18. MISHPATIM 5782


Exodus 21:1-24:18

Israel is encamped at the foot of Mount Sinai.  There, in last week’s Sedra Yitro, the Eternal and Israel forged a covenant.  Israel is to be a kingdom of priests for the Eternal, a holy nation.  They agreed to observe the demands of the Eternal.  These demands begin with the Ten Commandments which God spoke in Israel’s presence from Mount Sinai amid thunder and lightning, the sound of a shofar, and smoke rising from the mountain, covered by the heavy cloud of the Eternal’s Presence.  The people were so terrified that they moved away from the mountain and asked Moses to speak with them instead of God.  Moses then approached the thick cloud to draw closer to God.


In this week’s Sedra Mishpatim, the message which the Eternal has told Moses to deliver to the Children of Israel (cf. Exodus 20:19-23) continues with the following ordinances (Mishpatim) that Moses is to set before them.


A Hebrew slave that you acquire shall go out free without payment in the seventh year.  If he comes in single, he goes out single.  If he comes in with a wife, he goes out with her.  If his master gives him a woman and she bears his children, the woman and her children belong to her master, and he goes out single.  However, if he should declare, “I love my master, my woman, and my children; I shall not go out free,” then his master shall bring him to the judges and to the door or to the doorpost, the master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him in perpetuity.


If a man should sell his daughter as a slave, she shall not go out in the manner of male slaves.  If her master designates her for himself and then she displeases him, he must let her be redeemed.  But he does not have the right to sell her to a foreign person when he has violated her designation.  If he designated her for his son, he shall deal with her in accordance with the ordinance of daughters.  If he should marry another woman, he may not diminish her food, her clothing, or her conjugal entitlement; otherwise, she goes out free without payment.


The following offenders shall be put to death:

One intentionally strikes another and the victim dies.  However, if he did not act intentionally, but God caused it to come about, I shall provide for you a place to which he may flee.  On the other hand, if it turns out that he actually schemed against his fellow to kill him with guile, you shall take him from My Sanctuary to die.

One strikes his father or his mother.

One kidnaps a man, whether he sells him or is found holding him.

One insults his father or his mother.


If one wounds another in a quarrel with a stone or fist, wherein the victim recovers, he is liable only for the victim’s loss of productivity and medical expenses.

If one strikes his male or female slave with a staff, so that the slave dies, he shall be held liable.  However, if the slave lives for one or two days, he will not be held liable, since the slave is his property.

If men, in the course of fighting with each other, hurt a pregnant woman so that she miscarries, and there is no other harm, the man responsible shall be fined in accordance with her husband’s demand as determined by the judges.  If, however, there is other damage, then you shall impose life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise.

If one destroys the eye or the tooth of his male or female slave, he shall set him free because of the eye or the tooth.


If an ox gores to death a man or a woman or a male or female child, it shall be stoned, and it shall not be eaten; the owner is innocent.  If, however, the ox has a history of goring and its owner has been warned but does not guard it, the ox shall be stoned, and the owner is subject to the penalty of death.  He may redeem his life by paying in full the ransom that is placed upon him.  If the victim is a male or female slave, the owner of the ox shall pay a fine of 30 shekels to the master of the deceased slave, and the ox shall be stoned.

If a man should open or dig a pit and fail to cover it, and an ox or an ass fall into it, then the one responsible for the pit shall pay restitution to the animal’s owner and shall then own the dead animal.

If a man’s ox fatally injures the ox of another, they shall sell the live ox and divide its price, and they shall divide the dead animal.  If, however, it was known that the ox has a history of goring and the owner does not guard it, the owner shall pay ox for ox and shall then own the dead animal.


If one should steal an ox or a sheep and slaughter it or sell it, he shall pay 5 oxen for the ox or 4 sheep for the sheep.  If what he stole is found alive in his possession, he shall pay double.  He shall make restitution, but if he has nothing, he shall be sold in his theft.

If a thief is discovered tunneling in and is beaten to death, there is no bloodguilt for him.  If, however, the sun had risen upon him, there is bloodguilt for him.

If a man allows his cattle to graze in the field or vineyard of another, he shall make restitution based upon the value of the choicest produce of the field or of the vineyard.

