Wednesday, February 17, 2010

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Thursday, February 11, 2010

214 - Mishpatim

The Parsha begins with "When you acquire a Jewish slave . . ." (Shemos 21,2). Rashi tells us that these pesukim are discussing a thief who was caught and does not have the financial ability to pay back what he stole, andwas therefore sold as a slave by beis din. Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) quotes Rav Itzele Peterburger who points out, that in the eyes of the Torah even a thief has to be dealt with in a respectable manner. If he has themoney to pay back his theft, all he must do is give back the stolen goods and no one has to know what occurred. It is only in a situation where he does not havethe ability to make restitution that he must be sold, and even then, it is notas a punishment but as a means of repaying his debts. This differs greatly fromthe way that thieves are dealt with in this day and age. As soon as someone is caught, his crime is publicized and often his life is ruined.

Later in the parsha, the Torah tells us, "If you should see the donkey of someone you hate collapsing under its load . . . you shall surely help him" (ibid. 23, 5). The Gemara (Bava Metzia 21b) explains that "someone you hate" is referring to a person who has transgressed an aveirah that permits another to hate him. Nevertheless, we are commanded to help out the transgressor, "to subdue our yetzer hara." Tosfos (Pesachim 1138) asks the obvious question: If one is permitted by the law of the Torah to hate the sinner, why does the Torah command us to overcome those feelings and assist him? He explains that when a person hates his friend, automatically the friend will sense it and reciprocate the hatred, thereby causing "a complete hatred between the two of them." In other words, the hatred will have turned into a personal quarrel not ordained by the Torah; hence, he is commanded to overcome that hatred and help out the transgressor.

Rav Wolbe comments that we see how careful one must be when hating those that flagrantly transgress Torah prohibitions. One must despise the evil actions; not the evil person. A Jew who sins is always a Jew and we must love him, while at the very same time we must hate his actions. Rav Yeruchom Levovitz would say that only very great people have the ability to separate the actions from the perpetrator to be able to hate someone in such a fashion.

There are those we might look down upon because they don't conform to our level of religiosity. The Torah tells us that even a thief or a flagrant transgressor must be helped and loved, for it is only his actions that must be despised. Let us take a minute to think about someone who rubs us the wrong way, and see if we have an adequate reason to dislike him. The answer will most probably be no. So this year let's send him Mishloach Manos for Purim and increase ahavas Yisroel among Yidden!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

213 - Yisro

In preparation for Matan Torah, Hashem tells Bnei Yisroel, "If you listen to My voice and you guard My covenant. . . You will be unto Me a kingdom of kohanim and a holy nation" (Shemos 19, 5-6). Rashi tells us that kohanim in this context does not refer to priests but rather to dignitaries. Through accepting the Torah, Bnei Yisroel would attain a greater stature. Likewise, after Matan Torah, when Bnei Yisroel begged Moshe to act as an intermediary between Hashem and themselves, Moshe responded: "Do not fear, because it is for the purpose of exalting you (l'nasos) that Hashem has come" (ibid. 20, 17). Rashi explains that l'nasos is a term describing elevation and greatness.

It appears from Rashi that he understood that the purpose of ma'amad Har Sinai was to elevate Bnei Yisroel. How could it be that the purpose of the awesome revelations experienced by Har Sinai was solely intended to elevate Bnei Yisroel? Rav Wolbe (Shiurei Chumash) explains with a quote from the Alter of Slabodka: "Do not look to become better, rather, look to become higher." When one elevates himself to a higher standard, automatically a multitude of petty issues and obsessions will fall by the wayside. After experiencing the revelations of Matan Torah, Bnei Yisroel would gain an entirely new perception of themselves and, thereby, on life in general.

We are an exalted nation and each individual is a dignitary. This does not mean that we should act as if we are on a spiritual level that we are not, for such behavior is doomed to failure even before it starts. This idea is brought out earlier in the parsha. "And also the kohanim who serve Hashem should prepare themselves" (ibid. 19, 23). Rashi explains that they should be prepared to stand in their designated places and not rush forward to get even closer to Hashem. Rav Wolbe says that one of the hardest aspects of avodas Hashem is acknowledging where one stands and not biting off more than he can chew. One who gets caught up in the momentum of spiritual ascent, and begins skipping rungs of the ladder, will end up falling through the holes.

Our true avodah is to recognize that, regardless of our personal spiritual level, as the mamlecheskohanim who received the Torah from Hashem, on Har Sinai, we are indeed elevated and prestigious. This perception will cause the insignificant issues in our lives to fade away, allowing us to focus on our real mission.