20th June 19:57
Sidrat Misphatim - 2 (false heaven order adam sense)
THE TANACH STUDY CENTER [http://www.tanach.org]
In Memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag
Shiurim in Chumash & Navi by Menachem Leibtag
PARSHAT MISHPATIM - shiur #2
A SPECIAL UNIT / AN EDUCATIONAL PROGRESSION
What's better - Chumash or Shulchan Aruch?
The question really isn't fair, but anyone who has studied
both books realizes how different they are.
As Parshat Mishpatim contains a set of laws that sounds a
little bit like Shulchan Aruch [the Jewish Code of Law], this
week's shiur will attempt to explain how and why the laws in
Chumash are presented in a different manner; and what's so
special about the laws in Parshat Mishpatim.
In last week's shiur, we began our discussion of how the
laws in Chumash are presented in groups (or 'units'). For
example, in Parshat Yitro, we saw how the first 'ten'
Commandments were given as part of Ma'amad Har Sinai.
Afterward, we identified the next 'unit' of mitzvot - which we
referred to as the 'ko tomar' unit, beginning in 20:19, and
continuing until the end of chapter 23 (which comprises most
of Parshat Mishpatim). Later on in Chumash we will find many
additional 'units' of mitzvot, embedded within its various
Because Chumash presents its mitzvot in 'units', we would
certainly expect that the first 'unit', i.e. the one that
follows the Ten Commandments, to be special. In our shiur, we
undertake an ****ysis of the internal structure of this "ko
tomar" unit, in an attempt to understand why specifically
these mitzvot are recorded at this point.
SUB-DIVIDING THE UNIT
Recall how the "ko tomar" unit begins at the end of
Parshat Yitro, as God commands Moshe to convey the following
set of mitzvot to Bnei Yisrael (see 20:19). This opening
instruction is followed by four psukim that discuss various
laws concerning idol worship and building a mizbeiach [altar],
which concludes the Parsha (see 20:20-23). The next sub-unit
begins in Parshat Mishpatim, where were find some laws about
'eved ivri' [a Jewish servant], followed by a lengthy set of
civil laws, that seems to go on and on - continuing through
However, in chapter 23, the laws appear to progress in a
more random order, jumping from civil laws, to laws about
holidays, to promises about conquering the Land.
The following table summarizes this very basic sub-
division of this "ko tomar" unit, which will set the basic
framework for our discussion:
20:19-20:23 Mitzvot re: idol worship and a 'mizbeiach'
21:01-23:09 the Mishpatim - misc. civil laws
23:10-23:19 laws of shmitta, shabbat, and holidays
23:20-23:33 Promises re: entering the land
The first section (20:19-23) is quite short, and simply
lists some very basic commandments that fall under the
category of 'bein adam la-Makom' (between man and God). It
makes sense that these laws follow the Ten Commandments, as
they directly relate to the people's experience at Ma'amad Har
[Recall that the people had just 'seen' (or heard) God speak
to them directly (compare 20:19-20), while the laws
concerning a 'mizbeiach' most probably relate to the
ceremony that will take place at Har Sinai, as discussed in
chapter 24 (see our last shiur on 'na'aseh ve-nishma').]
As the next section begins (at the beginning of Parshat
Mishpatim /21:1), the focus quickly shifts onto the category
of 'bein adam le-chavero' (between man and his fellow man), as
we find numerous civil laws.
These 'mishpatim' begin with the laws of a Hebrew slave
(21:2-11) and are followed by numerous examples of 'case-type'
civil laws dealing primarily with 'nezikin' (damages / 21:12-
22:16). Their presentation develops in an organized,
structured manner, progressing from cases of capital offense
to issues concerning accidental property damage.
THE 'KEY' WORD
As you most probably noticed, the 'key word' in this
section is 'ki' [pun intended], which implies if or when.
Note how most of the parshiot from 21:1-22:18 begin with the
word 'ki' [or 'im' / if/ when] and even when it is not
by the ruling [then...]. For example:
If a man hits his servant then... (see 21:20);
If an ox gores a man... then the ox must be stoned (21:28).