If a fire is started and reaches thorns, and stacked or standing grain or the field is consumed, the one who started the fire must make restitution for the burning.


If a man deposits money or articles with another for safekeeping, and it is subsequently stolen—if the thief is found, he shall pay double.  If the thief is not found, then the one with whom it was deposited shall appear before the judges to determine if he did not lay his hand upon the property of the depositor.

If one alleges misappropriation by another, the case of both parties shall be heard by the judges.  The one whom they hold guilty shall pay double to the other.

If a man deposits an animal with another for safekeeping, and it subsequently dies or is injured or is captured, with no witness, an oath of the Eternal shall decide between them if the one with whom it was deposited did not lay his hand upon the property of the depositor.  The depositor shall accept this: the one with whom it was deposited shall not make restitution.  If the animal was torn by another animal, he shall bring it as evidence, and he shall not make restitution.  However, if the animal was stolen, then he shall make restitution.


If a man borrows an animal from another, and it subsequently is injured or dies—if the owner was not with it, the borrower shall make restitution; if the owner was with it, the borrower shall not make restitution.

If a man hires an animal from another, and it subsequently is injured or dies, the owner is entitled to his hire.


If a man seduces an unbetrothed virgin, he shall pay the purchase price to acquire her as his wife.  If her father refuses to give her to him, he must still pay the purchase price.


You shall not allow a sorceress to remain alive.

Whoever lies with an animal shall be put to death.

Whoever sacrifices to deities other than the Eternal alone shall be proscribed.


Do not wrong or oppress a stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.

Do not mistreat any widow or orphan.  Otherwise, I shall hear their cry.  Enraged, I shall kill you by the sword: your wives will become widows and your children, orphans.

Do not treat “My people, the poor with you” (Exodus 22:24), as a creditor would normally treat a debtor.  Charge no interest when you lend him money.  If he gives you his garment in pledge, return it to him before the sun sets because it is the only covering for his skin.  If he cries out to me, I will listen because I am compassionate.

Do not curse God.

Do not curse a leader among your people.

Do not be late in offering of the fullness of your fields or of your wine or oil.

Give to Me the firstborn of your sons.  This also applies to your cattle and to your flock: for seven days it shall be with its mother, on the eighth day you shall give it to Me.

Do not eat torn flesh of an animal in the field; throw it to the dogs.  You shall be holy people to Me.

Do not utter an unfounded report.

Do not join with the guilty to be a malicious witness.

Do not follow a multitude to do evil.

Do not pervert your testimony in a dispute to favor a party because he is mighty or because he is weak.

If you encounter the ox or ass of your enemy wandering, you must return it to him.

If you see the ass of your enemy lying under its burden, you must aid him in freeing it regardless of how you feel towards one who hates you.

Do not pervert laws which are meant to protect the powerless in their disputes.  Keep far from a falsehood, which might lead to the death of the innocent and the righteous, for I will not justify the wicked.  Do not accept a bribe, which blinds the clear-sighted and suppresses the candor of the honest.  Do not oppress a stranger, for you know the plight of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.

Farm your land for six years, then let it rest in the seventh.  The needy of your people may eat from its produce during the seventh year; whatever they leave may be eaten by the beast of the field.  The same applies to your vineyard and to your olive grove.

Do your work for six days, then observe a Sabbath on the seventh day, in order that your ox and your ass may rest, in order that your worker and the stranger may be refreshed.

Be careful to observe all that I say to you.  Do not mention the name of other gods, let it not be heard upon your lips!


Three times in the year shall you observe a festival for Me.  Keep the festival of unleavened bread for seven days by eating unleavened bread as I commanded you (cf. Exodus 12:15) for the festival of the month of Aviv, when you went forth from Egypt, when no one should appear in My presence empty-handed; the festival of the first fruits harvest of what you have labored to sow in the field; and the festival of the last gathering of your labors from the field at the end of the year.  All of your males shall appear before Me, the Lord, the Eternal, three times in the year.

Do not offer My blood sacrifice (cf. Exodus 12:24 ff.) while there is leavened bread present, and do not leave the fat of My festival sacrifice overnight until morning (cf. Exodus 12:10).

