Thursday, February 04, 2016

mishpitei Hashem emes tzadku yachdav

The Alshich writes at the beginning of our parsha that every civil society has a legal system, and when you look at an individual law here or there, it appears that their system is as just as ours.  However, if you look at the system as a whole, things start to break down.  It’s great to have a law that says you can have freedom of speech.  It’s great to have laws that prohibit discrimination.  But what happens when my free speech makes you feel discriminated against?  Which right wins?   “…Mishpitei Hashem emes tzadku yachdav.” (Tehillim19:10).  The mishpatim of the Torah are just not only when taken individually, but also when you take them as a whole.  A sugya in Bava Kamma has to fit with a sugya in Gittin.  A value in one area has to be consistent with and not contradict a value in another area.  It’s not a hodge-podge of different rules and rights that get thrown together, but it’s a coherent, unified whole. 

There is another difference between our mishpatim and those of the rest of the world.  Rashi writes that Moshe was supposed to present these halachos of mishpatim so that they would be like a “set table, ready to be eat.”  Rashi is not given to using unnecessary flowery language.  Why does he add this extra analogy here?  Ask any lawyer and he/she will tell you that no one (except for the lawyers involved) gains from a lawsuit.  It’s like a bump in the road that has to be smoothed over and dealt with, but no good comes from it.  When Reuvain and  Shimon have a din torah, says the Radomsker, everybody gains.  When the world becomes a more just place, Hashem has nachas ruach, and as a result,  more chessed comes into the world.  Chazal tell us that someone who wants to be a “chassid,” from the same root as chessed, should fulfill the halachos of nezikin.  When you run into mishpatim, din, conflict, damaging and painful circumstances, it of course feels like a bitter pill to swallow, but the challenge to Moshe was to teach us that it’s not a bitter pill, but a sumptuous banquet, a trigger for tremendous chessed.

This Shabbos Mevorchim Chodesh Adar will be my father’s first yahrzeit.  Everybody knows the gemara’s line (Ta’anis 29) “mi’shenichnas Adar marbim b’simcha,”  but the Ein Ya’akov quotes it with a slight variation: “Mi’shenichnas Adar **m’ma’atin b’aveil** u’marbim b’simcha.”  It's hard to believe a year passed and it's already time to be "m'ma'atin b'aveil" as the 12 months come to a close. 
(Shouldn’t the expression be something like “mi’she’higiya Adar,” or “b’zman Adar?”  Sefas Emes (in the likkutim) explains that Chazal were deliberate in their choice of language.  “Mi’shenichnas” = when Adar come in.  The quality of the month has to seep into you, it has to penetrate your bones.  It’s not about a calendar date.)

I was going to write something more personal about the yahrzeit, but in the end I decided not to, so I’ll just share one idea in the parsha. “Lo ti’hiye m’shakeila v’karah b’artzecha, es mispar yamecha amalei.” (23:26). What does the second half of the pasuk, the promise of long life, have to do with the first half of the pasuk, the promise of children?  They are two very nice things, but why put them together in one pasuk? 

Here’s the Seforno’s take (see also Chasam Sofer):

אֶת מִסְפַּר יָמֶיךָ אֲמַלֵּא. שֶׁתִּחְיוּ כְּמִדַּת הַשֶּׁמֶן אֲשֶׁר בְּנֵר אֱלהִים, וְהוּא הַלַּחוּת הַשָּׁרְשִׁי בַּתּולָדָה. וְהֵפֶךְ זֶה יִקְרֶה עַל הָרב שֶׁיָּמוּת הָאָדָם קדֶם שֶׁיִּכְלֶה הַלַּחוּת הַשָּׁרְשִׁי בֶּחֳלָאִים, יִקְרוּ מֵרעַ בְּחִירָה או מִצַּד הַמַּעֲרֶכֶת וְהַיְסודות. וְהִנֵּה בִּמְלאת לָאָדָם מִסְפַּר יָמָיו יִרְאֶה עַל הָרב בָּנִים לְבָנָיו וְיוּכַל לְלַמְּדָם, כְּאָמְרו "וְהודַעְתָּם לְבָנֶיךָ וְלִבְנֵי בָנֶיךָ" (דברים ד, ט), וִיתֻקַּן בְּחַיֵּי הַזְּקֵנִים עִנְיְנֵי הַדּורות, כְּמו שֶׁסִּפֵּר שֶׁקָּרָה בְּעִנְיַן לֵוִי קְהָת וְעַמְרָם.

Seforno tells us something important: long life itself is not a bracha.  The promise of added years is couched in the context of having children, and, when you have those added years, grandchildren as well, because it’s living long enough to see those future generations and have an influence on them which is the bracha.   
I am a difficult child : ) , but I think my father appreciated having that bracha of “es mispar yamecha amalei,” of seeing “banim [u’banos] l’banav.. v’yetukan b’chayei ha’zekeinim inyanei hadoros.” 

Isn't it strange that after a whole parsha of torts, damages, dinim, mishpatim, we have this concluding section with such beautiful brachos?  The Radomsker in that same piece writes that that's exactly the point: din is just a means to an end, a step along the road to bring out greater bracha.  Chodesh Adar should be the nahapoch hu so we see  all the dinim and mishpatim we suffer transformed finally into bracha v'yeshu'a. 


  1. I found the first yohrtzeit to be an emotional day, what with saying kaddish again but only for that day, and feeling the bond of doing the duties of aveilus dissipating.

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  3. "Ask any lawyer and he/she will tell you that no one (except for the lawyers involved) gains from a lawsuit."

    That oft-quoted assumption is quite simply not always correct. I cringe whenever I hear it.

    The winner gains, and yes, sometimes A does a real avlah (wrong) to B that needs to be remedied in the courts.

  4. You always provide really interesting insights, please keep them coming :)