Thursday, February 24, 2005

II-9 Ki Thisa A Golden Opportunity

24 Febr II-9 Ki Thisa A Golden Opportunity

Torah: Ex 30:11-34:35
Haftorah: 1Kgs 18:1-39


1. Ex 30:11-31:17
2. Ex 31:18-33:11
3. Ex 33:12-33:16
4. Ex 33:17:33:23
5. Ex 34:1-9
6. Ex 34:10-26
7. Ex 34:27-35


The instructions for the Mishkan and priestly garments hve been given in Terumah and Tetzaveh. Moses returns up the mountain for another Torah Training Seminar, but is absent thirty nine days. The natives are restless. Children without a leader, they turn to Aaron, second-n-command, for creating the Golden Calf. Moses on the mountaintop gets a directive to return. Seeing the ongoing festivities, he breaks the tablets before confronting the cuprits. later he confronts the ire of God and argues for his people. Ki Tissa includes the instructions for incense, the laver, the Law of the Shekel and continuation of Terumah and Tetzaveh in ritual worship.


When the people saw that Moses was so long in coming down from the mountain, the people gathered against Aaron and said to him, "Come make us a god who shall go before us..." Ex 32:1

Have mercy upon me, O God
as befits your faithfulness;
in keeping with your abundant compassion,
blot out my transgressions.
Wash me throroughly of my transgressions
and purify me of my sin.
Ps 51:1-2


There are three major interpretations of the three chapters. Nachmanides follows the sequence of the Torah that the instructions of Mishkan making and priestly garments were given before the incident of the Golden Calf, just as Terumah and Tetzaveh come before Ki Tisa. Rashi follows the midrash Tanhuma, saying that the instructions for Mishkan making and prietly garments came after the Golden Calf Event and their execution was a form of atonement for idolatry. The third interpretation comes from the Zohar which says that the instructions were given previous to the Golden Calf Event, but the execution afterwards. Yanki Tauber explains these three interpretations in Good as Gold below. The three interpretations symbolize three different types of people who come before God.

The first type of person is the tzaddik, the perfectly righteous person who keeps all 613 mitzvot and is enlightening all around through his holy life. Through him, the mundane components of life can be transformed into the divine. Whatever is lowly on this world, becomes holy to him.

The second type is the baal teshuvah—the penitent. He has a good intent. Starts off with good foundation, ground rules and on the right foot, but somewhere, he makes a wrong turn and his life starts heading downhill rather than up the mountain. He's the Pinocchio at the bottom of the sea, the person who has become an ass in the circus in life, but repents of his foolishness. He's one of the people who was involved in making the Golden Calf. His values changed, instead of being a transcendentalist who saw God in all things, he came to see gold as God. When he goes to make his mishkan, it is internal with the conversion within his heart. His own life changes as he returns to God.

The third type is the rasha-- okay, the bad guy, the one who plots about devious things and buries his sins with a cement block on the bottom of a pond. We see such a person as a social outcast, the worst, the despicable, the hopeless, the sinner, the man with the black heart, the tax collector, the rent collector, etc. We all know the guy, but none of us ever admits to being friends with him or inviting him in for a cup of coffee or tea. We shun the guy in daylight and whisper about his bad deeds at night; yet hang on—even he has an opportunity for making a mishkan, for in every small deed of good he does, God enters into them, creating a partnership with him, thus creating a little mishkan in the narrow and tight places of his heart and life.

But in the later two cases, something important happens. The giving of Torah on Mt Sinai is compared to the creation of Adam and Eve within the Garden. At Sinai, the Israelites were reborn, fresh as a newborn babe without an ounce of sin in their lives. But it seems that man has a tendency to be wayward. The days pass, and the fatherless children, a few weeks out of slavedom of Egypt get antsy. They need something to occupy their time and want a god to go before them. God directs Moses' attention to the ongoing Golden Calf Event at the foot of the mountain, "They have been quick to turn aside from the way that I have enjoined them... This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt." (Ex 32:8-9)

Caught on the defensive Moses argues like Abraham before him. Midrash says that he had many points to score. First the instructions were given in the singular, "you" not plural, so maybe they only applied to Moses, but not to the Israelites. Second, what would the Egyptians say when they heard about the end of the Israelites? Yahoo! Then what about all those promises from the past—Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Wasn't the that the purpose of the original mission to save the people so that they could be as numerous of the stars. God trained Moses, so he should have expected a fast talker. If on the initial meeting by the burning bush, Moses argued for seven days, he'd probably had plenty more argument inside of him to protect the people he'd led.