Bring the choicest of your first fruits to the House of the Eternal, your God.

Do not boil a kid in the milk of its mother.


I am sending an angel before you to provide you safe passage to the destination I have prepared for you.  Obey him, do not defy him, for he will not tolerate your transgression, as My Name is in him.  If you do obey, then I will attack those who attack you.

When My angel brings you to the Amorites, the Hittites, the Perizzites, the Canaanites, the Hivites, and the Jebusites, and I annihilate them, do not start to worship their gods or follow their ways.  Rather, you should destroy their cultic infrastructure and serve the Eternal, your God, who will thus bless your bread and your water.  Thus will I remove sickness from your midst, and there will be no miscarrying or barrenness in your Land.  I will see that you live out the fullness of your days.

I will send My terror before you and rout every people that you come against, including the Hivites, the Canaanites and the Hittites.  However, this will not be accomplished in a year, in order to protect the Land from sudden desolation and to prevent wild beasts from filling the vacuum left by your vanquished enemies.  I shall expel them gradually, until you are fruitful and your progeny inherit the Land.

I shall establish your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of Philistia and from the Wilderness to the Euphrates.  The current inhabitants of the Land do I place in your hand so that you can drive them out from before you.  Make no covenant with them or their gods.  They shall not continue to live in your Land lest they influence you to sin against Me and thus become your undoing.


Moses relates to the people all of the words of the Eternal and all of the ordinances.  The people respond in one voice that they will do all that the Eternal commands.  Moses also writes down all of the Eternal’s words.  Early the next morning, he builds an altar at the foot of the mountain with twelve pillars for the twelve tribes of Israel.  He causes young men to offer burnt offerings and to sacrifice bulls as peace offerings to the Eternal.  Half of the blood Moses places in basins, and the other half he dashes against the altar.  Then he reads from the written record of the covenant in the hearing of the people, who respond, “All that the Eternal has spoken, we shall do and we shall heed” (Exodus 24:7)! Thereupon Moses takes the blood and casts it upon the people, pronouncing it, “the blood of the covenant which the Eternal has made with you concerning all of these things” (Exodus 24:8).

The Eternal had bidden Moses to ascend to Him along with Aaron, Aaron’s sons Nadav and Avihu, and seventy of the Elders of Israel (cf. Numbers 11:16 ff.), to worship from afar.  Only Moses was to draw near to the Eternal.  Now they ascend, and they behold the God of Israel.  Under His feet there is something resembling paved sapphire, as pure in its appearance as the heavens.  Undisturbed by the Eternal, these nobles of the Children of Israel look upon God and eat and drink.

The Eternal tells Moses to come up to Him on the mountain, where He will give him “the stone tablets with the teaching and the commandment, which I have inscribed to teach them” (Exodus 24:12).  Moses and Joshua his attendant arise, Moses instructs the Elders to remain behind with Aaron and Hur to accommodate anyone who has a legal matter to decide, and Moses goes up to the mountain of God.

A cloud covers the mountain, the Divine Presence upon Mount Sinai for six days.  The Children of Israel see it as a consuming fire at the top of the mountain.  On the seventh day, from the cloud, the Eternal calls to Moses.  Moses enters the cloud and ascends to the mountain.  Moses remains on the mountain for forty days and forty nights.


Haftarah for Shabbat Mishpatim
Jeremiah 34:8-22; 33:25-26

Consequence of flouting the Torah:

The word that came to Jeremiah from the Eternal
after King Zedekiah made a covenant
with all of the people in Jerusalem
to proclaim liberty:
For every Jew to manumit
his Hebrew slave,
male or female.

The people and its leaders observed the covenant and let their slaves go free.  But later they changed and impressed their former male and female servants back into servitude.

So thus came the word of the Eternal, the God of Israel, to Jeremiah: I made a covenant with your fathers when I brought them out of the land of Egypt, from the house of bondage.  A Hebrew who is sold to you shall serve you for six years, and then you must let him go free (cf. Exodus 21:2).  At first you turned and did that which is right in My eyes, and you made a covenant before Me in the House on which My Name is called.  Then you turned back to profane My Name and returned your former slaves to their former servitude.

