MISHPATIM (Exodus, 21:1-24:18) — “Your Ivory Tower Is Blocking My Driveway!”

Judaism is, to my knowledge, the only religion that encourages study for its own sake.  Every culture requires people to know what it’s about. A country can’t enforce its laws and support its way of life if it doesn’t have law schools, medical schools, and police academies.  But people don’t dedicate their lives to pure, theoretical, study.

The Torah is different.  Post-graduate yeshivas do not limit their enrollment to “divinity students” who plan to become rabbis.  Torah study is more than a means to an end; it is an end in itself.

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It was the marriage of the millennium.  The Nation of Israel was about to make a commitment “for better or for worse…” at Mount Sinai.  Moses wanted to give the people a sample of what to expect:

He took the Book of the Covenant (Genesis, the beginning of Exodus, and several Mitzvahs) and read it to the people. They replied:  ‘Whatever G-d says, we will do and we will listen.’ “ (Exodus, 24:7)

Rabbi Eliezer Shach, of Blessed Memory, explained this verse as a desire to learn more.  Not only do we commit ourselves to obey the Commandments that we have received.  In addition, we want to hear more!  We want more Commandments; we want to learn all that there is to know about Torah and G-dliness.

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There is, however, a down side to purely theoretical study.  When we overly involve ourselves in the sublime, we run the risk of ignoring the mundane.  The Torah does not want us to become ivory tower elitists who ignore the “little people.”

This week’s Torah Reading seems to open in the middle of a sentence:  “…and these are the laws that you will set before them…” (Ibid. 21:1)

Rashi explains that this verse is a continuation of the previous discussion.  Last week’s Reading concluded with a description of the miraculous Revelation at Mount Sinai and the rules pertaining to the Altar in the Temple.

The Torah immediately launches a discourse dedicated to torts and civil laws: don’t steal; pay for things that you break; don’t pervert justice.

Rashi explains that the proximity of “holy” laws to “secular” laws is to remind us that both types come from Sinai.  There is no such thing as saying, “Religion is religion and business is business.”  If our secular lives don’t interface with Torah values, we have missed the whole point.

There is no such thing as a religious person who is dishonest.  How then, do we explain the occasional unfortunate situation of a religious person who is, in fact, dishonest?

It’s really quite simple — he’s not religious.

Have a great Shabbos.
Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.
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FROM THE ARCHIVES

“Voting ‘Against’ G-d, or, “Whose Torah IS This Anyway?!” (2010)

… The Talmud records a fascinating dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and his colleagues…

Rabbi Eliezer presented logical argument after logical argument to support his view, but to no avail. The Rabbis disagreed. Rabbi Eliezer, a holy man, decided to miraculously defy nature in order to bring home his point. … Finally, Rabbi Eliezer pulled his “Heaven Card.” “If I am right, let the Heavens prove it!”

A heavenly voice boomed in reprimand of the Sages: “Why are you arguing with Rabbi Eliezer, when the Law, in fact, is always in accordance with his opinion?!” …

They wouldn’t budge. Rabbi Joshua stood up and quoted from Deuteronomy (30:12) “It (the Torah) is not in Heaven!”… Pretty gutsy, no? …

Read more.
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“We Wish You a Merry Shabbos???” (2009)

… One Shabbos, he walked into shul and found it to be packed. …it was a non-Jewish holiday. Since stores were legally required to be closed, the otherwise-Sabbath violators took advantage of the opportunity to come to shul, along with their children…

“No doubt,” said the rabbi, “your children must have asked you, ‘Why is this Shabbos different from all the other Shabboses of the year?’

“And you must have answered, ‘This Shabbos is greater than every other Sabbath because today is the birthday of the founder of another religion…’”

Read more.
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“Let’s Make a Deal” (2007)

Okay, I admit it! I am a criminal. I am a lawbreaker. I have confessed in open court. I have thrown myself on the mercy of the court and pled guilty to violating the law…

I got to watch some criminal proceedings too. The prosecutor, lawyers, and judge all played their parts professionally. As each one recited his scripted line, the others nodded and scribbled little notes on their legal pads in their legal folders. One young man was accused of breaking and entering. The prosecutor offered to reduce the charge to a less severe one. Scribble, scribble. The judge agreed. Scribble, scribble. Then the judge said, “According to the statutes, you have to give a valid reason for this type of reduction.” Scribble, scribble.

The prosecutor’s response?

“In the interest of Justice.” Scribble, scribble.

Oh….

Read more.
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“A Capital Idea” (2005)

Regardless of your position on capital punishment, it seems possible to find support from the Torah.

This week’s Torah Portion is replete with prohibitions for which the death penalty applies …

On the other hand, we find in the Talmud that the Sages went to great pains to avoid carrying out the death penalty … Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, of Blessed Memory… wrote in 1982 to “Sar Hamedina” — “The Prince of the State.” (I assume that refers to President Reagan or New York Governor Hugh Carey). Rabbi Feinstein was responding to a question as to the Torah’s view on capital punishment…

Read more.
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“Oh Say, Can you Sue?!” (2004)

…Jack and Jill lived up the hill.

Each of these two neighbors owned an ox. Jill’s ox was out in the field one day, calmly grazing on grass. Suddenly, out of nowhere, Jack’s ox charged, ramming his horns into his unsuspecting neighbor. To Jill’s utter shock, her ox lay there in the field, and bled to death…

Jill hired Johnnie Cochran, who told the jury how Jill’s life had been shattered by the loss of her livelihood. By the time the trial was over… Jack was ruined, and Jill bought a condo in Boca.
Now, let’s change the scenario a bit.

Jack and Jill are now Yaakov and Yocheved. Instead of going to court, Yocheved, a religious woman, went to … a rabbinic tribunal for justice… She was dismayed by the response…

Yesterday, Yocheved owned $1000 worth of ox. Today she has $500 cash and $50 worth of dead ox. So much for the condo in Boca. …

Read more.
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“Double Trouble” (2003)

What is the best way to discourage theft? … The Torah has a very unique way of punishing someone for stealing. … the Torah makes sure that his efforts will backfire…

 Read more.
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“Human Rights: Body Piercing and Slavery” (2001)

Jews have always been known for their spirit of social consciousness. We have always been at the forefront in calling out for fairness to all people. We marched with Martin Luther King in Selma… After all we’ve been through, we know what it’s like to be deprived of civil liberties. We would never want to see anyone subjugated or oppressed in any way.

… Where is the outrage?! Where is the J.C.L.U. (Jewish Civil Liberties Union)? Where is the hue and cry from the AFL/CIO, protesting the cruel and unusual treatment of a worker? Is this why G-d took us out of Egypt, so we could be subjected to harsh working conditions and forced body piercing?!!…

Read more.
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 This is the weekly message at www.torahtalk.org.   Copyright © 2000-2014 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (www.Brisrabbi.com)  and chaplain in Monsey, New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on February 7, 2002 at 8:40 am  Leave a Comment  

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