But when Moses descended from the mountain and saw the dancing about the Golden Calf and the crazy celebrations, he smashed the tablets against the the ground. Midrash explains that actually Moses was a kind of marriage-broker, making shidduch. He was bringing the contract down to the bride who was unsuitable. What do you do to an unsigned contract? You tear it up and go back to the negotiating table—uh, mountaintop Torah Training Session. So Moses destroyed the tablets, creating a new opportunity. How many times do you anything right on the first try? Mistakes pave the path to perfection.

So another perspective is that sin is really the golden opportunity for change. Whenever we go astray, God awaits our return.


You shall not make for yourself sculptured image, or any likeness of what is in the heavens above or in the earth below or in the waters under the earth. You shall not bow down to them, or serve them. For I the Lord your God am an impassioned God, visiting the guilt of the parents upon the children of the third and fourth generations of those who reject Me; but showing kindness to the thousandth generation of those who love Me and keep My commandments. II-5 Yisro Exodus 20:4-6

Rev Samuel Rapaport, Tales and Maxims from the Midrash, Exodus Rabbah
"Moses, in pleading for the Israelites against their projected destruction for making the golden calf, had recourse to all sorts of, excuses in order to avert the threatened punishment. See page 107-108 Exodus Rabbah 43 -44


Rabbi Chaim Dovid Green, Dvar Torah, Ki Thissa 5757
general overview of parasha

Yanki Tauber, Ki Thissa: Tammuz 16- The Day Before
"When G-d commands to construct a material receptacle for His presence, it becomes a holy, G-dly object; when man chooses a material representation of the Divine presence, this is idolatry--a detraction from, rather than an affirmation of, the truth that "There is none else besides Him."

Yanki Tauber, Ki Tissa: Sin and Sanctity
on overview of chronology of Exodus

Yanki Tauber, Ki Tissa: What is Sin

Rabbi Aron Tendler, Rabbi's Notebook, Ki Tissa: Moshe Outshines the Dream Team! 5759

Rav Frand If One Does Not Own Land, He Need Not Go 'Up' for the Festival
The Chofetz Chaim & Rav Shimon Schwab: A Tale of Two Grandfathers
This is a true story involving the Chofetz Chaim (1838-1933) and Rav Shimon Schwab (1908-1995).

Thursday, February 17, 2005

II-8 Tetzaveh All Dressed Up

17 Febr II-8 Tetzaveh All Dressed Up

Torah: Ex 27:20-30:10
Haftorah: Ez 43:10-27


1. Ex 27:20-28:12
2. Ex 28:13-30
3. Ex 28:31-43
4. Ex 29:1-19
5. Ex 29:19-37
6. Ex 29:38-46
7. Ex 30: 1-10


In Mishpatim, the focus of the parashiot change, moving from a historical view centered on distant figures to including the reader into the narrative. Mishpatim is the applicaiton of social law as it relates to the individual, Terumah builds the sanctuary and Tetzaveh presents the priesthood, garments and holy implements. Law gives us the ethical and moral structure for living as the construction of mishkan relates to the dedication of our talents and hearts, and Tetzaveh is a further extension of worship—how we dress ourselves in our worship through deeds and sacrifice. Korban-korbanot literally means to draw close to God. The Mishkan provides a sanctified place for encounter with God. Like going to the theater or a pleasant evening at an upscale restaurant, we need to consider how we dress ourselves before God.


