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    I would like to stay – Mishpatim

    February 16th, 2020

    The Torah reading deals with the factors that could cause a Jew to become slave.

    This was not interminable slavery but a six-year period of servitude. At the end of the term the person went free.

    You would think no-one would want to keep going as a slave, but some actually did. During the time of bondage the master had to provide for the slave and his family, and losing this facility might not be enough reason to opt for independence.

    The Torah says that the slave who wants to keep going should have his ear pinned to the door for twenty-four hours. The punishment involved his ear, because the ear had heard the Divine call for freedom and had ignored it.

    According to the Kli Yakar the ear was pinned to the door because doors indicate a way out. The slave was given the opportunity of going out into society and was reluctant to take it.

    When a way forward becomes available one should not try to stay back in the past or even the present.


    Confrontations with God – Mishpatim

    February 16th, 2020

    Amongst the laws of Mishpatim is the sentence, Kol almanah v’yatom lo t’anun – “You shall not ill-treat any widow or orphan” (Ex. 22:21).

    On reading this verse it is said that Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev burst into tears and confronted God:

    “On so many occasions the Torah demands in Your name that no-one shall afflict the orphan. But what about Your people Israel?

    “In Echah (5:3) it says that we are orphans. Why do You not obey Your own commandment and redeem Your people from bitter exile?”

    Confronting God in this way is somewhat impertinent, certainly. But our people have a long history of confronting Him and questioning His government of the universe.

    It has happened from Abraham, who said, “Shall the Judge of all the earth not act justly?”(Gen. 18:25), up to the days of the Holocaust; “You, God,” said one of the martyrs in anger or tears, “You are doing everything You can to stop me believing in You. But I give You notice: it will not work. Nothing You do will stop my belief in You!”

    Judaism asserts that man and God are partners in the completion of the work of creation. They have a covenant: “You will be My people, and I will be your God”. Since God has dignified us with the privilege of being His co-workers, we are sure He understands that we want a say in the management of the project.

    But just as we insist on being heard, so does He.

    When He feels we are not keeping our side of the bargain, He tells us so.


    Chief Rabbi of Jerusalem – Mishpatim

    February 16th, 2020

    Rabbi Bezalel Zolty

    The Torah says, “You shall not ill-treat any widow” (Ex. 22:21).

    Rav Bezalel Zolty of blessed memory was the chief rabbi of Jerusalem but there had been other candidates.

    Menahem Begin tried to persuade Rabbi Chaim Yaakov Levin to stand for election but Rabbi Levin refused. He said that when he and Rabbi Zolty were students, Rabbi Zolty’s widowed mother cleaned people’s houses to enable her to support her son.

    Rabbi Levin said, “How can anyone take away from a woman like that the joy of seeing her son being elevated to the chief rabbinate of the Holy City?”


    The Judge spoke

    February 9th, 2020

    The Ten Commandments begin, “And God (E-lohim) spoke all these words, saying: I am the Lord your God (Ado-nai E-lohecha)…”

    Quoting the Mechilta, Rashi reminds us that E-lohim often means a judge. The Almighty was speaking as the God of Justice when He gave the Decalogue.

    The name Ado-nai means Lord of Mercy, but here it was in the capacity of a judicial authority that he was speaking. He was not lovingly counselling the people not to kill or steal, which might have implied, “But if you do kill or steal My mercy will save you from the consequences of your actions.”

    No: He was laying down the law. He was not sharing with them ten suggestions but saying that there were times when there had to be firm rules – as the Yiddish saying puts it, Lo mit an aleph – NO!

    The Almighty was (as the rabbinic phrase puts it) seated on His judicial chair, decreeing that transgressing the ten rules would bring punishment.


    The most powerful commandment

    February 9th, 2020

    We all have our own ideas about which one of the Ten Commandments is the most serious.

    A good case can be made for the proposition that “You shall not kill” is the most significant one because life is the supreme Divine gift and taking a life is the worst possible offence.

    Indeed it might be said that if you commit murder, the victim is not just a human being but God Himself in whose image every human is made. Murdering a person affects God Himself.

    Without affecting the validity of this interpretation there is a view in the Pesikta Rabbati that “You shall not covet” is the most serious of the rules. Once you give way to coveting, nothing and nobody is safe.

    According to Abravanel, the sequence of the last five commandments is this: do not injure your fellow man by action (murder, adultery of theft), by word (speaking lies and falsehood) and thought (coveting).

    What the Torah does in the Ten Commandments is to cover both the way we act and our motivation, the reason why we act in that way.