Torah Weekly

For the week ending 25 February 2006 / 27 Shevat 5766

Parshat Mishpatim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair - www.seasonsofthemoon.com
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Overview

The Jewish People receive a series of laws concerning social justice. Topics include: Proper treatment of Jewish servants; a husband's obligations to his wife; penalties for hitting people and for cursing parents, judges and leaders; financial responsibilities for damaging people or their property, either by oneself or by one's animate or inanimate property, or by pitfalls that one created; payments for theft; not returning an object that one accepted responsibility to guard; the right to self-defense of a person being robbed.

Other topics include: Prohibitions against seduction; witchcraft, bestiality and sacrifices to idols. The Torah warns us to treat the convert, widow and orphan with dignity, and to avoid lying. Usury is forbidden and the rights over collateral are limited. Payment of obligations to the Temple should not be delayed, and the Jewish People must be Holy, even concerning food. The Torah teaches the proper conduct for judges in court proceedings. The commandments of Shabbat and the Sabbatical year are outlined. Three times a year — Pesach, Shavuot and Succot — we are to come to the Temple. The Torah concludes this listing of laws with a law of kashrut — not to mix milk and meat.

G-d promises that He will lead the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, helping them conquer its inhabitants, and tells them that by fulfilling His commandments they will bring blessings to their nation. The people promise to do and listen to everything that G-d says. Moshe writes the Book of the Covenant, and reads it to the people. Moshe ascends the mountain to remain there for 40 days in order to receive the two Tablets of the Covenant.

Insights

Public MisSpeaking

“Distance yourself from a false word…” (23:7)

I will never forget one of the great lines of political doublethink uttered by a famous Hollywood ‘B’-film actor and sometime United States President. When challenged over the truthfulness of a statement he had made, he replied without batting an eyelid, “I misspoke.” Lithe as a lounge-lizard, he had managed to finesse a bald lie into an innocent slip of the tongue. I was duly impressed.

Politics has always been truth’s slippery slope. Advertising fares no better. And even though standards of truthfulness are mandated for advertising, it’s amazing how much can be infiltrated between the lines to distort and misrepresent without falling foul of the law.

“Distance yourself from a false word…”

The Torah is uncompromising in its ban on lying. However, there are circumstances where this prohibition can conflict with other prohibitions. What does one do in those situations?

The brother of the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Zalmele, together with another rabbi, once went to visit a friend of Rabbi Zalmele. They found the friend seated at his meal. He sprang to his feet and begged them to join him. Rabbi Zalmele knew that this man was extremely poor and the meal that he was eating was inadequate for one person, let alone three. Rabbi Zalmele thus excused himself from joining him, protesting that the doctor had prohibited him from the kind of food that his friend was eating.

After they left, the other rabbi turned to Rabbi Zalmele and said, “Is it true that you are ill?” Replied Rabbi Zalmele, “No.” Most surprised, the other said to him, “You, who are so careful not to let a false word escape your lips, how can you, of all people, tell a direct lie?” Rabbi Zalmele replied, “The Rambam (Maimonides) was a doctor. He writes that it is prohibited to share the food of someone who does not have enough for himself.”

  • Source: Iturei Torah

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