"You shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons, from among the Israelites, to serve me as priests...Make sacral garments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment."
Exodus 28: 1-2 JPS

"I will abide among the Israelites, and I will be their God. And they shall know that I the Lord am their God, who brought them out of the land of Egypt that I might abide among them, I the Lord their God."
Exodus 29:45-46 JPS

The Clothes of the High Priest:

The previous parasha was concerned with the Mishkan with moses taking a freewill offering for its construction. In this parsha, Moses' name is not mentioned. Instead,

"ve'atah ve'tzaveh" -- "and you shall" appears three times avoiding his name. In Mishpatim, there is a shift of focus, from the Israelites standing at the bottom of Sinai, framed in history to the reader. The text becomes timeless. Here the shift moves from Moses, the leader of the Exodus, to the reader. We are drawn into the dressmaking activities for Aaron the High Priest. Ostensibly, Moses is the one addressed, but we hear the words:

Ex 27:20-21 "You shall further instruct the Israelites to bring you clear oil of beaten olives for lighting, for kindling lamps regularly.

Ex 28:1-2 And you shall bring forward your brother Aaron, with his sons ...

Ex 28:2-3 make sacral vestments for your brother Aaron, for dignity and adornment. Next you shall instruct all who are skillful, whom I have endowed with the gift of skill, to make Aaron's vestments, for consecrating him to serve Me as a priest.

What's so special about the garments of the High Priest? The lamps, we can assume through countless metaphors of purity, spirit and the soul longing to break free of an imperfect body to be re-united with the Creator, but clothing intrigues us with the annual fashion shows in Paris and Milan.

The High Priest wore an ephod, a type of ornamented apron. On the breastplate were twelve stones, one each to represent the tribes of Israel. The tribe of Levi was apparently not included because they were not given land, but became asssociated with the Temple worship and the Cities of Refuge, so that the tribe of Joseph was split by Ephraim and Manasseh. There was an additional stone on either shoulder strap, each inscribed with six names of the tribes. Symbolically, the high Priest not only carried the burden of the people on his shoulders, but on his heart. The shoulders symbolize the burdens of leadership and the heart that of compassion and concern for the people. Moreover, as the heart is considered the most vulnerable organ of the body, the breastplate symbolizes the necessary protection that must exist in order for good judgement. We can be easily drawn into a bad judgement through our emotions, whether anger or joy. The emotions can easily move into actions that we later regret, sometimes being drawn into a scam or reacting to a situation in a burst of anger. Although the High Priest stands before the altar on behalf of all the people, he must also have clear judgement. there needs to be a balance between mercy and justice, reflecting the divine names of Adonai and Elokim.

Why the fancy dress? "For dignity and adornment" reads the JPS translation, but another translation reads, "for splendor and beauty" or "glory (kavod) and splendor (tiferet)" The two, kavod and tiferet, belong to the Ten Sefirot—the divine emanations of God. Rasmbam comments tht the priest should emanate these two qualities and in wearing the ephod, the High Priest is able to draw down the glory of God's presence to the people and inspire us to a higher level.

But what do you first notice about the Kohen Gadol when he enters a room? Is it the fantastic breastplate or the golden band on his forehead? Do you even see it? Even before you see the Kohen Gadol, you hear something making a noise. The hem of the garment is embroidered with pomegranates, but between the pomegranates there are bells. Since the preposition used could mean between or in, the rabbis discuss this for metaphroical interpretations. The pomegranate is a symbol of life and of the Jewish people. just as the Children of Israel are divided into tribes, so the pomegrante is divided into sections. At times when the seed are bad, the pomegranate can seem almost hollow, symbolizing religion or religious life that has no fullness or ripe fruit.

The bells, though, are intriguing. The Kohen Gadol could not take a step without being heard. One interpretation is that the bells symbolize the fringe of society, the hoi-poloi, the rabble outside. After getting throuugh the Reed Sea and the defeat of the Egyptians what was the first reaction? Complaints that the waters at Marah were bitter. When there is manna, what happens? Complaints about not having meat. When Moshe goes back the mountain for the next instalment of Torah Training, what happens? Golden Calf. regardless of the season or how good something might be, there are always complaints, Murmurings in the camp, the dissidents yearning for their cucumber patches in the lush Skagit Valley. That's the way it is, and those are the folks that are jangling on Aaron's nerves each time he makes a step. Always there are those on the bottom, grasping at eternity's hem and begging to be pulled up. We never want to be forgotten or neglected and that's why we make so much noise about our lowly position in life.