As you ultimately failed to proclaim liberty, each of you to his brother and to his neighbor, behold I proclaim “liberty” to you, declares the Eternal: to sword, to pestilence, and to famine!  You shall be an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth.  The leaders of Jerusalem and Judah, the priests, and all of the people, who solemnly affirmed the covenant by passing between two parts of the calf, I shall deliver into the hand of their enemies and into the hand of those who seek their life, so that their carcass shall become food for the birds of heaven and the beasts of the earth.  I shall deliver Zedekiah, king of Judah, into the hand of the forces of the king of Babylonia, who otherwise withdrew from you.  I shall cause them to return to this city.  They shall capture it and set it afire.  I shall cause the cities of Judah to become desolate, without inhabitants.

The Haftarah ends on a note of consolation:

Thus promises the Eternal:  As sure as My covenant is with day and night, just as I founded the laws of heaven and earth, I shall not spurn the offspring of Jacob or David My servant.  I shall not fail to take of his descendants for rulers of the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.  I shall restore them from their captivity and show them My mercy.


Exodus Rabbah 30:3
A Lesson about Judgment

“Do not ascend to My Altar by steps,
so that your nakedness is not exposed upon it.”
(Exodus 20:23)

And these are the ordinances (Mishpatim)
which you shall set before them.”
(Exodus 21:1)

The contiguity of these two verses, the first being the conclusion of the previous Sedra Yitro and the second being the beginning of the current Sedra Mishpatim, apparently connected by the conjunctive vav (“and”), implies a commonality between them, as if to suggest that the “ordinances” are to be applied in such a way as “your nakedness is not exposed!”

But the priests’ nakedness is already to be concealed according to a separate commandment: Make for the Kohanim (“Priests”) “linen underpants to cover their nakedness…” (Exodus 28:42).  Thus, the preceding verse here (Exodus 20:23 as above), to avoid redundancy, must be understood not to be about the priests’ nakedness.  What then is it about?  It teaches that the way to ascend to the Altar is to take very small steps, heal touching toe, in the very same way that one would walk if he were trying to conceal his nakedness!

Rabbi Avina then explains the commonality between our verses (Exodus 20:23 and Exodus 21:1 as above): Just as the Holy One, blessed be He, warned the Kohanim against taking large steps on their way to the top of the Altar, so also does He warn the Judges against taking large steps in adjudication of the ordinances.

“Moses received Torah from Sinai and transmitted it to Joshua,
and Joshua to the Elders, and the Elders to the Prophets,
and the Prophets transmitted it to the Men of the Great Assembly,
who said…: Be deliberate (in the sense of ‘careful’) in judgment….”
(Mishnah Avot 1:1)

Rambam: They should not depend on their initial judgment, but they should engage in long deliberation and careful examination so as to avoid error.  For one who rushes to judgment is considered a sinner, and even if he intends to arrive at the truth, he is not thereby an unintentional sinner but virtually an intentional one, having failed to hold in his heart the Prophet’s implication that “the mind of the hasty [does not] discern knowledge” (Isaiah 32:4), given that error inheres to everyone!  That is what Rabbi Judah meant when he taught: “Be careful in your study, for an error in study may amount to intentional sin” (Mishnah Avot 4:13).  And that is what Solomon taught: “If you see a man who is wise in his own eyes, there is more to hope for from a fool than from him” (Proverbs 26:12)!

“When I take enough time,
I can make a fair judgment.”
(Psalms 75:3 according to Midrash Samuel on Avot 1:1)

Exodus Rabbah 30:5
The Ordinances bespeak the Ten Commandments

How beautifully abundant and deep is Sedra Mishpatim!  Its ordinances follow upon the giving of the Ten Commandments and their meaning.  The first two laws provide evidence.

“When you acquire a Hebrew slave…” (Exodus 21:2)—thus says the Holy One, blessed be He, to Israel:  I acquired you in Egypt (cf. Exodus 20:2) through the Ten Plagues.  Indeed when the Psalmist praises God for the wonders of his own creation, we may understand the “wonders” of which he speaks as the liberation of Israel from Egypt: “What you have done for me is miraculous, to which I owe my existence” (Psalms 139:14)!  So I (God) openly give you the Ten Commandments, which attest to My creating the world in no more than six days.  Accordingly, I have given you no more than six years of work from your Hebrew slave.

