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Parshat Mishpatim (5764)

This week's Torah portion begins with G-d telling Moses: "These are the Mishpatim commandments you should put before them (the Jews): When you buy a Jewish servant etc."

Mishpatim is a name for commandments that make sense.

In the Torah there are three types of commandments: Aidoot" and "Chookim" and Mishpatim.

"Aidoot" and "Chookim" refer to commandments that only make religious sense like Tefillin or Shabbat or make no sense at all like not eating or even cooking milk and meat together.

But 'Mishpatim', the namesake of our Torah portion, means logical commandments like don't kill or don't steal.

But surprisingly this week's reading, despite the name Mishpatim, is filled with illogical commandments and even BEGINS with one:

"Don't go to non-Jewish courts, even if they judge according to Torah law" (Rashi 21:1)!!

So why call it Mishpatim?

Also there seems to be a grammatical problem; The first sentence begins plural and the following sentence changes number and is singular:

First G-d says to Moses "These are the laws you should put before THEM" (plural). Then if says "When YOU (in the singular), buy a Jewish servant."

To understand this here is a story.

Rabbi Ben-Tzion Grossman is a very devoted and talented Israeli Rabbi that has been bringing Israeli Jews back to their Jewish roots for tens of years.

Over thirty years ago two members of his congregation in Migdal HaEmek; a young married Israeli couple (let's call them Mr. and Mrs. Gold) went to visit relatives in Johannesburg South Africa and heard a frightening and sad story.

At that time the Jewish educational system in South Africa was far from adequate. There were only one or two basic Torah Academies and a few girls' elementary schools but no institutions of higher education or Chabad schools at all.

Well, it so happened that the town Shochet (ritual slaughterer), a truly G-d fearing orthodox Jew, had an eighteen year old daughter who after graduating High school, decided to enter University and major in Sociology.

She excelled in her studies and after completing her Master's degree with honors, began her doctoral thesis.

Because apartheid was becoming an issue in those days she decided to do her thesis on Arab-Jewish relations in Israel and came to the conclusion that she would have to travel to Israel for a year in order to do the job properly (this was before the Intifada and Oslo Accords were made and Israel was relatively safe).

She bade her parents farewell, promised to be a good girl, write them once a week and embarked. Once in Israel she decided she would begin by studying the Arab side of the story and for that purpose made her temporary home in the Arab town of Juljilia not far from Haifa.

She hired a translator and worked feverishly, interviewing the populace by day and writing her dissertation into the wee hours of the night. But all this time, true to her Jewish roots, she continued to observe a Jewish way of life; Kosher food, Shabbat etc. and never considered otherwise …..

Until she met George.

George was one of the citizens of Juljilia, but, unlike the other Arabs, he had been educated in Oxford and had a Masters in Sociology. Exactly her field. And he was more than glad to help. He was intelligent, kind, warm and handsome fellow, full of compliments and deep insights.

At first they just worked together, but after a while their relationship became less and less academic and as Sarah's attraction to him waxed, her feeling for Judaism waned.

The commandments that were once so comforting to her became dry rituals, and Shabbat instead of being a source of rest and spiritual renewal became a cold, empty bore; And so it was with everything else Jewish, including her Jewish identity.

She told her parents what was happening and they tried to dissuade her but their arguments and pleas bore no fruit. She had made up her mind; George was her friend, her companion, her soul-mate! It was so obvious, logical and right!

She and George got married.

Her parents were devastated. In fact her mother took it so to heart that it wasn't long afterward that she suffered a stroke while her father fell into a depression that made it almost impossible to continue working. And so it continued for years.

When Mrs. Gold heard this sad story she decided to pay Sarah's parents a visit, maybe there was some way she could help. After all the Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that every Jew is responsible for every other Jew. Indeed, for the entire world! She had to at least give it a try.

At first they didn't want to talk about it, her mother just left the room but finally her father began weeping and poured out his broken heart.

In those days Chabad-Lubavitch and the Rebbe were almost unknown in South Africa. In addition the Jews there were generally very cold to the Chassidic way and ridiculed the idea of relying on a Rebbe especially by long distance.

