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.

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