But the shift? What do you think? Were these garments only meant to be worn by the High Priest, the Kohen Gadol, or do you think that there's something about these clothes that you and I should make and wear


"And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them."
II-7 Terumah Ex 25:8

For the commandment is a lamp; The teaching is a light
Prv 6:23

commandment= mitzvot (good deeds) and teaching = torah

"and the Lord said to Moses, "Go to the people and warn them to stay pure today and tomorrow. Let them wash their clothes. Let them be ready for the third day; for on the third day the Lord will come down..." II-5 Yisro, Ex 19:10-11

Moses went and repeated to the people all the commandments of the Lord and all the rules; and all the people answered with lone voice, saying, "All the things that the Lord has commanded, we will do!" II- 6 Mishpatim, Ex 24: 3

Jordan D Cohan, Kolel, Tetzaveh 5764
"but rather in the sense that these are the places where we as a people gather to “draw closer” to God; to worship and do the work (in Hebrew, the word Avodah means both “work” and “worship”) of connecting with our God. Our sacred spaces are not where God dwells, but rather they remind us that God dwells among us."


Chabad, Tetzaveh: Oil, Wick, Vessel and Flame

Based on the writings of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812), Rabbi DovBer of Lubavitch (1773-1827), and the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

Rabbi Avi Weinstein, Tetzaveh: Aromatherapy: Jewish Style

Rabbi Shimon Felix, Tetzaveh: Multplicity of Meanings

Yanki Tauber, Tetzaveh: Noise
based on th writings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe

Rabbi Dovid Green, Dvar Torah, Tetzaveh 5757
regarding symbolism of incense and Menorah

Rabbi Jordan D Cohen, Tetzaveh: Clothes Make the Person
from Kolel

Aliza Mazor, Tetzaveh: The Holy Art of Sacrifice

Thursday, February 10, 2005

II-7 Terumah Making A Sanctuary From Scratch

II-7 Terumah Making A Sanctuary From Scratch 10 February 2005

Torah: Ex 25-27:19
Haftorah: 1Kgs 5:26-6:13


1. Ex 25:1-16
2. Ex 25:17-30
3. Ex 25:31-26:14
4. Ex 26:15-30
5. Ex 26:31-37
6. Ex 27:1-8
7. Ex 27: 9-19


Terumah provides a list of raw materials required for the construction of the Mishkan, the tabernacle, that will become the center of the movement of religious worship. The materials are to be taken as a voluntary donation: gold, silver, copper, wool dyed sky-blue, dark red, and crimson, linen, goats wool, ram skins, acacia wood, oil,
spices, incense, and precious stones. Detailed instructions are given for the altar for shewbread, the detailed description of the menorah and ark within the Holy of Holies to be carried with the tribes of Israel.

In Focus:

The Lord said to Moses saying: Tell the Israelite people to bring me gifts; you shall accept gifts for Me from every person whose heart so moves him. And let them make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them Ex 25:1-2, 8

If your hands are stained by dishonesty, your prayers will be polluted and impure, and an offence to Him to whom you direct them. Do not pray at all before you have your hands purified from every dishonest act.--Exod. Rabba 22

Terumah follows Mishpatim, the social laws that govern the relationships between man and man, providing compensation for damages and standards for interpersonal relationships and behavior. A simple drash on the Magen David, the six-pointed star comprised of two triangles is that the upper star with its nose pointed downwards represents God descending on Mt Sinai to communicate with man. The traingle with its nose upwards, is man calling to God. Some people see it a slightly different way, stating that the triangle with the lowest base is God spreaduing his arms around man, like a father who holds his child, while the triangle with the higher base is man, desperately clinging to God for redemption.

