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Parshat Mishpatim

NIFTAR ON 20 ADAR 5758 - MARCH 18, 1998.



Menachim Z. Shimanowitz

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Only 3 parshas have more mitzvot




This Shabbat, (the Shabbat preceding Rosh Chodesh Adar), is Shabbat Parshat Shekalim. פרשת שקלים
We take out two Sifrei Torah; Seven Aliyahs in the first Sefer Torah from the weekly sidrah - Mishpatim; Half Kaddish;
The Maftir, (additional reading), reads from Shmot / Exodus, Parshat Ki Sisa, (30:11-16), which describes the census or counting of every Jew and the obligation to give a Half-Shekel terumah (contribution) during the month of Adar to pay for the public Korbanot (sacrifices) in the Bait Hamikdash in Yerushalayim.

HAFTORA: (Additional portion, from Prophets, which is read after the Parsha)
Melachim II / Kings II 12:1-17 (Ashkenazim);
Melachim II / Kings II 11:17-12-17 (Sepharadim)

Shabbat Mevarchim Chodesh Adar

Rosh Chodesh - Tuesday & Wednesday, Feb. 25 & 26, 2020

פרשת משפטים
In our last episode, Hashem, Himself, spoke to the Bnei Yisroel. He lifted Har Sinai over their heads and asked, "Will you accept My Torah?" The Bnei Yisroel responded "Na'aseh V'nishma" - we will accept upon ourselves whatever You command in the Torah." With that, the Jews were given the Aseret Hadibrot (Ten Commandments) of Hashem, amidst great claps of thunder and lightning.


As our Parsha opens, the Bnei Yisroel are still awed by the powerful presentation of the Aseret Hadibrot this morning. This morning the nation learned the importance of Mitzvot that show love for Hashem - Bain Adam L'Makom (between man and G-d).

As evening sets in, Hashem teaches Moshe some important new laws. These next set of Mishpatim (laws) are meant to help Bnei Yisroel love one another and get along. Some of them are tough and others might seem like just the natural thing to do. But these laws "Bain Adam L'Chavero" - (between man and his fellow man) are the cornerstone of Jewish civil law (and, believe me, you'd be scratching your head wondering what to do about a bull that gores another bull if Hashem hadn't provided the answers)!

How does Moshe teach these laws to Bnei Yisroel? Well, that night, Moshe calls Aharon into his tent. Moshe teaches all of these mitzvot to Aharon. When that's done, Moshe calls in Aharon's sons, Elazar and Itamar. Moshe teaches all these Mitzvot over again to them while Aharon listens in. Next, the 70 Zekainim (Elders) are called into Moshe's tent. Moshe goes through all those mitzvot again as Aharon and his sons listen in.

Next the entire Bnei Yisroel is assembled. They are taught these Mitzvot four times: First by Moshe, a second time by Aharon, third by Aharon's sons and the fourth time by the Zekainim.

After that, it is up to the Zekainim to individually deal with any technical details, questions and disputes dealing with these Mitzvot.


The first set of laws deals with the treatment of a Jewish servant. Now, why would a Jew be another Jew's servant? You probably figured that all Jews are equally servants of Hashem.

Well, you're right - unless a Jew steals and he can't pay back the money. The Bait Din (Jewish court) recovers the cash by finding him a job where he can work off the debt. The Torah calls this position "Eved," (servant). The criminal trades in his mask and safe-cracking skills for a uniform and English accent.


The Bait Din can sell the criminal's service for up to six years and only to another Jew. Now, don't mistake modern slavery for Torah servitude. The Torah is very strict about how a "master" treats his servants. There are many limits to this deal and once you read up on all the details, you might not want to take on the role of a master. Here are a few pointers:

Firstly, don't think that you can just throw together a few scraps from the table for your Jewish servant. No way. Whatever you eat, he eats. Your 'burger delight' is his 'burger delight'. Basically, this deal holds up for all quality of life stuff like a nice firm bed, soft fluffy pillows and clothing.

Secondly, a master must respect his servant's self-esteem. You can't order your Jewish servant to juggle tomatoes just for the fun of it or put a lampshade over his head and tell him to do a hula dance to entertain your friends. Actually, ordering the servant to do anything you don't need is against Torah law.

An Eved Ivri (Jewish Slave) is strictly a daytime worker. Even so, he can't go home. He has to live on the premises during his entire servant career. If the Eved is married with kids the master has to support the whole mishpacha (family).

So far it seems like a pretty good deal for the Eved. But just keep in mind that even though the Torah makes accommodations for a criminal in a work atmosphere, he is pretty low on the Jewish totem pole. Here's an example of how we treat such a Jewish servant differently than the rest of the boys:

A married Eved Ivri may be given his master's Canaanite female servant as a wife. But when his time of service is up he cannot take this wife and their children with him. They will always be servants to the master.