Basically, this section contains numerous examples of
'case-law,' upon which the Jewish court (bet din) arrives at
its rulings. This is the basic meaning of a 'mishpat' - a
case where two people come to court - one person claiming
damages from another - and the shofet (judge) must render a
In fact, these cases can only be judged by a court, and not by
a private individual.
This 'ki' format of 'case-law' continues all the way
until 22:16; after which we find an interesting transition in
22:17. There we find three laws, written in a more imperative
form, that do not begin with a specific 'case':
"A sorceress shall not be left alive. Anyone lying with an
animal shall be killed, and one who sacrifices to [other]
gods shall be excommunicated..." (22:17-19).
These laws don't begin with the word 'ki' for a very simple
reason - there is no plaintiff coming to court to press
charges! In all the cases until this point, the process of
'mishpat' is initiated because of a case that comes before the
court. In these three cases, it is the court's responsibility
to initiate the process (see Rashi & Rashbam & Ramban on
22:17!), i.e. to find the sorceress, or the person 'lying with
the animal', etc. Therefore, these laws are presented in the
In this sense, these three laws serve as a 'buffer' that
leads us to the next category, where the laws continue in the
'imperative' format, however, they will leave the realm of bet-
din. Let's explain:
Note the abrupt change takes place from 22:20 onward. In
contrast to what we have found up until this point in Parshat
Mishpatim, we now find a collection of imperative-type laws,
i.e. do... or don't... which are beyond the realm of civil
enforcement by bet-din. Instead, we find mitzvot that govern
the behavior of individuals, laws that will guide the type of
society which God hopes to create within Am Yisrael.
Note how the Torah uses two almost identical phrases that
form an 'envelope' for this special sub-section:
The opening sentence:
*"You shall not wrong a stranger or oppress him, for you
yourselves were strangers in the land of Egypt" (22:20).
And the closing statement:
*You shall not oppress a stranger, whereas you know the
feelings of a stranger, for you yourselves were once
strangers in the land of Egypt" (23:9).
In between these two psukim, we find many other mitzvot,
written in the imperative form, that share this theme of a
higher ethical standard. To prove this, let's take note of
how this next 'sub-unit' begins:
* "You shall not mistreat any widow or orphan. If you do
mistreat them, I will heed their outcry...."
* "When you lend money... if you take his garment as a pledge,
you must return it by sunset... for if you don't, when he
calls out to me, surely, I will hear his cry..." (see 22:20-
In contrast to the previous section, where the court
enforced the punishment, in this section God Himself enacts
punishment. As the court system cannot 'force' every member
of society to treat the poor and needy with kindness, God
Himself promises to 'intervene' should the 'less privileged'
BEING A 'GOOD CITIZEN'
The next four psukim (22:27-30) form a 'parshia' and at
first glance, appear to deal with laws 'bein adam la-Makom'
(between God and man). However, it is also possible to
understand these laws as yet another section that deals with
the behavior of the individual within society, or stated more
simply - being a good citizen. Let's explain how.
"Do not curse Elokim [either God or a judge / see 22:7]:,
nor curse a leader of your people" (see 22:27).
This instruction 'not to curse your leaders' can be
understood as a nice way of saying - respect your leadership.
It would be difficult to develop a just society, should the
people consistently curse their judges and political leaders.
[We wouldn't want to mention any examples of such countries.]
"Do not delay to bring of the fullness of thy harvest, and
the outflow of thy presses" (22:28).
Most all commentators understand that this law refers to the
obligation of every individual to tithe his produce. As this
tithe is used to cover the salaries of civil servants (for
example see Bamidbar 18:21 re: the salary of the Levi'im),
this law could be paraphrased as a demand that everyone must
'pay their taxes' - and on time! - Yet another example of
"Your shall give Me your first-born sons. Likewise, [the
first born] of your oxen & sheep..." (see 22:28-29).
The commandment to give God every first-born son was first
given when Bnei Yisrael left Egypt (see Shmot 13:1-2,11-14).