“When a man sells his daughter as a slave…”—I had an only daughter, and I sold her to you; you may not take her out: show her honor by sheltering her in an ark—“…she may not go out as do the male slaves” (Exodus 21:7)!  You captured her from me, as the Psalmist’s words may be understood: “You went up to the Height, you took a captive” (Psalms 68:19)!

Exodus Rabbah 30:10
Train those whom you appoint

And these are the ordinances…” (Exodus 21:1)—thus opens Sedra Mishpatim: with the conjunction “and,” linking this Sedra with the previous Sedra Yitro.  In the previous Sedra, Moses follows the advice of his father-in-law Jethro to appoint lower judges in order to remove some of the burden of judgment from his own shoulders.  Jethro specifies four qualities that Moses should look for in these judges.  They should be (1) worthy men who are (2) God-fearing, (3) honest, and (4) averse to unjust gain.  But what do we find?  “Moses chooses (1) worthy men from all Israel,” (Exodus 18:25), but there is no further mention of qualities (2), (3) or (4).  Yet Moses goes on to appoint them judges over Israel!

Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Moses:  I gave the judgeship to you, then you turn around and appoint others!  And those others are not even fully qualified!  So now, you must go and teach them, as was said, “And these are the ordinances which you shall place before them.” (Exodus 21:1)

Mechilta Mishpatim Nezikin 18
Beloved are the strangers

“Do not wrong a stranger, and do not oppress him,
for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
(Exodus 22:20)

Do not wrong him with words, so that you should not say to him, “The mouth that was eating carrion and torn beasts, unclean animals and reptiles, now chants the tropes of the Torah; until now pig meat was hanging from between your teeth, and you were worshipping all of it!”

Whence do we learn that if you wrong him, he may wrong you?  It is an inference from “for you were strangers!”  But from the same words of the verse, Rabbi Nathan used to teach: Don’t apply a blemish in yourself to someone else!

Beloved are the strangers,
for in every place He gives warning concerning them:

“Do not wrong a stranger…” (Exodus 22:20)

“Do not oppress a stranger…” (Exodus 23:9)

“You too must love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:19)

“For you know the plight of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Exodus 23:9)

Rabbi Eliezer says:  Because the condition of a stranger is poor, the verse cautions about him in many places.

Rabbi Shimon ben Yochai says:  Consider the verse, “And His lovers are as the coming out of the sun in its might” (Judges 5:31)!  Who is greater: One who loves the King? Or one whom the King loves?  One should say: One whom the King loves, as was said: “The great, mighty and awesome God, who shows no favor and takes no bribe: He does justice for the orphan and the widow, but He loves the stranger, giving him bread and clothing” (Deuteronomy 10:17-18).

Abraham called himself a stranger, as was said, “Abraham rose from before his dead and addressed the Hittites: ‘I am a stranger and a sojourner with you; sell me a burial site among you…’” (Genesis 23:3-4).  David called himself a stranger, as was said, “I am a stranger in the land…” (Psalms 119:19) and “For strangers are we before You, and sojourners like all of our fathers; our days upon the earth are as a shadow, lacking hope” (I Chronicles 29:15) and “Hear my prayer, O Eternal, give ear to my cry…for I am a stranger with You, a sojourner like all my fathers” (Psalms 39:13).

Beloved are the strangers, for Abraham our Father was not circumcised until he was 99 years of age (cf. Genesis 17:24).  For if he had been circumcised at the age of 20 or 30, no stranger would have been able to enter the covenant beyond the age of 30.  Therefore God bore with Abraham until he was 99 years old, so as not to close the door to strangers who would enter in the future and to give credit for days and years, to maximize the reward of those who do His will, and to fulfill that which was said: “The Eternal desires, for the sake of His servant’s vindication, that he magnify Torah and glorify it” (Isaiah 42:21).

Exodus Rabbah 31:12
Why loan interest is prohibited

“If you lend money to My people, the poor with you,
do not act towards him as a creditor;
do not impose upon him interest.”
(Exodus 22:24)


This is what is written:
“One who shows compassion to the poor
makes a loan to the Eternal,
and He will repay him
what is due him.”
(Proverbs 19:17)

To what extent?