But finally she convinced him that his only hope was to write to the Lubavitcher Rebbe in New York, that he had nothing to lose and everything to gain. So with no other choice he wrote the Rebbe a letter briefly explaining the problem and asking for a blessing and advice.

A few weeks later the answer arrived. The Rebbe wrote:

"Wait for a time when they quarrel. I will pray for success and good news."

It made no sense. How could he wait for news from his daughter who lived in some remote Arab town in Israel thousands of miles away?! He hadn't spoken to her for years!

He told some of his friends about the Rebbe's answer and it became the joke of the town. People regarded the whole thing as a farce; the Rebbe had never met anyone mentioned in the letter. How could he possibly give advice?

But Mrs. Gold didn't take it so lightly. Inspired by the Rebbe's answer developed a plan. She convinced the girl's father to write down his daughter's phone number, the one she called him from last, and after she and her husband returned to Israel and she had some free time she went to the phone, said a prayer and a Psalm and dialed.

Someone answered. She asked "Is this Sarah?" and waited for a reply.

"Yes, this is Sarah. Who is this?"

It was a miracle!

The conversation was short Sarah only said yes and no but amazingly she didn't hang up.

It ended with Mrs. Gold saying, "Look, Sarah, here is my phone number. Write it down. Anytime you want, no matter when or for what reason, you can call me. My house is always open to you."

Sarah didn't say a word, just waited till Mrs. Gold finished speaking and hung up the phone.

Over a year passed and somehow Mrs. Gold completely forgot about Sarah until late one night, well after midnight, her phone rang.

It was Sarah calling from a public phone. She was in the city park in Haifa with her two children and eight month's pregnant with a third. She and her husband had quarreled and he beat her. She needed help.

Mrs. Gold immediately contacted Rabbi Grossman who told her to give his address to Sarah and tell her to take a taxi to his home immediately, at his expense. Then they would decide what to do.

She arrived, bruised, cold and hungry and the next morning, after a good meal and sleep she broke down and told them the truth.

After the first child was born George changed. Instead of the kind, warm person she married he became more and more possessive, violent and anti-Semitic. This wasn't the first time he beat her, although it was the most severe. And now she wanted out.

For many reasons they decided that the best solution was that she should temporarily return to George and make peace for a few weeks until after she gave birth to this third child. Then she should tell him that she wants to go for a rest with the children for a week or so and in this time they would engineer a getaway.

And it worked.

Today Sarah is far from her mistaken identity, happily married and living a real Jewish life thanks to a strange answer from the Rebbe.

This answers our questions.

The Torah is a book of laws, and many of them seem to be logical.

But our section is telling us that, in fact, every law in the Torah, even the most logical 'Mishpatim' ones are really infinite and totally beyond understanding.

But on the other hand we have to bring even the most illogical commands into our daily 'law and order' lives.

So, because each law of the Torah is infinite, it is also infinitely alive and meaningful… if we think about it in a personal (Mishpatim) way.

As the basic book of Chabad called 'The Tanya' teaches: If we properly understand what G-d is, the commandments become the most fulfilling and joyous experience possible.

That was Sarah's problem. Logically there is no difference between a Jew and a Gentile. But above logic there certainly is.

The reason she even considered intermarriage was because she never really internalized and made logical (Like Mishpatim) the G-dliness and joy of Judaism and the Commandments.

She relied too heavily on her own logic and feelings.

But it takes a special person to bring this infinite excitement of the Torah into every Jew's soul and day to day logic.

And that is the job of a Rebbe.

That is why the Torah uses here the SINGULAR form in the commandment of a Jewish Servant. G-d was referring to Moses alone!! "When you, MOSES, purchase a Jewish servant."

In other words ONLY Moses can awaken in EVERY Jew the desire to be a 'Jewish Servant' of the Creator.

Only ONE person can inspire them to do this: Moses - a true Jewish leader; a potential Moshiach in every generation that inspires the Jews to their true identities.

This is what brought Sarah back home and this is what will bring us and all the Jews back. We just have to take the advice of the Rebbe: learn Chassidut, reach out to others (see end of Moshiach Essay at www.ohrtmimm.org/torah) open our Jewish eyes. Just one more good deed, word or even thought and before we know it we will be dancing with....

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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