Torah Weekly

For the week ending 9 February 2013 / 28 Shevat 5773

Parshat Mishpatim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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The Jewish People receive a series of laws concerning social justice. Topics include: Proper treatment of Jewish servants; a husband's obligations to his wife; penalties for hitting people and for cursing parents, judges and leaders; financial responsibilities for damaging people or their property, either by oneself or by one's animate or inanimate property, or by pitfalls that one created; payments for theft; not returning an object that one accepted responsibility to guard; the right to self-defense of a person being robbed.

Other topics include: Prohibitions against seduction; witchcraft, bestiality and sacrifices to idols. The Torah warns us to treat the convert, widow and orphan with dignity, and to avoid lying. Usury is forbidden and the rights over collateral are limited. Payment of obligations to the Temple should not be delayed, and the Jewish People must be holy, even concerning food. The Torah teaches the proper conduct for judges in court proceedings. The commandments of Shabbat and the Sabbatical year are outlined. Three times a year — Pesach, Shavuot and Succot — we are to come to the Temple. The Torah concludes this listing of laws with a law of kashrut — not to mix milk and meat.

G-d promises that He will lead the Jewish People to the Land of Israel, helping them conquer its inhabitants, and tells them that by fulfilling His commandments they will bring blessings to their nation. The people promise to do and listen to everything that G-d says. Moshe writes the Book of the Covenant, and reads it to the people. Moshe ascends the mountain to remain there for 40 days in order to receive the two Tablets of the Covenant.


Hidden Emotions

“If a man shall steal an ox or a sheep or a goat, and slaughter it or sell it, he shall pay five oxen in place of the ox, and four sheep in place of the sheep.” (21:37)

We are all sensitive, easily hurt and embarrassed.

Sometimes we subconsciously cause ourselves deep self-inflicted emotional wounds. Ironically, however, exactly what we think is the cure for our unhappiness can actually be the cause of our malaise.

In this week’s Torah portion there is a law that on the surface is very puzzling. Someone who steals an ox has to pay back five oxen, but someone who steals a sheep has to pay back four sheep. Our Sages teach us that The Torah has concern even for the self-respect of a thief. Stealing a sheep requires the thief to carry the animal across his shoulders, which is most undignified, and so if he is caught, he only to pay only four sheep, whereas stealing an ox only requires the thief to lead the animal by a rope, which isn’t embarrassing, and so the greater penalty for stealing an ox is five oxen.

So, in reality, a sheep-stealer shouldalso pay back five sheep, but seeing as he has already suffered severe humiliation, the Torah considers that he has already paid part of his penalty. It must be then that his humiliation is not something abstract, but it is so great as to be quantifiable in money.

This is rather strange. Because were we to approach the thief at the scene of the crime and suggest to him that he must be experiencing the most terrible humiliation and emotional angst, he would almost certainly reply:

“You must be joking! I’m getting away with a sheep! You know what this is worth?!”

And yet the Torah, which sees to the very deepest levels of a person’s psyche, tells us that the thief is in point of fact suffering great humiliation, equivalent to the payment of money — otherwise how could his penalty have been thus reduced?

The fact of the matter is that at the moment of the theft, the theft does feel a tremendous depression and sense of disgrace. He feels cheap. He experiences emotional trauma. And yet he has no idea why he should feel this way. And thus he carries on stealing and stealing and causes himself more and more emotional angst, thinking that another ‘job’ will get him out of his emotional slump. And so the vicious circle spirals down and down.

Only by observing the Torah can one be truly happy in this world, because only the Designer understands the true nature of His creations, and only He knows what makes one happy and sad. Only G-d knows which actions a person should stay away from and which he should embrace to live a rich, happy and fulfilled life.

  • Source: Adapted from Chidushei HaLev

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