“The borrower
is a slave
to the lender.”
(Proverbs 22:7)


What shall we say about
“the poor with you?”

No affliction in the world is more feared or more known than poverty.  When Job was allowed to choose between all other afflictions and poverty, Job said to the Holy One, blessed be He: Master of the universe, I would accept upon myself all of the afflictions of the world rather than poverty.  If I go out to the marketplace and lack even a perutah, what shall I eat?  But when he suffered other afflictions—which he chose over poverty!—he cried out in shock and disbelief, “My complaint is bitter…would that I knew how to reach Him…let me argue my case before Him and fill my mouth with evidence” (Job 23:3)!  Hence, the Eternal says, “the poor with you”: poverty is in the mind of everyone, including the creditor, as if the Holy One, blessed be He, is saying to the would-be creditor: His poverty is not enough? And you would also exact from him interest?

Exodus Rabbah 31:13
God bonds with the poor

“Do not treat My people, the poor with you,
as a creditor would normally treat a debtor.
Charge no interest when you lend him money.
If he gives you his garment in pledge,
return it to him before the sun sets
because it is the only covering for his skin.
If he cries out to me, I will listen because I am compassionate.”
(Exodus 22:24-26)

“The poor with you?”  They are not with you; they are with Me; they are “My people!” and thus says David: “For You shall deliver a poor people” (Psalms 18:28)!

In this regard the nature of the Holy One, blessed be He, is different from the nature of flesh and blood.  A wealthy man of flesh and blood who has a poor relative will not acknowledge him.  If he sees his poor relative, he hides from him, for he is ashamed to carry on a conversation with him because he is poor.  Thus says Solomon, “All brothers of the poor hate him” (Proverbs 19:7) and “The poor is hated even by his own close one, while many are the friends of the wealthy” (Proverbs 14:20), and Job complained, “My relatives are gone, and my friends have forgotten me” (Job 19:14)!

But who are with the Holy One, blessed be He?  The poor.  When He sees a poor person, He bonds with him.  “Thus says the Eternal: The heaven is My throne, the earth is My footstool…yet to this one do I look: to the poor and broken of spirit…” (Isaiah 66:1-2)!  As Moses says to Israel, “It is not because you are the most numerous of all peoples that the Eternal has desired you and chosen you, but because you are the smallest of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7:7)!  And when He expresses His love for Zion, on whom does He have compassion first?  On the poor, as was said: “The Eternal shall establish Zion, and He shall shelter therein the poor of His people” (Isaiah 14:32) and “The Eternal shall comfort His people, showing mercy to its poor” (Isaiah 49:13)!

Exodus Rabbah 31:15
Compassionate Lender

“Do not treat My people, the poor with you,
as a creditor would normally treat a debtor…”
(Exodus 22:24-26)

These words express His intention:

“A good person lends graciously [chonen],
conducting his transactions with justice.”
(Psalms 112:5)

Indeed all of the non-human creations of the Holy One, blessed be He, borrow from each other:

Day borrows from night in the summer, and night borrows from day in the winter, without suing each other, as was said, “Do you imagine that day says to day that the night owes us, or that night says to night that the day owes us? No, there are no such words, there is no complaint, their voice is not heard!” (Psalms 19:3-4)

The moon borrows from the stars, and the stars borrow from the moon, as was said, “He says to the moon that it should wane in favor of the stars, and seals the stars in favor of the moon!” (Job 9:7)

The afterglow at sunset borrows from the sun, and the sun as it rises borrows from the first light, as was said, “As the glowing sun sets, Your arrows of light arise; then a glow before the flash of Your spear!” (Habakkuk 3:11)

Heaven borrows from the earth, and earth from heaven, as was said, “A mist rises up to heaven from the earth” (Genesis 2:7), and “The Eternal opens up to you heaven, His benevolent storehouse, to grant your Land rain when it needs it and to bless all the work of your hands” (Deuteronomy 28:12)!