Obviously, this commandment did not imply human sacrifice, but
rather the obligation of each family to dedicate its first-
born son to the service of God. This 'family responsibility'
was later transferred to the entire tribe of Levi (after chet
ha-egel / see Devarim 10:8-9). But at the time of Ma'amad Har
Sinai, what later became the job of 'shevet Levi' would have
been the job of the first-born. Hence, this command serves as
a reminder to each family to fulfill its responsibility to
provide its share of 'civil servants' to officiate in the
Mishkan and to serve as judges and educators (see Devarim
33:10). The first-born animals also served as a tax to
compensate those civil servants (see Bamidbar 18:15-20!).
ACTING LIKE A 'MENSCH'
In the final pasuk of this 'parshia' we find a very general
commandment to be not only a good citizen, but also a
"And you shall be holy men unto Me; [an example] should you
find the flesh that is torn of beasts in the field - do not
eat it -feed it instead to the dogs" (22:30).
Even though the opening statement - to be holy men- is
quite vague, the fuller meaning of this commandment is
detailed in Parshat Kedoshim (see Vayikra chapter19). A quick
glance of that chapter immediately points once again to the
need to act in an ethical manner in all walks of life. [Note
the numerous parallels between Vayikra chapter 19 and Shmot
The commandment 'not to eat the flesh of a torn animal'
can be understood as an application of to 'be holy', implying
to act like a 'mensch', and not like gluten who would devour
(like a dog) the meat of animal found dead in field.
In summary, we claim that this short section focuses on
the need to be a 'good citizen', consonant with the general
theme of ethical behavior.
In chapter 23, this unit 'progresses' one step further,
with several mitzvot that emphasize an even higher level of
moral and ethical behavior.
The first three psukim discuss laws to ensure that the
judicial system will not be misused - For example, not to plot
false witness; majority rule; and 'playing favorites' in
judgment (see 23:1-3).
Then, we have two laws that reflect the highest level of
* Returning a lost animal, even that of your enemy, to its
owner ('hashavat aveida') (see 23:4);
* Helping your neighbor's animal (again, even your enemy) with
its load ('azov ta'azov imo') (see 23:5);
Finally, this special section concludes with the famous
dictum "mi-dvar sheker tirchak" - keeping one's distance from
any form of dishonesty (see 23:7), followed by a warning not
to take bribes - 've-shochad lo tikach' - (see 23:8).
As mentioned earlier, this section, describing the
mitzvot of a higher ethical standard, closes with the verse
"ve-ger lo tilchatz..." (see 23:9) - almost identical to its
opening statement (see 22:20).
Despite the difficulty of their slavery in Egypt, Bnei
Yisrael are expected to learn from that experience and create
a society that shows extra sensitivity to the needs of the
less fortunate. In other words, because we were once slaves,
we are expected to be even more sensitive to the needs of
SHABBAT & THE HOLIDAYS
This 'ethical' section is followed by yet another set of
mitzvot (see 23:10-19), which appears to focus on 'mitzvot
bein adam la-Makom'. It includes the following mitzvot:
'Shmitta' - leaving the fields fallow every seven years;
'Shabbat' - resting one day out of every seven days;
'Shalosh regalim' - the three agricultural holidays:
'chag ha-matzot' - seven days eating matza
'chag ha-katzir' - wheat harvest (seven weeks later)
'chag ha-asif' - produce harvest (seven days).
Nonetheless, it should be noted how the laws of shmitta
and shabbat are actually presented from the perspective of
'bein adam le-chavero'. The 'shmitta' cycle provides extra
food for the poor and needy (see 23:11), while 'shabbat'
provides a day of rest for the 'bondsman and stranger' (see
Afterward, we find a short summary pasuk that introduces
the 'holidays' (see 23:13-19). These 'shalosh regalim' are
described as three times during the year when the entire
nation gathers together 'in front of God' (i.e. at the Bet Ha-
Mikdash) to thank Him for their harvest.
One could suggest that this mitzvah of 'aliya la-regel'
also influences the social development of the nation, for it
provides the poor and needy with an opportunity to celebrate
together with the more fortunate (see Devarim 16:11,14-16.)
