We hope that had a little time to think of some of the answers themselves.
1. What did the last parsha close with? Can we learn anything from the juxtaposition to our parsha?
A: The Parsha Yisro closed with the mitzvah of building an altar to serve Hashem (like a mini-temple). The juxtaposition (and the adjoining letter ‘vav’ which connects the parshas) teaches us that the proper location for the Sanhedrin (Supreme Court) should be adjacent to the Temple. Our sages say that the companionship also teaches us that just as the temple service effectuates peace and brings good to the world, so too does the enactment of just laws and fair arbitration.
We should also not think that these torts and statutes are any less important than the Ten Commandments that we just heard.
2. What subject of mitzvos does the parsha open with? Why?
The purchase, treatment and release of Hebrew slaves. On a more elevated side, the parsha is reaching us that just as we experienced being slaves, we musn’t forget how it felt, and to be lawful and considerate owners. On a darker side, King Solomon says, that the Earth shudders over three things, one being when a slave ascends to the throne. That means to say, that not only is the once-destitute in danger of forgetting his humble beginnings, but rather that he is capable of being the worst and most cruel overlord of all. (A little reflection into history will confirm how true the words of Solomon are, in how many of the most vile and hard handed leaders did not come from the best stock, but rather the lowest). Thus, at the outset of our legal order, the Torah is trying to balance us on both sides.
3. How does long is the term of a regular Jewish slave? Non-Jewish?
Is there a way to extend his term? How, and for how long? And what is the significance of the specific procedure chosen to acquire him longer?
A Jewish slave’s term is initially up to 6 years (providing he is not redeemed earlier with money). A non-Jew is not a mere hired-hand, rather a full acquisition like other property, and is bought forever, and is inherited by one’s heirs (not the case with a Jew).
If, at the conclusion of a Jew’s term, he exclaims that he loves his master, and the concubine-family his master has given to him as part of his servitude, and he wishes to stay on with him, then he goes through the following procedure: Under the auspices of the court, his master stands him upright against a doorpost, and bores a hole through his ear against it. As a result – the verse says he is a slave forever – yet another verse says that he returns free to his family – and the resolution is that the jubilee year is called ‘forever’, (similar to a life-term in America, which is not really a full life, but a generation of life, you might say).
The midrashim, and commentators discuss in great elaboration the symbolism and significance of this procedure the Torah commanded. The arguably main understanding is that just as this ear had heard at Sinai the command “I am the Lord… to Me shall the Children of Israel be slaves” – yet he went and chose another master for himself, so he missed the whole essence of our redemption and revelation at mount Sinai, and didn’t realize that the function of a Jew is to be fully dedicated and betrothed to Hashem and His mitzvos, he is being taught a tough and permanent lesson. Similarily, the lintel and doorpost were witnesses in Egypt that Hashem spared the Jews to be for Himself, and he went off- they shall stand as witnesses against him now.
Most of our mistakes and failures come from not listening properly –which we Jews try to work on each day and night when we recite the Shma – which literally means Listen –O’ Israel – to your Father, your King.
4. In what way is the Torah more lenient on releasing goyish slaves?
If the master causes him to lose any of his limbs (ear, tooth, finger, etc.) he goes free immediately – not so for Jewish slaves (perhaps there is less concern for mistreatment by them, and more attribution to accident by them)
5. If you have a Jewish slave, and one pillow, who gets it?
In the text of the slaves claim that he wishes to remain with his master, it says ‘for it was good for him with you’ = from which we learn that he must be treated well, such as to eat and drink of the same quality, and sleep on a similar quality bed. The Jerusalem Talmud asks what if there is only one pillow – and answers – if the master kept it, this would be a contradiction to the rule -it is good for him with you, for he must not be on a lesser stature. So what about being even since the only way that he will be on your level is if nobody gets it – to which the gemarra answers that this is forbidden based on being like the wicked people of Sodom, who were anti-chesed, and abominable to Hashem. Thus, the Talmud concludes, the only possible solution is to give it to your slave. How revolutionary is our Torah, – as we say when we bring out the Torah in shul “It’s ways are pleasant, and all her paths are peace”.
Q: How is the rehabilitation of the Torah unique (specifically in regards to slaves and manslaughter)?
