Welcome to the concise,
relevant Lelamed Weekly Dvar. This week's Dvar is really as
concise as it can be, believe it or not. It's a great
explanation and a worthy concept - definitely worth the somewhat
longer read. Enjoy...
* * *
As the Torah puts it, "AND these are the laws you shall place
before them." Parshat Mishpatim starts by going right into the
social justice code of the Torah, directly following the giving
of the Torah itself. In fact, Rashi explains that we start with
the word "And" to tell us that just like the last one, this
Parsha was given at Sinai as well. Rabbi Zweig asks why there's
a separation between the Ten Commandments and the social laws?
Also, isn't it obvious that all the rules were given at Sinai?
Since the whole Torah was given then, what's the Torah telling
us that we didn't already know? Furthermore, why would the first
rule described be the one about Jewish slaves, when that
wouldn't even be possible for at least 14 years AFTER the Jews
settle into their land? Wouldn't it make more sense to start
with more relevant laws?
As Rabbi Zweig answers, there are two understandings of our
relationship between man and G-d. We undertake to accept G-d's
Laws, but we also accept a responsibility for the welfare of our
fellow Jew. This week's Parsha is the focus on that second
responsibility, that of caring for each other: We don't steal
because the rule in society is that we shouldn't steal. What
makes Jews unique is that we also don't steal because we need to
insure that our fellow Jew has/keeps what's rightfully theirs.
If we don't care for the welfare of the other, then we've failed
to maintain our own social justice. We see this difference in
laws like our requirements to help another Jew load their
animals, even if we happen to hate that person. We also see this
difference in laws like our requirement to not ignore any lost
objects we find.
With that understanding, if there's ONE person who hasn't
realized his responsibility to his fellow Jew. it's the slave,
who stole from another Jew, and gave himself up to slavery to
repay his debt. Not only did he ignore his charge to be only G-d's
servant, but he also ignored the boundaries of his fellow Jew.
The Torah is clearly telling us that we have a responsibility to
include into society even a Jew that we'd have a reason to
exclude, and that's why it's the first law described! Last
Parsha contained the concept of being G-d's people, and doing
what G-d needs. This Parsha focuses on the concept of being ONE
people, and bringing us all together. A team is greater than its
parts, but only if we each do our part for the team!