However, there may be a deeper reason for this conclusion (as
we will now discuss).
AN EDUCATIONAL PROGRESSION
Let's stop for a minute and take note the progression of
the various subsections discussed thus far. Note how they
follow a meaningful, educational progression:
I. THE FEAR OF MAN
The first section (21:1-22:19) contains civil laws
regarding compensatory obligations, common to any civilized
society (not unique to Am Yisrael). These case-type laws are
enforced by bet-din. The fear of punishment by the courts
ensures the compliance of the citizenry.
II. THE FEAR OF GOD
The next section (22:20-26) contains imperatives related
to ethical behavior, emphasizing specifically consideration
for the less fortunate members of society. Given the
difficulty of enforcing this standard by the bet-din, God
Himself assumes the responsibility of punishing violators in
III. LOVE FOR ONE'S FELLOW MAN
The final section of imperative civil laws (23:1-9)
contains mitzvot relating to an even higher moral and ethical
standard. In this section, the Torah does not mention any
punishment. These mitzvot are preceded by the pasuk "ve-
anshei kodesh tihiyun li" (22:30) and reflect the behavior of
a "mamlechet kohanim ve-goy kadosh" (see 19:5-6). When the
civil behavior of God's special nation is motivated not only
by the fear of punishment, but also by a high ethical standard
and a sense of subservience to God, the nation truly becomes a
'goy kadosh' - the purpose of Matan Torah.
IV. THE LOVE OF GOD
After creating an ethical society, the nation is worthy
of a special relationship with God, as reflected in the laws
of shabbat, shmitta, and 'aliya la-regel' - 'being seen by
God' on the three pilgrimage holidays (see 23:10-17).
This progression highlights the fact that a high standard
of ethical behavior (II & III) alone does not suffice. A
society must first anchor itself by assuring justice by
establishing a court system that will enforce these most basic
civil laws (I). Once this standard has been established,
society can then strive to achieve a higher ethical level (II
& III). Then, man is worthy to encounter and 'visit' God
ONE LAST PROMISE
Even though the 'mishpatim' and mitzvot end in 23:19,
this lengthy section (that began back with 'ko tomar...' in
20:19) contains one last section - 23:20->33 - which appears
as more of a promise than a set of laws. God tells Moshe to
tell Bnei Yisrael that:
"Behold, I am sending a mal'ach before you, to guide you and
bring you to ... (the Promised Land). ... for if you obey
him [God's 'mal'ach'] and do all that I say, I will be an
enemy to your enemies and a foe to your foes. For My
mal'ach will lead you and bring you to [the land of] the
Amorites, Hittites, etc." (23:20-23). [See also 23:27-31!]
This conclusion points to the purpose of the entire unit.
By accepting these laws, Bnei Yisrael will shape their
character as God's special nation. Hence, if they obey these
rules, then God will assist them in the conquest of the Land.
Considering that Bnei Yisrael are on their way to conquer
and inherit the Land, this section (23:20-33) forms an
appropriate conclusion for this entire unit. Should they
follow these laws, He will help them conquer that land, where
these laws will help facilitate their becoming God's special
BACK TO BRIT SINAI
This interpretation can provide us with a beautiful
explanation for why Bnei Yisrael receive specifically this set
of mitzvot immediately after the Ten Commandments.
Recall God's original proposal to Bnei Yisrael before
Ma'amad Har Sinai - "should they obey Me and keep My
covenant... then they will become a - mamlechet kohanim ve-goy
kadosh" (see Shmot 19:5-6). After the people accept this
proposal (see 19:8), they receive the Ten Commandments,
followed by the laws of the "ko tomar" unit.
This explains exactly why Bnei Yisrael receive these laws
(of the "ko tomar unit") at this time. As these laws will
govern the ethical behavior of every individual in Am Yisrael
and build the moral fabric of its society, they become the
'recipe' that will transform this nation into a 'mamlechet
kohanim ve-goy kadosh'.
FOR FURTHER IYUN
A. NISHMA VE-NA'ASEH!
Based on this interpretation, we can suggest a very
simple explanation for why Bnei Yisrael declare 'na'aseh ve-
nishma' at the ceremony at Har Sinai (as see 24:7).