The relationship between Yisro, Mishpatim and Terumah can be interpreted in this manner. Yisro is God delivering to man the Holy Law while Mishpatim is man striving to reach upwards through his actions. Terumah is that middle area, that holy time and place where we step outside conventional society and daily labor to encounter God privately within the inner sanctum of our lives.

When relations with our fellow man are good and we have not violated the sanctity of human trust through dishonest dealings or exploitation, our gifts are acceptable before God. However, if we have cheated in any business dealings or benefited through the offense of another, whatever we bring before God is for nothing. If we double charge a customer, have false balance on our scales, the gift brought before God is unacceptable as a product of an impure life and heart. In the Last Days when the Book of Life is opened, anyone who has exploited his fellow man through business or personal dealings, shall be held accountable; the 100,000 or 1,000,000,000 dollar tax deductible donation will have little effect in the heavenly court. Such dealings are not acceptable before the Almighty Judge: you cannot steal from your neighbor and offer the profit to God.

Symbolically interpreted the Mishkan represents the superficiality of our bodies and deeds: the relationship of hand and mouth. The Ark represents our souls hidden within the Divine Presence of God. As the Ark contained the two tablets brought down from the mountain, the Law should be engraven in our hearts. As the Mishkan accompanied the Israelites through their wilderness journey, so God abides with us in times of desolation. Although God is hidden and invisible, nevertheless, he is near us.

"Happy is the man who fears the Lord, who is ardently devoted to his commandments. A light shines for the upright in the darkness; he is gracious, compassionate, and beneficent. All goes well with the man who lends generously, who conducts his affairs with equity. " Ps 112:1, 4-5

The verse presents a parallel between the tabernacle to personal living. We, ourselves, are the tabernacle in which God dwells. Our light enlightens the world. "The lifebreath of man is the lamp of the Lord, Revealing all his inward parts." Prv 20:27

The Rabbis discuss Moses taking a freewill offering, not an obligation or demand; but heartfelt generosity. Motive is important as well as the source—both must be pure. The gift should not be a cast-off hand-me-down cluttering the front closet or something discarded; but something set aside for the purpose of sancitfication to God. The list includes chiefly raw materials, not finished. We give of our lives; God finishes the product. We give of our deeds; God sanctifies them when they are done with a righteous heart filled with love. Balance is made between the relationships of man with man and man with God. Triangular, each point is significant.

The Mishkan is comparable with Noah's Ark. To save mankind, God uses man as his agent. Noah was instructed to build an ark to preserve him from the Flood as society degenerates. Noah built the ark, corralled the animals—but he failed to save a single human life outside of his family. He did little to convince them of the impending danger or influence their ways of living. He failed. The Ark of the Covenant, the Mishkan is similar, providing shelter and bouyancy in the time of great tempests. The Law protects the sanctity of life. We cling to it in times when we feel that we are drowning in a sea of evil or when calamities sweep over our heads like waves of the Northern Sea. A lifeboat, it carries us through the storms of life; but unlike Noah's Ark, we are not commanded to build the tabernacle—the donations and commitment must be an act of love.

In the detailed instructions, small things are equally as important as big things. There is as much concern for the rings as there is for the curtain material. Whether you feel your gift is truly insignificant or replicable, it is intergral to the building of God's tabernacle. Your gift regardless of size, is important before God. The little woodscrews, hang the door although the oak may be ancient and impressive. Consider your apartment or house if every single nail or screw was removed. Visualize it. How useful the bathroom? Could you wash your hands? How stable the floors? How would you enter or exit? Could you lock the doors?

Often we overlook crucial elements, ignoring the value of things and people we meet. How great is a cake without flour? Yet we praise those things which are unique or add character without realizing they have no value except when supported by all those other relatively ordinary things. So a house without screws, without a door is relatively unpractical regardless of the velvet curtains or Manets hanging on the walls. Without the contributions of so many generous hands providing all the various ingredients, the Mishkan didn't exist. Without cooperation, love and dedication, community doesn't exist. The Mishkan was much, much more than a community construction project—it was the heart of the people, their intercourse with one another and where they could encounter God in their midst.