All of them borrow from each other cooperatively, without rancorous accusations.  But when His creations of flesh and blood need to borrow one from the other, the creditor seeks to dominate the debtor by means of interest and thievery.  Indeed those who charge interest are saying implicitly to the Holy One, blessed be He: Why don’t You extract rent for Your world from its inhabitants? A fee from the earth that You water? A price for the produce that You bring up? A charge for the lights that you cast? A tax for the breath that You expire? A tariff for the body that You protect?

This may be likened to the king who grants one of his subjects the use of his treasury.  What does the grantee do with those funds?  He distributes them to the poor, yes, but in so doing with cruel stipulations he grinds down those already impoverished, drives widows to despair, and strips naked the people, turning dignity to shame and ultimately converting theft to violence.  “Rob not the poor because he is poor” (Proverbs 22:22)!  “You have sown wickedness; you have reaped iniquity” (Hosea 10:13)!  He makes a lie of the king’s good intentions as he depletes the king’s treasury.  For the King has said, “The silver is Mine, and the gold is Mine” (Haggai 2:8)!  “Whoever undermines the poor reproaches his Maker” (Proverbs 17:5)!

To them the Holy One, blessed be He, responds: See how much the earth has provided without charging for its benefits, how much I Myself have lent without interest; I shall reclaim the principal and nothing more, as was said, “The dust shall return to the earth as it was, and the spirit shall return to God as He gave it” (Ecclesiastes 12:7)!”

Therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, admonishes us in the Torah, “If you should lend My people money…” (Exodus 22:24-26), and your debtor fails to pay you, be satisfied that I have called him “wicked,” as was said, “The wicked borrows and does not pay back, but a righteous person gives compassionately [chonen]” (Psalms 37:21)!  This is precisely what He means when He warns Israel, “If he gives you his garment in pledge, return it to him before the sun sets because it is the only covering for his skin. If he cries out to me, I will listen because I am compassionate [chanun]” (Exodus 22:25-26).

Exodus Rabbah 32:8
God is held accountable for His word

“I am sending an angel before you
to protect you on the way
and to bring you to the place
that I have prepared.”
(Exodus 23:20)

To this Moses objects:
“Was that our understanding?!
Did You not tell me at the burning bush,
I am coming down to rescue you
from the hand of Egypt
and to bring you up from that land’ (Exodus 3:8),
and now You say that
You are going to send an angel instead!
No, that won’t do:
If You personally are not going to lead us,
don’t bring us up from here!” (Exodus 33:15)

“Yes, I did say that I would
personally bring you up from that land;
‘Only, I will not go up in your midst,
since you are a stiff-necked people,
lest I put an end to you
on the way!’” (Exodus 33:3)

Moses says to the Eternal,
“’See, You say…’ (Exodus 33:12):
You say what You say,
and I say what I say;
let’s see whose words
will stand!”

Said the Eternal to Moses:
“I will go in the lead
and give rest to you” (Exodus 33:14):
Give rest to you”
in the sense of,
“I will concede to you.”

This was expressed
by the Holy Spirit:
“The word of the King is authoritative,”
(Ecclesiastes 8:4)
but immediately thereafter he says:
“One who preserves the commandment
will not know a bad word.”
(Ibid. 5)

Yerushalmi Rosh Hashanah 3:5
Covenant of Redemption

“I made a covenant with your fathers
when I brought them out of the land of Egypt…:
A Hebrew who is sold to you shall serve you for six years,
and then you must let him go free… (cf. Exodus 21:2)”
(Jeremiah 34:13-14)

“The Eternal speaks to Moses and to Aaron and commands them,
[el] the Children of Israel and to [el] Pharaoh,
to bring out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt.”
(Exodus 6:12-13)

The purpose of speaking to Pharaoh—
to bring out the Children of Israel from his land
had already been said (cf. Exodus 3:10),
so what new mitzvah did the Eternal command them here?

 Said Rabbi Samuel son of Rav Yitzchak:
He commanded the Children of Israel here
the mitzvah of releasing their own slaves, to wit,
“The Eternal speaks to Moses and to Aaron and commands them
[el] the Children of Israel…
[that they should release their Hebrew slaves after six years]
as a condition to bring out the Children of Israel from the land of Egypt!
(Exodus 6:12-13)

And this is in accordance with the teaching of Rabbi Hila:
Israel was punished with the Babylonian Exile
expressly because they neglected the mitzvah
of releasing their own slaves.