[According to Ramban's approach that we keep 24:1-11 in its
If indeed sefer ha-brit includes the unit from 20:19-
23:33, then God's promise to help Bnei Yisrael conquer the
land should they listen to Him (23:20-23:23) forms the most
basic statement of this covenant:
"Ki im shamo'a tishma be-kolo, ve-a'sita kol asher adaber -
For if you listen to what He [the mal'ach] says, and do
whatever I will speak... then I will help you defeat your
enemies..." (see 23:21-22).
One could suggest that it is in response to this phrase
that Bnei Yisrael declare:
na'aseh - in response to: ve-asita kol asher adaber;
ve-nishma - in response to: im shamo'a tishma be-kolo.
[Carefully read the middle section of Ramban's peirush to
24:3 where he alludes to this interpretation.
[Note that even according to Rashi's interpretation that
sefer ha-brit in 24:7 includes the laws at Mara, the final
words of God's charge at Mara (see 15:26) could provide the
background for a similar explanation. One could suggest
that Bnei Yisrael respond by saying na'aseh to ve-hayashar
be-einav ta'aseh and nishma to "im shamo'a tishma..."! Of
course, this could also relate to God's proposal in 19:5-6.
B. Regarding to the order of NA'ASEH ve-NISHMA:
According to our explanation above, Bnei Yisrael should
have said this in the opposite order, i.e. nishma ve-na'aseh.
Relate this to Chazal's question in the Midrash - "lama
hikdimu na'aseh le-nishma", which applauds Bnei Yisrael for
first accepting the laws which they haven't yet heard.
[Relate to "et asher adaber"!]
C. SOUND BYTES
Many of the mitzvot in Parshat Mishpatim from 22:26-23:19
could be viewed as 'sound-bytes' for entire 'parshiot' that
expound on these mitzvot in Sefer Vayikra and Sefer Devarim.
1. Attempt to find examples, e.g. 23:10 to Vayikra 25:1-8;
23:14 to Devarim 16:1-17.
2. Use this to explain the nature of Parshat Mishpatim.
3. How does this enhance our understanding of the ceremony in
perek 24? Relate to 'sefer ha-brit'.
D. AVOT & TOLADOT
We mentioned in the shiur that the mitzvot in Mishpatim
can be understood as 'toladot' of the Ten Commandments. See
Ibn Ezra's observation of this point. See also Abravanel.
1. Attempt to find examples of dibrot V->X within the civil
2. Explain why the laws concerning the mizbeiach should be
considered toladot of "lo tisa et shem Hashem Elokecha la-
3. How does 'shem Hashem' relate to the concept of mizbeiach?
Relate to Breishit 12:8, 13:4, etc.
4. How does 23:20-22 relate to this same idea of 'shem
E. Based on the above shiur, explain why Chazal interpret the
law of "va-avodo le-olam" (21:6) - when an 'eved ivri' agrees
to work 'forever' - as referring to the end of the seven
cycles of shmitta, i.e. the 'yovel' year - see Rashi 21:6 and
THE TANACH STUDY CENTER [http://www.tanach.org]
In Memory of Rabbi Abraham Leibtag
Shiurim in Chumash & Navi by Menachem Leibtag
PARSHAT MISHPATIM - shiur #3
[A mini shiur]
THE 'TOLADOT' OF THE 'DIBROT'
In the following mini-shiur, we discuss once again the
progression of mitzvot in the "ko tomar" unit, but this time
from a different perspective.
Just as we have shown how these mitzvot follow an
'educational progression,' we will now show how (and why) they
follow ('more or less') according to the order of the Ten
Let's begin by showing how the opening section of mitzvot
in this unit (i.e. 20:19-23 / the 'bein adam la-Makom'
mitzvot) can be viewed as 'toladot' (sub-categories) of the
first three Commandments:
"You have seen how I have spoken to you from heaven" - thus
emphasizing belief in God's hitgalut at Har Sinai. This
could be considered parallel to the first 'dibur' - "Anochi
Hashem Elokecha asher hotzeiticha..."