"In the course of time, Cain brought an offering to the Lord from the fruit of the soil; and when Abel, for his part, brought the firstlings of his flock. The Lord paid heed to Abel and his offering, but to Cain and his offering He paid no heed. Cain was much disappointed and his face fell." I-1 Bereshit Gn 4:3-4

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, Pirkei Avos 5:13
"There are four types of contributors to charity. One who wants to give but does not want others to give--is begrudging of others. One who wants that others should give but does not want to give--begrudges himself. One who wants that he as well as others should give, is a chassid. One who want neither himself nor others to give, is wicked."

Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld, Pirkei Avos 5:16
"There are four types of givers of charity. One who wants to give but that others not give - has a bad eye towards others. One who wants others to give but not to give himself - has a bad eye towards himself. One who gives and wants others to give is pious. One who does not give and does not want others to give is wicked."

Chabad: Ethics of the Fathers Chapter Five
see mishna 10, 13

The Path of the Righteous Gentile translated by Chaim Clorfene and Yakov Rogalsky

The Path of the Rigfhteous Gentile 13:6
Every person has the obligation to give charity according to his ability. Even a poor person who supports himself from charity may give charity from these funds. Though he can afford only a little, this should not prevent him from giving charity. A little charity from a poor man is considered as worthy as a great amount given by a rich person.

The Path of the Rigfhteous Gentile 13:15
It is forbidden to reject the requests of a poor person and turn him away empty-handed even if all one can afford at the time is a morsel of food. If there is really nothing in one's hand to give, then one should say kind words to the person indicating that he sincerely wishes to give him something, but that it is not possible at this time.

The Path of the Rigfhteous Gentile 13:22
The highest level of giving charity is to assist a person financially before he becomes poor, thus preventing him from becoming poor. Such assistance should be given graciously in the form of a gift or a loan or an offering of partnership in a financial venture or a job placement so that the poor person will not be forced to seek financial assistance from others.

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos, Yisro: The Dowry

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline: Yisro 5758
And when the father-in-law of Moshe saw all that he did with the nation, he said, 'what is this thing which you do with the people? Why do you sit alone, with all of the nation surrounding you from morning to evening?

Yanki Tauber, The Cigarette Beggar


Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, Yitro: Portable Holiness
My Jewish Learning

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline, Terumah 5760
"And they shall make a Temple for Me, and I will dwell among them..." Ex 25:8

Rabbi Yaakov Menken, Lifeline, Terumah 5763
"G-d spoke to Moshe, saying: 'Speak to the children of Israel, that they take an offering for me; from every man whose heart desires [to give], take my offering.'" [Ex. 25:1-2]

Rabbi Jordan D Cohan, Terumah Give and Take

Rabbi Shimon Felix, The Role of Ritual

Rabbi Moti Bar Or, God's Home
My Jewish Learning trumah

Rabbi Hayim Shafner, Terumah: A Sanctuary Within

Rabbi Avraham Fischer, Terumah: On the Way to Sanctity

Using Our Contributions to Create the Sacred

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos, Terumah: It's the Thought That Counts

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos, Terumah: Give and Take

Paths of the Righteous Gentile

Moschiach Online: Rogalsky, The Path of the Righteous Gentile

Path of the Righteous Gentile

The Path of the Rghteous Gentile

Thursday, February 03, 2005

II-6 Mishpatim The Value of Life

II-6 Mishpatim Laws 3 February 2005

Torah: Ex 21-24:18
Haftorah: 1 Sam 20:18-42


1. Ex 21:1-19
2. Ex 21:20-22:3
3. Ex 22:4-26
4. Ex 22:27-23:5
5. Ex 23:6-19
6. Ex 23:20-25
7. Ex 23:26-24:18


The Ten Commandments are concerned with man's relationship with God and man's relationship with fellow man. Mishpatim contains social laws regarding compensation for loss: inflicted loss on personal properties, damages caused by public hazards and neglect; damages inflicted by the person himself and failure to contain or restrict potential damage. Mishpatim includes social, religious, financial, criminal and family laws. Interpretation of Mishpatim is in the Talmud Tractate, Nizikin, divided into Bava Kamma, Bava Metzria and Bava Batra. The heart of the law is to live in harmony with one's fellow man.