So when does a Jewish servant go free? Like we said, the service contract maxes out at six years. But there are two other things that you have to consider when making a Jewish servant deal: Shmita year and Yovel. These are seven year cycles, the seventh year being the shmita year. The shmita year is like a year of Shabbat in many ways. You can't plant crops, and fields in Eretz Yisroel are open to the public for harvesting fruits that fall from trees. (More about Shmita and Yovel in Vayikra, Parshat Behar). At the end of the sixth year of this cycle, all Jewish servants go free.

Yovel happens once every fifty years. When Yovel hits, every Jewish servant is freed - whether he wants to or not...

Which brings up a touchy subject. We are a holy nation because we are Hashem's servants. Let's say a Jewish servant finishes his sentence and decides that this is the life for him. Earache

That's pretty offensive to Hashem, picking a human master over the divine. But you can't blame the Eved completely. He eats well, and he loves his Canaanite wife and kids.The Torah makes provisions for this situation too. The master takes his servant before a three judge Bait Din. They put the servant against a door post and bore a hole in his ear with an iron instrument. Now this Eved Nirtza (servant whose ear was pierced) has a job till his master either dies or Yovel rolls around.


When it comes to punishment, it all comes down to how reliable the witnesses are. Let's say a person murders someone and two people witness it. The first question a Bait Din will ask them is: "Did you warn him beforehand that he will get the death sentence if he goes through with it?" If the answer is yes, then the Bait Din separates the witnesses and asks them all kinds of questions to see if their stories are the same. What time was it when the murder occurred? What color shirt was he wearing? Did the victim cry out or was he the silent type? How many others saw the shooting...?

If it all checks out, a panel of 23 judges hear the case. Only 13 out of 23 have to point thumbs down to put the murderer to death.

There are four types of death penalties in Jewish law, each for specific sins:

  1. Skilla - Stoning.

  2. Sraifa - Burning.

  3. Hereg - Decapitation, and...

  4. Chenek - Strangulation.

These days because there's no Sanhedrin (Jewish Supreme Court), the death penalty cannot be carried out. But that doesn't mean a sinner will get away with his sins. Hashem uses natural means to carry out punishment. One who deserves Skilla might fall down from a high place, one who deserves Sraifa may die in a fire, one deserving Hereg may be murdered, and one deserving Chenek may drown or is strangled. (But don't always count on this, and don't assume that if someone died a violent death that the person was a bad person. The ways of Hashem are much more complex than that).

Believe me, the death penalty is a real favor for the criminal who deserves it. Stop thinking secular for a moment and just take into consideration that punishment in Olom Haba (the world to come) is many, many times harsher.

In the days of the Bait Din, before a person was put to death he was told to admit his sins (viduy). Once he was executed he was forgiven by Hashem.

So why the death penalty?

First off, it helps deter crime. This ain't no "Lovey dovey" Torah that ignores human nature. There are just some people who have the ability in them to kill another. We hope that these people will think twice if they know that they will die for their crimes.

Secondly, when a person does an Aveira (sin), it affects the entire Torah atmosphere.

Imagine, everyone's in shul on Yom Kippur, davening (praying) for forgiveness and a healthy year, when suddenly Berel the Bum comes walking along eating a sandwich and drinking root beer, just as the chazan's about to say Ne'ilah. What a wreck! Yom Kippur is ruined and the spiritual link between Hashem and these Jews has been broken. If Hashem doesn't punish this person, anyone will think they can get away with it. It's a terrible Chilul Hashem (desecration of Hashem's name). When Berel bites the bullet, it sends a very positive message. People realize how great a mitzvah is, that a man must forfeit his life for forsaking this commandment. The punishment turns into a Kidush Hashem!!

Some of the sins mentioned in this Parsha that are punishable by death are:

  • Murder or Kidnapping,
  • Wounding or cursing a parent,
  • Practicing witchcraft, and...
  • Worshiping idols.


How do you "damage" a person? If a person were blinded or his tooth was knocked out or her finger was slammed in a heavy door and a piece got cut off. The Torah insists that you pay for that damage (sorry, but passing it on to an insurance company might not cover the teshuva end of it)!!

If a Jew "damages" another Jew, the Bait Din makes him pay for that damage taking five things into consideration.

  1. Nezek - Physical damage. The way you figure this is by figuring how much the victim would be worth if he is sold as a servant. A blind servant for example isn't really worth much. But a servant missing a tooth is probably just as valuable as one with pearly whites.