"Don't make [with] Me gods of gold and silver..." - This
prohibition of idol worship is obviously parallel to the
second 'dibur': "lo yihiyeh lecha..."
"An earthen mizbeiach you shall make for Me...." - Even
though this parallel is not as obvious, this commandment
concerning how to build a mizbeiach may be compared to the
third 'dibur': "lo tisa et shem..." - not to mention God's
Name in vain. The parallel can be based on our study of
Sefer Breishit where we saw how the mizbeiach forms an
avenue by which Avraham declared God's Name to make it known
to others. [See Breishit 12:8 and 13:4 and Ramban on 12:8.]
As Parshat Mishpatim continues this "ko tomar" unit, we
can continue to find additional parallels to the remaining
dibrot. Just as we found 'toladot' of the first three
'dibrot', so do we find 'toladot' of the fourth commandment -
i.e. 'shabbat'. In fact, both the opening and closing
sections of the mitzvot relate to shabbat. The opening
mitzva, the law of a Hebrew servant (21:1-6), is based on the
concept of six years of 'work' followed by 'rest' (=freedom)
in the seventh year. The closing mitzvot of 'shmitta',
shabbat, and 'aliya la-regel' (23:10-19), are similarly based
on a seven-day or seven-year cycle.
In between these two 'toladot' of shabbat, we find
primarily 'mitzvot bein adam le-chavero' (21:1->23:9), which
can be considered 'toladot' of the fifth through tenth
The final section, describing God's promise to help Bnei
Yisrael conquer the land should they keep these mitzvot,
continues this pattern in descending order:
23:20-23 The mal'ach with "shmi be-kirbo" -> III. "lo tisa"
23:24 - Not to worship their idols -> II. - "avoda zara"
23:25 - Worshipping God and its reward... -> I. Anochi
This structure, by which the 'mitzvot bein adam la-Makom'
that govern our relationship with God (I->IV) serve as
'bookends' enclosing the mishpatim [the civil laws and ethical
standards regarding one's relationship to fellow men (V-X)],
underscores an important tenet of Judaism. Unlike pagan
religions, man's relationship with other people constitutes an
integral part of his unique relationship with God.
YITRO / MISHPATIM - A CHIASTIC STRUCTURE
The following table illustrates how this progression of
the mitzvot according to the dibrot helps form a chiastic
structure, which encompasses the entire unit from Shmot
Note the chiastic A-B-C-D-C-B-A structure that emerges:
A. Brit & the dibrot at Har Sinai (19:1-20:18)
| B. Mitzvot - I, II, III (20:19-23) ['bein adam la- Makom']
| | C. Eved Ivri (IV) [21:1-> 'bein adam le-chavero']
| | | D. Misc. civil laws (V-X) / causative & imperative
| | C. Shmitta, shabbat, regalim (IV)
| B. Mitzvot - III, II, I (23:20-33) ["bein adam la'makom"]
A. The 'Brit' of 'na'aseh ve-nishma' at Har Sinai and Moshe's
ascent to receive the 'luchot' containing the 'dibrot'.
A chiastic structure (common in Chumash) usually points
to a common theme and purpose of its contents. In our case,
that theme is clearly 'Ma'amad Har Sinai'. This unit of
'Ma'amad Har Sinai' (Shmot 19->24) continues the theme of the
first unit of Sefer Shmot (1->18), the story of Yetziat
We conclude our shiur by relating this structure to the
overall theme of Sefer Shmot, as discussed by Ramban in his
introduction to the sefer.
As we explained, Yetziat Mitzrayim (our redemption from
Egypt) constituted the first stage in God's fulfillment of
brit avot. Now, at Ma'amad Har Sinai, Bnei Yisrael enter a
second stage, as they collectively accept God's covenant and
receive the Torah (brit Sinai). These laws, especially those
of Parshat Mishpatim, will help form their character as God's
special nation - in order that they can fulfill the final
stage of 'brit Avot' - the inheritance of the Promised Land
and the establishment of that nation.