This is explained by the Prophet:
”I made a covenant with your fathers
on the day that I brought them out
of the land of Egypt,
from the house of bondage,
‘At the end of seven years
each of you must release
your fellow Hebrew that was sold to you
and served you for six years;
you must let him go free from you!’
But your fathers did not pay attention
to what I commanded.”
(Jeremiah 34:13-14)

So the mitzvah of redeeming our own slaves
was taught to us even before Sinai
as a condition of our own redemption
from Egypt!
(Korban Ha-eydah Commentary)

Talmud Nedarim 31b-32a
Zohar I:185a
Talmud Pesachim 68b
Brit Milah or Brit Torah?

“Thus promises [amar] the Eternal:
As sure as My covenant [brit]  is with day and night,
just as I founded the laws of heaven and earth,
I shall not spurn the offspring of Jacob or David My servant…!”
(Jeremiah 33:25-26)

In the Mishnah (Nedarim 3:11) we find many arguments
for the importance of the mitzvah of Circumcision [Milah].
Among them:

Rabbi Yishmael teaches:
Great is Circumcision [Milah],
for the Torah portion that introduces it (cf. Genesis 17:1-14)
mentions “Covenant” [Brit] thirteen times!

Another, unidentified teacher:
Great is Circumcision [Milah],
for without it
the Holy One, blessed be He, would not have created His world,
as was said,
“Thus attests [amar] the Eternal:
Were it not for My Covenant [Brit] (of Circumcision),
I would not have founded
day and night or the laws of heaven and earth!”
(Jeremiah 33:25)

In the Gemara (Nedarim 32a) we find the following disagreement
between teachers on how to interpret the same verse:

While the unidentified teacher said:
Great is Circumcision [Milah],
for without Circumcision
heaven and earth could not stand,
as was said,
“Were it not for My Covenant [Brit] (of Circumcision),
I would not have founded
day and night or the laws of heaven and earth!”
(Jeremiah 33:25)

 Rabbi Elazar taught:
Great is Torah,
for without Torah
heaven and earth could not stand,
as was said,
“Were it not for My Covenant [Brit] (of Torah),
I would not have founded
day and night or the laws of heaven and earth!”
(Jeremiah 33:25)

The unidentified teacher’s interpretation
of Covenant
[Brit] as Circumcision [Milah]
coincides with Rabbi Yishmael’s argument
from thirteen occurrences of
“Covenant” [Brit]
in the Torah portion (cf. Genesis 17:1-14)
that introduces Circumcision [Milah].

In support of Rabbi Elazar’s interpretation of Covenant [Brit] as Torah:

“These are the words of the Covenant [Brit]
that the Eternal commanded Moses
to make with the Children of Israel in the land of Moab,
besides the Covenant [Brit] which He made with them at Horeb.”
(Deuteronomy 28:69)

The Gemara (above) changes wording of the inference
“The Holy One, blessed be He, would not have created His world”
“Heaven and earth could not stand.”
Accordingly, the Zohar concludes:
“Everything depends upon the upholding of Torah,
which is to say that the world will not exist except by the upholding of Torah,
as is written,
“Were it not for My Covenant [Brit] (of Torah),
I would not have founded
day and night or the laws of heaven and earth!”
(Jeremiah 33:25)

“The Eternal said to Joshua son of Nun:
‘Never let this Book of Torah depart from your mouth,
and study it day and night…’”
(Joshua 1:8)

Rav Shesheth was known to be diligent in his studies
and openly declared his pleasure in them:
“I am so happy, O my soul;
I study Bible for you!
I study Mishnah for you!”
But then did Rav Shesheth disregard the cosmic importance of Torah
as taught by Rabbi Elazar:
Great is Torah,
for without Torah
heaven and earth could not stand,
as was said,
“Were it not for My Covenant [Brit] (of Torah),
I would not have founded
day and night or the laws of heaven and earth!”
(Jeremiah 33:25)
No, Rav Shesheth did not fall short.
He was merely reflecting the innocent human penchant:
When a person acts, he first acts in accordance with his own desire.


Copyright © 2022 Eric H. Hoffman

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