Parshas Mishpatim; Care for your Fellow, Man!

There is a concept that the physical world mirrors the spiritual world, and thus one can learn much about how the spiritual world works from the study of the physical world; especially from the human body. One wonder of the human body is that at the moment of creating a new life, the DNA is already encoded and laid down as to exactly what this new child will look like. It is all there from the fist moment; the rest of the process is just development and watching as it is carried out as the baby grows. And so it is in the spiritual world; everything is laid down at the start, only for things to unfold and grow to achieve

these plans later. For example, in the creation of the world everything was created on the first day, only for each item to be placed and ‘brought out’ in its correct day (Rashi Bereishis 1;14). Similarly, we have the concept that ‘maaseh avos siman babanim,’ ie that which occurred to our foefathers in chumash Bereishis lays down our national genes as to what will occur to us across history. One example is that just as Yaakov went back to collect every single vessel, so too in the future will every single Jew be brought back to the path of HaShem with the arrival of Moshaich, speedily in our days, please G-D. (R’ Tatz)

Taking all this into account, the central genes of the mitzvos are the ten commandments at the end of last week’s sedra. The root of the positive mitzvos is the first commandment that ‘I am HaShem your G-D,’ and its corresponding root of the negative prohibitions is the 2nd commandment not to have any other gods but HaShem. Now the ten commandments were split into two tablets of 5 commandments each; the first one had the mitzvos between us and HaShem, and the second tablet contained the 5 commandments which are between man and man. The man-HaShem commandments are naturally put first, for that is the root of all commandments. In this week’s sedra, however, the order is inverted; first we have the man-man mitzvos (eg treatment of slaves, damages, etc.) and only afterwards comes the man-HaShem mitzvos (eg Shmittah, festivals, etc.). If the ten commandments are supposed to be the genes, then why does the very next sedra not follow those genes, and instead puts the man-man mitzvos before the man-HaShem mitzvos?

An answer is based on the idea of having two separate tablets of 5 as opposed to one tablet of 10 commandments. Why indeed are they split up; if the root of even man-man commandments is ultimately HaShem’s Commanding us, then there does not seem to be any real reaspm not to have one tablet of ten? The answer to this is that the mitzvos between man and man have their own tablet because they have a different category/point of obligation than the man-HaShem mitzvos. Whilst the man-HaShem mitzvos revolve around us doing what HaShem wants because He commands it, the goal of the man-man mitzvos is that we should care for each other.

It cannot be that the man-man mitzvos are solely aimed at doing because HaShem Commanded so, because then the natural result would be that one should want an ill patient to get more ill for then the mitzvah of visiting them would be an greater mitzvah! Evidently, this cannot be the way that HaShem wants us to live, and thus the goal of man-man mitzvos is that we care about others; that we visit the sick knowing that we are helping them with their pain and lend money to people in order to help them - with the fact that we are fulfilling something HaShem commanded us to do also being our intention, but with the goal being to develop ourselves to genuinely care for others.

A similar idea is expressed by Rav Shimshon Refoel Hirsch. He notes that whilst the man-HaShem mitzvos begin with thought-related mitzvos (eg emunah) and move to active mitzvos (eg keeping shabbes), the man-man mitzvos do just the opposite; they start with action-based mitzvos (eg murder) and then move on to thought-related mitzvos (eg jealousy).

idea, he notes, is that in man-HaShem mitzvos the first step is to develop one’s ‘mind mitzvos’ [eg in terms of emunah and bitachon] and then to act by expressing this in doing active mitzvos. But in bein adam lechaveiro one first does the active mitzvos and then will the good character traits be ingrained into one's personality.

The idea is the two different ‘obligators’ of the two sets of mitzvos; for man-HaShem mitzvos it is HaShem’s Existence as Creator and Master of the World [which must thus be recognised first before actions] and for man-man mitzvos it’s one fellow man which obligates you, the end goal being to care about others [and this is developed through doing the mitzvos]

And so too here in parshas Mishpatim is the order inverted from that of the ten commandments to teach us that the man-man mitzvos are not solely dependent on the same ‘obligation/aim’ as the man-HaShem mitzvos, but stands on a different aim.

Thus they can be put first here to teach us their relative independence. This concept enables us to answer another pressing issue; the order of parshas mishpatim? Let's look at the nezikim (laws of damages) section (perek 21). In halacha, damages are split into 5 categories: an ox goring, falling into pit, fire consuming things, flock eating/trampling, and man damaging; with each category representing broader characteristics. When we look at the psukim, these categories are split up, with seemingly no overall order. For example, psukim 20-25 concern man hitting man (the ‘man damaging‘ category), 25-26 = man hitting slave. 28-32 is an ox goring a man (‘ox‘ category). 33-34 is man falling into pit (‘pit’). 35-36 go back to ox goring again, this time goring another ox. And 21;37 until 22;3 leaves the world of damages to talk about theft. Only later comes psukim regarding the flock and fire categories of damages (22;4-5). What is going on structurally; why is the ‘ox’ category split into two separate parts, and why do the laws of theft break up the damages sections?

An answer given is that if you look at the ‘offender,’ i.e. the thing that does the damage, then there is no straightforward order. But if you focus on that which is being damaged, then a clear order emerges: first the psukim speak of man being damaged, then slaves, then animals, then vessels. [This is why the gemarra bava kama 28b learns that the words ‘ox’ and ‘donkey’ regarding the ‘falling into pit’ pasuk 21;33 exclude if a man or vessels fall into the pit, for the pasuk was not put within the psukim which deal with man or vessels being damaged.] In other words, the very order of the psukim themselves push us to focus on that which is being damaged; the very point of veahata lereacha kamocha - focusing on the other person - which is one of the psukim brought as the prohibition for damaging property of others; Yad Ramah Bava Basra 26a.

This also means that the actual action of damaging is wrong, even if one damages with intention to compensate the victim for his monetary loss - it’s not about the loss solely, but on the damager’s callousness in failing to accord enough respect for others and their property. In fact, the opinion of the Ayeles HaShachar (nedarim 39a) is that if one takes payment for a man-man mitzvah then (unlike man-HaShem mitzvos) one loses the mitzvah. This is best understood according to the above; if the goal of a man-man mitzvah is to care for others, then by taking payment one is showing that the goal in doing that mitzvah was not entirely out of care for others, but of self-gain too.

Thus, in summary, let’s try and be reaching our aim of caring about others through mitzvos bein adam lechaveiro and allow our mitzvos to impact on us,

Have a great Shabbes,

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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