  2. Tza'ar - Physical pain. This one will go far with a stubbed toe.

  3. Ripui - What it takes to heal. Does the victim need surgery? Physical therapy? Psychotherapy? All expenses are paid.

  4. Shevet - How much worktime the victim will miss - like workman's compensation. Was the victim a surgeon who lost a finger or was he a bum who never worked a day in his life?

  5. Boshet - Embarrassment. Is the victim's face hideously disfigured? Will he be rolling himself on a wheel cart because his feet were severed? Will a child's growth be stunted because he was exposed to lead paint? The damager must pay whatever the damages are, but he is still not forgiven until he asks forgiveness of the victim.

    The Torah expects a Jewish victim to forgive his attacker (after he's paid and apologized, of course).

So let's say that Mean Moe breaks Gadi Goodguy's arm. Now Gadi can't work because he's an arm wrestler. Mean Moe has to pay the $200 that Gadi lost while his arm is broken. Moe also has to pay for medical expenses and embarrassment.


The Torah's got a few rules when it comes to animals that cause damage. Now, of course, the animal that causes damage can't pay for the damage itself, so the question here is, when is it's owner responsible for the damage and when isn't he.

Animals that are wild by nature can never be fully tamed, so right off the cuff, whoever owns them has to realize that no matter what happens he will be held fully responsible since these animals don't belong outside of the wild. The Talmud mentions the lion, bear, wolf, leopard and the snake as examples.

So let's say Leo the lion tamer takes his lion for a walk without putting a muzzle on the animal. The lion gets hungry and eats up Delicious Doovie. The law is that the lion is killed and the owner is punished.

Now, let's say that a nice domestic animal that normally wouldn't hurt a fly, like a horse or a sheep, causes damage, the owner is responsible for half the cost.

If a bull or an ox suddenly lashes out and gores a fence or a person or another animal, you have to know if this animal has ever done such damage before. If it has done so even once, the owner pays half the damages. If it has happened three times before, the owner gets an official warning pink slip from Bait Din. The next time this happens the owner will have to pay full damages.

If an animal kills a Jew, it is stoned to death. The owner is forbidden to slaughter the animal to sell or eat and he can't even sell it after the animal is dead.

Let's say the owner was warned by Bait Din to watch the animal. In that case, the owner must pay the victim's family for damages. However, if the animal has never gored before, the owner doesn't have to pay damages to the family.


The Torah made a person responsible for a pit he digs in a public place. Let's say Groovy Ruvie digs a hole and doesn't cover it up. Meanwhile, Cool Shmuel takes his pet elephant for a walk and the elephant falls into the hole and dies. Ruvie has to pay Shmuel the price of an elephant minus the value of its tusks, skin and meat which can still be sold.


Next the Torah deals with one who steals. Like it says in the Aseret HaDibrot: "Thou shalt not steal;" like it says in this Parsha, "it's payback time."

If someone steals and then comes back and admits the crime by himself, all he has to do is give back what he stole. If he doesn't have the object anymore, he has to pay whatever it's worth.

That's simple enough, but what happens if the criminal gets hauled into court and won't admit his crime? If two people witnessed the crime, the thief has to return the item plus pay the value of the stolen item. (If the stolen item is gone, the thief pays twice its value). So basically, he's paying back double.

If a lamb was stolen and slaughtered or sold, the thief pays four times the value of the lamb. If he stole an ox and slaughtered or sold it, he pays back five times the ox's value.


If a Jew sets a fire that spreads to a neighbor's - even if it was started in the man's own oven - the fire-starter must pay for all the damaged property. If a person is "damaged" in the fire, the fire-starter must pay the value of this person (like we said before, Bait Din works out how much money in damages the man is worth). If the fire burns down a house, the fire-starter has to pay for the house plus everything that was in it.


The Torah moves on to the subject of a caretaker who is watching someone else's property. If something happens to that property under his watchful eye, is he responsible or not? To answer this question, the Torah tells us about four different types of watchman:
  1. Shomer Chinam - This guy is just doing a friend a favor, no money is involved. If, by accident, what he's watching is lost or damaged, you can't hold him responsible for the accident. All he has to do is go to Bait Din and swear that it was all an accident. If, on the other hand, he did do the damage on purpose, or if he was neglecting the property, he is responsible to pay for it.

  2. Shomer Sachar - A paid watchman (hired worker) who accidentally breaks his employer's property is not responsible to pay for it. But, if the property is stolen or lost, he does have to pay (after all, he is the watchman!)

  3. Socher - A person who rents an object or animal and damages it, has the same laws as a paid watchman - not responsible unless the object was stolen.

