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Volume 32, Issue 6
INSIGHTS from the SEDRA
Insights from the Sedra is a project of the Scholar’s Kollel of Great Neck. It aims to provide several questions and answers about the Sedra, culled from various commentaries, including the following: Baal Haturim, Darash Moshe, Vedibarta Bam by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky, Torah Treasures by Dov Furer, Wellsprings of Torah by Alexander Friedman, and Kol Dodi by Rabbi Dovid Feinstein, Great Torah Lights by Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Goodman, Something To Say by Rabbi Dovid Goldwasser, The Vilna Gaon, Growth Through Torah by Zelig Pliskin and The Call of the Torah.
וא לה המשפטים אשר תשים לפנ יה ם
“And these are the laws that you shall set before them…” (21:1)
Rashi explains that whenever the term אלה – these, is stated, it excludes the preceding sections, but when the term ואלה – and these, it adds to the preceding. Just as the preceding laws were given at Sinai, so too, were these given at Sinai. Rashi reveals here the essential difference between Torah laws and laws of the nations. The laws of the nations are founded upon the decision and approval of individuals who are readily influenced by the environment and age in which they live. Their various lifestyles and value systems will play a great role in the development and acceptance of these laws. The laws are a reflection of the personalities of the legislators who can change their minds as a result of pressure or coercion. Therefore, the laws are often inconsistent and illogical.
Torah law, however, is an act of Hashem. It is not based upon human agreement and acceptance. On the contrary, it is Torah which is the foundation of man. The Zohar writes: “Hashem gazed at the Torah and created mankind.” Man was created, shaped, and perfected according to the Torah and its mitzvot. (Great Torah Lights)
כי תק נה עבד עברי שש שנים יעבד ובשבע ת יצא לח פש י חנ ם
“If you buy a Hebrew slave, he shall work for six years, and on the seventh he shall be free and clear.” (21:2)
The phrase used here is eved Ivri, a Hebrew slave, although one would have expected the far more common usage of eved Yisrael, a Jewish or Israelite slave. Why the unusual usage?
The Avnei Nezer points out that, according to the Midrash (Bereshit Rabbah 42:8), the name Ivri, which was first used for Avraham, signifies independent minuends. Ever means a side, and Ivri implies that Avraham and his descendants after him were prepared to stand on one side even if the entire world were to be aligned against them on the other side.
This, observes the Avnei Nezer, is true freedom: the ability to resist the coercion of other people’s opinions and influence, and stand for what one believes to be the truth. In this light, Jewish people are the only true free people in the world, and therefore, only they of all peoples cannot be sold as slaves for more than six years. Consequently, in the context of these laws, the Torah refers to him as eved Ivri. (Torah Anthology)
עין תחת עין שן תחת שן יד תחת יד רגל תחת רג ל
“An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot…” (21:24)
For centuries, “scholars” of the gentile worlds ridiculed this statement, for they interpreted it literally and found it to be an example of barbarity. We know that the Talmud informs us through the Oral Law that the Torah meant full financial compensation, but the gentiles consider this explanation the rabbis’ way of covering up a shameful law and reinterpreting it.
Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l, once made a very similar remark in shiur, adding this cogent point: Imagine if the Torah had clearly stated that one who destroys someone’s eye or leg must pay a monetary compensation. How the “ethical-scholarly” world would have mocked us. “Look at these Jews! Money can do anything. Go ahead, you rich people – smash out people’s eyes, cripple them – and write a check!” The anti-Semites would have had a field day. Instead, the Torah let us know how serious such a crime is. Let aggressive people tremble in their ignorance. Only the unwritten Oral Torah of chesed whispered the truth to us. (Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik)
אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמ ך
“When you lend money to My people, the poor among you…” (22:24)
QUESTION: The word “imach” – with you – seems superfluous. Would it not have been sufficient to say, “If you lend money to My people, the poor?”
ANSWER: Many people establish an amount they will give to a particular charity and are very careful not to exceed it. Although in the interim their wealth has increased many times over, they still continue to give their original allocations. The Torah abhors this behavior and instructs us that when we give to the poor, we should always consider them “imach” – to be on our level. When we are enriched and do more for ourselves, we should accordingly do more for them. (Vedibarta Bam)
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