As we have already begun to see, the Torah treats them with respect, rebuking only in a way as if to say “you ought to know better” Pas nisht” “you have too much potential to waste.” One convicted of manslaughter is directed to take refuge in one of the Levite cities, where the Levites would be to them a model Jews, being quite learned, and fully dedicated to holiness and character refinement. So too the slave is treated with integrity, and encouraged to go free and start anew at the right time (if he is not married, his master cannot give him a non-Jewish wife/concubine, as it will influence him to stay with the master (since she does not go free with him). Apparently, the Jews who would buy these Jewish slaves who had to sell themselves out of debt, were the scholars and nobles, who would best be able to serve as role models and offer a nurturing environment for the former-thief or gambler, to mature and rehabilitate.
6. What is the halacha if one knocks out another’s eye, or bruises him. (i.e. how do we interpret the verse “an eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth, bruise for a bruise, etc.)? Why is it written this way?
Unlike the vigilante interpretation, the halacha is to compensate the victim with money, that is the how much his market value dropped due to the damage. There are many exegeses to prove this, from current sages, all the back, to Mount Sinai. I’ll pass on a few for those who are interested:
1 – if one would really have to have his eye knocked out, perhaps he might die, and this would be greater than his crime.
2. There are multiple terms in the verse, from which we learn out the obligation to pay for rehab, medical fees, workers comp, pain, shame, and – if these would all be superfluous and unfair if the aggressor got a taste of his own medicine.
3. The word Tachas/t – which means under, is unusual, (instead of ‘for’) – implying something is not as simple as it seems. And since like we said “it’s ways are pleasant, and all its paths are peace” it makes sense that the Torah is not condoning violence and bloodshed.
4. Furthermore, the victim would be much more fairly compensated through a fine than a corporal punishment to his assailant.
5. The word Under –Tachas_ indicates that the eye is precisely under (letter by letter) the compensation – and if we check the letters, voila = we have the word Kesef = money .
6. The same word tachas is in two other verses, and one method of exegesis is learning via synonyms. And in both those places it refers to money.
7. There was always a clear tradition that this meant money – and like the tradition that the ‘beautiful fruit’ waved on sukkos is none other than our beolved Esrog, even though it is not explicit in any verse, many laws were given to Moses in a purely oral form, and passed down that way, – and all the proofs given in each of these cases are merely to find allusions or support in the verses for the oral tradition.
8. We also learn from the fact that the antagonist owes his eye, that his crime is such that he ought to, and he should contemplate that. Secondly, that one opinion holds that the monetary evaluation is according to the eye of the damager (i.e. how much his value would go down if he lost an eye).
7. What blinds the eyes of even the wisest and most righteous judges? A: Bribery
Q: How does the mitzvah-directive to the judges “Do not kill an innocent person, or one who is righteous” make any sense – it seems totally superfluous, especially after all the subtle directives not to take bribes, or favour the poor.
Rashi (based on halachic midrash, as usual) learns that it is teaching two distinct laws
Innocent – If one has already been sentenced, and one comes forth claiming evidence for his innocence, that we heed him, and readjurn his trial.
Righteous- If one has already been exonerated, and one comes forth claiming evidence for his guiltiness, that we do not retry him. (As we learned last week from the ten commandment (or statements, really as we learned), that Hashem conducts the world with a much greater tendency towards mercy than strict justice.)
The Rambam however, uses this as a source that we never kill a person based on circumstantial evidence, perhaps because there is no clear definition of what is absolutely conclusive, and what is possibly refutable.
8. When Hashem promises to inherit us the land of Israel, He offers to help by removing its inhabitants before we even arrive – yet He claims that He will not do so all at once – why?
In order that the land does not become desolate and overrun by wild animals upon our arrival – just as Hashem prepared the world so perfectly before the arrival of man. Nonetheless, we see that Hashem prefers to conduct the world in a natural way, and not have to rely on miracles which, as we have discussed on previous occasions, would compromise the whole foundation and goal of this world.
9. How much does a robber (one who robs directly) have to repay? The amount of the robbery. What about a thief (one who steals secretly)? Double. What about if he steals a sheep or ox and he sells or slaughters them? Sheep- 4 Ox – 5
Why? The gemarra says that the thief is more culpable for, at least the robber equated his fear of Heaven and of man – in his outright brazenness, but the thief however, in acting clandestine, displayed that his fear man is greater than his fear of the Omniscient One, and that is an insult and heresy.
