Harav Yisrael Apelbaum Shlitah
Rosh Yeshiva – Yeshiva Tiferes Chaim
Parshas Mishpatim 5778
“וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים“(שמות כא א)
“And these are the laws”
“מה הראשונים מסיני אף אלו מסיני” (רש“י)
Parshas Mishpatim starts off with the laws of interpersonal laws. Rashi explains that just like the Ten Commandments were given at Har Sinai, so too were these laws given at Har Sinai. Why is it important to inform us of this? Isn’t it obvious that all of the laws in the Torah were given over by Har Sinai?
The gemara says that there are different types of mitzvos in the Torah. Chukim are mitzvos whos reason is not readily understood. Mishpatim are mitzvos that we do understand. It’s possible that a person might err and think that only the major mitzvos like Shabbos, Kibbud av v’eim, Anochi Hashem, were given at Sinai, but the laws of interpersonal relationships, were not given at Sinai as they are logical laws that we derived on our own. In order to prevent someone from thinking this way, the Torah specifically states that the interpersonal laws were also given at Sinai. We also find this idea mentioned in Pirkei Avos. Pirkei Avos starts off with “משֶׁה קִבֵּל תּוֹרָה מִסִּינַי”, Moshe received the Torah at Sinai. The same question arises as to why it has to mention the obvious, that Moshe received the Torah at Sinai. The Raav explains that one might think that Chazal conceived these laws and ideas themselves. Therefore, the Mishna has to tell us that even these laws were given to us at Sinai from Hashem. What is unique about the Torah laws of interpersonal relationships? At face value we might think that there is no need for the Torah to instruct us about these laws. All modern day societies and cultures have a set of laws which include these laws, so we can figure them out by ourselves. But that’s a mistake. We have to realize that the Torah’s laws of personal interaction are not merely another set of logical ideas identical to the laws of all other civilized cultures. These are elevated Godly laws, “Sinai laws”.
This is illustrated by the first law in the Parsha. It starts off with the laws of owning a slave. The Torah tells us that we must be very careful with our treatment of a slave. If we have only one pillow, we must give it to him. We must support him, and his family! One might think that since the reason that he became a slave in the first place, is because he commited a crime, he’s not deserving of any special treatment. But the Torah tells us otherwise. We have a responsibility to take care of all his needs, and all of his family’s needs. No secular law would ever requiere this, but these are not regular laws. These are “Sinai laws”, a higher sublime type of laws.
The Midrash relates a story about Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach who purchased a donkey from a non jew. A precious stone was later found hanging on the donkey’s neck and people thought that this was a blessing from Hashem. But the Rabbi responded, “I purchased a donkey, not a precious stone!” So he went and returned the gem to the non jew who exclaimed, “Blessed is the G-d of Shimon ben Shetach!” (Devorim Rabbah 3:3) Nobody expected him to return it, but the Torah expects more of us. This is a fundamental foundation of Yiddishkeit. We must go out of our way to represent Hashem in all of our actions. That means doing chesed, but a higher level of chesed. The whole Torah is built on chesed, and we have to ingrain this trait in ourselves.
The gemara (Sotah 14) says that the Torah starts and ends with chesed. It starts with chesed in that Hashem clothed Adam Harishon. Rav Scheinberg zatzal asks, wasn’t the creation of the world the first act of chesed? He answered that of course the creation of the world was an act of chesed. But that was the kind of chesed that all cultures would consider chesed. Making clothing for Adam Harishon however, was a higher level of chesed which the non jewish cultures can not understand. Adam had just sinned against Hashem, and was completely undeserving of Hashem’s kindness! Even so, Hashem had mercy on him, and clothed him. This is “Toras Chesed”.
Rav Yisroel Belsky zatzal was asked by a man for assistance in getting his job back. He had been fired by someone who was a former talmid of Rav Belsky. Rav Belsky graciously called the mans former boss and asked him to rehire him. The boss couldn’t believe it. He told Rabbi Belsky that the reason why he had fired this man, was because he repeatedly spoke badly of Rabbi Belsky! After warning him several times, he had fired him. Now he had asked Rav Belsky himself to get him his job back?! Rav Belsky wouldn’t hear of it. “If you care about my honor”, he said, “rehire him”. “A Jews parnasa is more important to me than my honor”.
That is “Sinai chesed”.