  4. Shoel - Let's say wild Yankie borrows a pencil and, while he's playing darts with it, he breaks off the eraser, splinters the wood and breaks the point. He has to pay for it. If it's lost or stolen he also has to pay for it.
Now let's say that Goodie-Two-Shoes Gabrielle is writing her homework with a borrowed pencil. Suddenly, the pencil has total breakdown: the point breaks, the wood splinters and the eraser pops off. She doesn't have to pay for the pencil since she was using it the way it's supposed to be used.


Hashem wants us to be especially nice to three groups of people: A Ger (convert) - We must be kind to a non-Jew who becomes a Jew. A Ger probably is alone in the world since he has abandoned his family and friends to become a Jew. He is very sensitive about not really being an "original" part of Klal Yisroel. Hashem wants us to remember what it felt like when we were strangers in Mitzrayim.

An orphan and a widow are also very sensitive. They are used to being protected by the security of their family. Now that their family has been pulled apart, they feel all alone. The Torah wants us to take care of all people who are weak or helpless.


This Parsha is chock full of laws for judges. A Bait Din must always have at least three judges. The number of judges always has to be an odd one. Majority rules. In the case of a trial that might warrant the death penalty, you need 23 judges. You need thirteen out of 23 to impose a death sentence.

A judge isn't allowed to start listening to a case unless both parties are present so that he can hear both sides of the story. He also can't accept any presents from either party even if he thinks that it won't affect his judgment.

There are all kinds of laws about who qualifies as a witness. But one thing for sure is that if a Jew committed a sin that is punishable by death or he would be whipped for, he is called a rasha (sinner) and can't be a witness. If a judge has any reason to believe that a witness is lying, even if he can't prove it, he should refuse to take the case.


The Torah forbids mixing milk and meat together even if you want to give it to your gentile friendly neighbor. Cooking and/or eating them together is surely forbidden. Why? Your guess is as good as mine, but it's a Chok - laws Hashem never explained, but will do so when Moshiach comes. (May it be speedily in our time).

Firsts to Hashem The first fruits, vegetables and fruits of the vine have to be put aside and offered to Hashem. The same deal applies with the first born male and animal.

Hashem teaches Moshe that if an animal is found torn apart in a field, even if its a kosher animal it is treif! (can't be eaten).

As we mentioned before, every seventh year begins the Shmita cycle. During that year you can't plant or lay claim to fruits that grow on your trees. It's a free for all.

Speaking of giving up on the 7th, on Shabbat you've got to leave your work behind. This includes servants, animals, family and even going to school.

Oleh Regel to Yerushalayim Also speaking of holy days, three times a year, on Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot, every adult Jew has to make a trip (Oleh Regel) to the Bait Hamikdash (Holy Temple) in Yerushalayim to bring sacrifices as thanks to Hashem.

Hashem concludes this law-giving session with a promise that if the Bnei Yisroel follow the Mishpatim, He will help them conquer the nations of Canaan and He guarantees victory as a reward.


In our last episode, Parshat Yitro, we learned what happened on the first, second, third, fourth and sixth days of Sivan. But the Torah skipped the fifth day of Sivan. Well, here it is:

The fifth day of Sivan is the day before Matan (the giving of the) Torah. On this day the Bnei Yisroel immerse themselves in the mikvah. Meanwhile, Moshe builds a mizbayach (altar) at the foot of Har Sinai. The firstborn sons of Bnei Yisroel offer sacrifices to Hashem on this mizbayach. Moshe then reads the Torah to Bnei Yisroel from Breishit to the part about Matan Torah (part of Parshat Yitro). He also repeats the mitzvot that Hashem gave in Marah. When Moshe is done, all of Bnei Yisroel calls out in unison "Naaseh V'nishmah" - we will accept any mitzvot Hashem will place upon us.

On the sixth of Sivan, as we said in our last episode, Moshe makes a line around Har Sinai and warns Bnei Yisroel not to cross it. Aharon, his two sons, Nadav and Avihu, the Zekainim and Moshe go further up the mountain, since they are on a higher spiritual level. They are able to see more of the Shechinah as Hashem reveals Himself.

But Nadav, Avihu and the Zekainim make a big blunder. They look at the Shechinah for too long. They are holy, but not as holy as Moshe and Aharon. Hashem later punishes them for this grave error.

After the Aseret Hadibrot are given to Bnei Yisroel, Moshe goes up to the summit of Har Sinai to collect a prize, the actual sapphire luchot (tablets) upon which the Aseret Hadibrot are engraved by Hashem Himself. He tells the people that he will be back down in forty days. But Bnei Yisroel miscalculates when that forty day period is up, and it's all downhill from here.

Tune in next week when Bnei Yisroel builds a traveling worship station in the next exciting episode of:

Parsha on Parade

Midrash Maven
See the Midrash Mavin on Mishpatim

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