The gemarra suggests that the reason that sheep is less that the ox, is out of the Torah’s respect for human dignity, since the sheep-thief probably put the animal on his shoulders to steal it, and thus shame himself in the process. It also suggests that the reason that the ox is more is to teach is the Torah’s respect for work (that four-letter word dad) – for the thief caused the work done with the ox to be lost. (whereas a sheep just sits and waits for its body to be consumed/exploited.)
In his great work Guide to the Perplexed, the Rambam offer reasons for many mitzvos, including these ones, and he offers another view, namely that the Torah sometimes punishes not wholly based on the severity of the crime, but also on the frequency, and thus the necessity for justice. He elaborates – thieving is more ubiquitous than robbery, thus demands greater safety measures. Furthermore, an easy target was animals, who cannot defend themselves. What is more the Rambam notes, is that sheep are often tended by a shepherd, and thus less common target than oxen, which are normally left unattended, and thus deserving of the most prohibitive fines.
10. What is the punishment for striking or cursing one’s parents? Death (if the hit draws blood)
Q: What mitzvah is placed between these two – Kidnapping. Why? The gemarra learn that kidnapping comes to interrupt the two sins, thereby alluding to a distinction in their punishment. Striking, like kidnapping, is punished by hanging, while one who curses is stoned to death which is considered a worse fate (actually first pushed from a rooftop, then, if still alive, killed by the falling boulder.) The Ramban suggests that the reason who curses is punished more severely may be for a similar reason that the Rambam used by the thefts, namely it is more common, and thus needs greater enforcement. Secondly, he quotes the gemarra which equates the honour and reverence one should have for one’s parents to the honour and reverence one must have for Hashem. So too, the gemarra continues, one who blesses (a euphemism for curses), his parents is as if he blessed Hashem, but striking, it concludes is not plausible by Hashem to compare. Therefore cursing has the second element of cursing the Creator, in addition to the fact that a serious curse usually incorporates Hashem’s name – and is grave a transgression that the Torah extends it to after death.
Rav Sadya Gaon (900 C.E.) suggests, that this specific law was chosen to intercede, to allude to a case where one who is kidnapped from a young age, thus does not know his parents. As a result of which, may come to curse or strike on of them, not knowing that such is deserving of the death penalty – and since he is not at fault, the Torah is teaching that the blame and debt fall on the head of the kidnapper who began the damage so long ago.
11. What is the law of one’s animal kills his friend?
The animal is stoned, and forbidden to benefit from. Although the animal may not be evil, it is nonetheless appartied to evil by it’s deed, and it is a messenger of negativity now and thus cannot be permitted existence in an upright society. An atonement fee is paid to the victim’s heir’s. The Torah also says that the owner is killed – but it is clear from the continuation of the verses that he pays for his crime and is exonerated. This is because there is a rule that the Torah only refers to a death by human court with a double language, however when it only proscribes ‘killed’ once, it means in the Heavenly tribunal.
12. Is the mitzvah to lend money optional or obligatory? Can’t we determine this from the beginning of the preposition “IF you lend money…”? (Bonus – if you looked at the closing mitzvah in the last parsha from Q #1 you’ll find a parallel example of this).
Lending to Jews is certainly an obligatory mitzvah. One reason why it is said as if conditional (more or less, based on the words of the Maharal), is that the Torah wants us to do it as if we are acting willingly and magnanimously. We all know, once something is obligatory and routine, even if it is a good routing, even something we chose for ourselves, still, once we HAVE to go to that class, do that exercise, eat that diet, write that card, etc. etc., we may not put our whole vibrant heart into it. Thus, we are told as if by suggestion, like a parent who hopes his or her child will come to the correct action on their own accord. The same language is used by the mitzvah of making the altar, which although obligatory, Hashem wants us to serve Him with an open heart and volunteering soul. Especially in interpersonal mitzvos, when we must relate to the object of our mitzvah as a person, and not an esrog. Particularly in charitable deeds, the recipient is likely to be uncomfortable to have to depend on you, the Torah is hinting how important we must try to act with empathy and compassion.
This is a nice compliment to our parsha page last week, where we discussed the dichotomous quality of Hashem giving us His Torah. Namely, that we were both obligated, even threatened, yet on the other hand, we were given the opportunity to think about it and to make an fettered freewill acceptance. Thus we see this theme which inaugurated the entirety of the Torah’s inception unto its bearers, the Jewish people, also carries through into the particular aspects of its fulfillment, and so we should take heart and do our best to hold the baton at both ends.
Good shabbos y’all
-Beth Shifra Staff