In Focus:

"When you acquire a Hebrew slave, he shall serve six years; in the seventh year he shall go free, without payment .. But if the slave declares, "I love my master, and my wife and my children: I do not wish to go free," his master shall take him before God. He shall be brought to the door or the doorpost, and his master shall pierce his ear with an awl, and he shall remain his slave for life."
Exodus 21:2, 5

"If however, that an ox has been in the habit of goring, and its owner, though warned, has failed to guard it, and it kills a man or a woman—the ox shall be stoned and its owner, too, shall be put to death."
Ex 21:29

"When a man opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it, and an ox or an ass falls into it, the one responsible for the pit must make restitution; he shall pay the price to the owner, but shall keep the dead animal."
Ex 21:33

The value of life:

Mishpatim is an extension of Yisro through the explication and application of the Ten Commandments. The relationship between the two parasha is comparable to that of constitutional law, providing the concept of government and ethical overview of law and the practical application found in specific statutes.

Mishpatim contains laws governing the relationships of man. The interpretation of Mishpatim is in the Talmudic tractate, Nizikin, divided into three sections:

1. Bava Kamma: man at his lowest level—his violent nature and criminal behavior. It considers damages inflicted on personal properties: an ox goring an ox; damages caused by hazards in public domain: an open pit or neglected property; damage inflicted by the person himself: assault or brawling; and damage caused by failure to contain or prevent potentially dangerous hazards: wildfires, oil spills, environmental contamination.

2. Bava Metzia: the groundwork for greater social cooperation and deeper unity of mankind, pertaining to the return of lost items, the settlement of loan and contract amicably or peacefully. It involves negotiation to avoid violence or conflict destructive to society.

3. Bava Batra: the highest level of mankind as he seeks to institute ideal solutions for society to establish harmonious relationships, involving conceptual law for the betterment of greater society, civil rights, commerce, inheritance and charity, bringing unity in the brotherhood of mankind.

Man's relationship to God can be defined in three terms: as a slave; as an employee or as a partner with God. Our relationship with God is dependent on our own terms.

Mishpatim opens with Eved Ivrit, the law of the bondsman or slave, which is closely related to the First Commandment Exodus 20:1-3. Camped beneath the smoking mountain, each person heard the voice of God. A person is bound first to serve God, then his fellow man. In serving God first, by necessity one must also serve his fellow man. When a person chooses serve another man first, he commits idolatry. He loses his own freedom, contradicting the giving of Torah at Mt Sinai. They left the slavery of Egypt, renouncing idolatry and Egyptian culture, but before they enter into a new land, they are reminded of their past. Do not do to others, what you have yourselves endured. Don't become involved in slave trade or accustomed to exploiting others for your benefit.

How does one become a slave? For legal violations: theft or destruction to property require compensation and restitution. Unable to make compensation, a person could indenture himself. However, indenturement could last a maximum of six years. Why? In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth and all therein in six days, but rested on the seventh. The relationship between man and man is dependent on man's relationship to God since each is created in the image of God. The commandment of Shabbat extends beyond the observant to all within the land, including animals. Moreover, even the land is commanded to rest on the seventh year. (III- 9 Behar, Lv 25 )

Why nail the ear to the doorpost? Rabbi Spira-Savett explains when a servant rejects his freedom, he violates the purpose of Exodus. All the Israelites were brought out of Egypt: the old, the young, the sons, the daughters, to enter into a new relationship with God, but someone choosing to be a slave, remains behind in Egypt. He contradicts the will of God. Therefore, the ear is nailed to the doorpost, symbolic of the night of Exodus when the Israelites painted the lintels with the paschal lamb. A person who indentures himself for life to another man is psychologically a slave, forever trapped within his own mind and life by his anxiety of freedom and refusal to accept responsibility for himself.

