Illuminations #193, Shvat, 5779, Parshat Mishpatim

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Illuminations #193, Shvat, 5779, Parshat Mishpatim

Torah Gems

If you shall acquire a Jewish servant, six years shall he serve.” (Shemot 21:2) The servant described here is actually a thief who was sold by the Bet Din into slavery because of his inability to pay back. The Torah’s manner of punishment seems peculiar. The community takes a common thief who has exhibited complete disregard for another person’s possessions and feelings and gives him a new home, job, and lifestyle. We are giving self-respect to one who has shown so little esteem to others. This question becomes stronger when one takes into account the statement of the Gemarah (Kidushin 22b) that, “One who acquires a Jewish servant is really purchasing a master for himself.” Will this type of punishment correct the thief’s actions? We see from this that the Torah’s goals in meting out punishment are not punitive, but rather rehabilitative. We must delve into this person’s past history and search for the problems that caused his self-degradation. Taking punitive measures against someone without initially attempting to find the real cause of his misdeeds is senseless. The thief must have a history of problems which led to the development of his current lifestyle, so in order to effect a positive change in the criminal, he must first be removed from his current surroundings and transferred to a more favorable environment. His time must be positively structured, since inactivity and constant boredom can have a negative effect upon people. In summation, the community must be involved in transforming his previous lifestyle. The thief must be encouraged to confront the roots of his behavior. Indeed, the Torah’s mode of punishment is unique, in that it seeks to solve the problem rather than to merely conceal it with punishment. It is only through such methods that the individual will recognize his self-inflicted degradation and become motivated to reenter society as a full-fledged, spiritual Jew. (Peninim on the Torah)

Parsha Pearls

Maran Harav Yosef Karo writes the following halachah in the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 26:1): “It is forbidden to bring a case before non-Jewish judges or before their courts, even if they rule in this law the same way Israel does…Whoever comes to them for judgment is wicked. It is as if he commits blasphemy and raises his hand [to strike] at the Torah of Moshe Rabenu.” The Rama adds: “He should be ostracized and excommunicated.” Why should the law in this case be so harsh? Aren’t we dealing with a situation in which the non-Jewish court follows the Jewish law? But this is insufficient. The essential condition which characterizes a Jewish court is that the judges be of exemplary character. The Torah uses the same word for “judge” as it does for “G-d” – “Elokim”. It is due to the fact that the judge is a supreme authority, empowered to execute any sentence by virtue of his decision-making powers, that he has this Divine quality. The Sages go so far as to say that the Holy One, Blessed Is He, Himself is present when the judges sit, and imbues them with holiness in their judgment. How, then, can we choose to sit before judges whose conduct is remote from the Divine ideal? In order to maintain an ideal and proper world, judges must manifest total perfection. The Mishnah (Avot 1:18) says, “Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: The world stands on three things – truth, justice, and peace.” The Rambam comments, “Justice refers to the proper functioning of society. Truth is intellectual attainment. Peace refers to proper character traits.” The judge who holds the reins of justice, who is in charge of maintaining order of the continued existence of the world, must be perfect in all three of these areas. Only then, when we will be privileged to have a Sanhedrin whose members are the select of mankind, who put into practice the statutes of G-d, will we arrive at the solutions to society’s problems, of which it says (Vayikra 18:5), “You shall observe My decrees and My judgments, which man shall carry out and live by them – I am Hashem.” –Rabbi Yaacov Ben-Haim

Glimpses of Greatness

Shortly after World War II, the first deluxe Shas published in America appeared on the market. R’ Moshe Feinstein zt”l purchased one as soon as it became available. He would learn from one of these volumes at his desk in the beis midrash of Tifereth Jerusalem, where he also kept a bottle of ink, fountain pen and paper to record his chiddushei Torah. One day, he left his desk briefly and while he was out, one of his talmidim accidentally tipped over the ink bottle on the new Shas gemara.

The boy felt terribly embarrassed and he and his friends stood around nervously as they waited for R’ Moshe to return. Seeing what happened, R’ Moshe broke into a pleasant smile and said that blue was his favorite color, and the gemara looked even more beautiful than before. He sat down and returned to his writing as if nothing had happened.

Halacha Weekly

Q   Can a mikveh attendant/owner receive payment for work done on Shabbat?[I OCH-6-77]

 A. Nodah Beyehudah (Orech Chaim  26, R. Yechezkel Landau Z”L) writes regarding a woman who went to the mikveh on the night of Shabbat night of Yom Tov. The question is whether the mikveh attendant is permitted to receive payment afterward for the use of the mikveh [services on Shabbat]. He writes that one should not protest the taking of payment [for services rendered on Shabbat] for two reasons:  First,  because the immersion is a mitzvah and is [therefore] comparable to the payment of chazanim [who officiate at services on Shabbat and are paid], and is [therefore] permitted [because it is also payment for the performance of a mitzvah on Shabbat].

The second reason it is permitted is that the payment of a witness [mikveh attendant] is …permitted… [because it is comparable] to a person who takes something from his friend (in this case he takes his time) on Shabbat  and does not pay him until [sometime later on] a week day. There would be permission to take payment through absorption of [the time on Shabbat with the total time involved in the Mikveh attendant’s tasks which includes the weekday]. [So that] the payment for the witness (mikveh attendant) on another day [is permitted] … And that is the simple custom: that women that immerse on Shabbat give the owner/attendant of the mikveh their payment  (Shmirath Shabbat Kehilchatah, 28-64, R. Yehoshuah Yeshayah Neuwrith Z”L).