Slavery is not merely ownership of another human being, but exploiting others or acting superior to them -- the exploitation of poor who struggle at minimum wage, unable to pay for basic medical, food or housing. They are as much slaves as those who were bought and traded for their very existence is dependent on the whims of others and any small calamity can break them. They are overburdened with the sorrows of each day. Slavery is found in the office where the boss makes arbitrary demands with unreasonable expectations and schedules. The workers struggle in the daily scramble, singing the lyrics of the Lobster Quadrille in unison. They live in the the world beyond the Looking-Glass where Alice makes haste to keep pace:

"Alice looked round her in great surprise. "Why, I do believe we've been under this tree the whole time! Everything's just as it was!"

"Of course it is," said the Queen. "What would you have it?"

"Well in our country," said Alice, still panting a little, "you'd generally get to somewhere else—if you ran very fast for a long time as we've been doing."

"A slow sort of country!" said the Queen. "Now here, you see, it takes all the running you can do to keep in the same place."

Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking-Glass.

The laws extend from the lowest level of society, the concerns of a slave or bondsman to those endangered by our deliberate or passive actions, whether damage is inflicted through hostile actions or by neglect to protect against potential damage. All life, human or animal, comes from God; therefore compensation must be given for any loss of life. All the earth belongs to God; therefore, compensation is given for the loss or destruction of property. The laws reveal the Supremacy of God. Each person is responsible for his actions. "An eye for eye" is a warning that for every injury inflicted, there must be financial restitution, even if injury is caused by neglect: the refusal to restrain a dangerous animal or cover a pothole. The sinkhole does nothing, but is a potential danger for the unwary. A rabid or dangerous dog is a threat to those around it. The dog is not held responsible, but the owner is held accountable for not providing adequate restraints or encouraging or training the animal to be dangerous.

Freedom is not freedom from responsibility or accountability, but the acceptance of ethical and social standards that provide for personal security to have a place to live, food to eat, work with adequate compensation and education to make enlightened decisions for all people, even the strangers that dwell in the land.


"I the Lord am your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, the house of bandage. You shall have no other gods besides me."
II-5 Yisro Ex 20:1-2

"Remember the Sabbath day to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a sabbath of the Lord your God: you shall not do any work—you, your son or daughter, your male or female slave, or your cattle, or the stranger who is within your settlements. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth and sea, and all that is within them, and He rested on the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and hallowed it.
II-5 Yisro Ex 20:8-11

Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann, Olas Shabbos: Taking the Children Along

Rabbi Avraham Fischer, Bo:Defining the Service of God

Rabbi Neal Joseph Loevinger, Bo: Body and Soul Religion

Rabbi Shimon Felix, Bo: Equal before God

David Frankel, Yitro: How We Hear


Pinchas Winston, Perceptions, Yitro: The Giving and Living of Torah

Yanki Tauber, Mishpatim: The Criminal, the Litigant, and the Partner

Yanki Tauber, Mishpatim: Whose Life is it Anyway?
chabad the Four Guardians: the different contractual arrangements with God

Rabbi Eliezer Chrysler, The Ear that Heard 5764

Rabbi Eliezer Chrysler, An Eved Ivri 5763

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, Mitzvot of the Third Kind

An Eye for $100, A Tooth for About Ten Bucks: The Monetary Meaning of Mishpatim
My Jewish Learning- regarding compensation

Rabbi Jonathan Spira-Savett, Letting our People Go: Bringing us all out of Egypt
My Jewish Learning


Yanki Tauber, The Cigarette Beggar

Nissan Mindel, The First Rothschild

Yrachmiel Tilles, The Loan

Yrachmiel Tilles, Fifty Year Old Honey
Chabad. org A case of Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev on the compensation of widows and orphans and lost things

In Suite:

Shemot / Exodus

II-5 Yisro Ex 18-20:23

II-4 Beshelach Ex:13:17-17:16

II-3 Bo Ex 10-13:16