Parashat Mishpatim
Shabbat Shekalim / Shabbat Mevarekhim Hahodesh
February 24-25, 2017 – 29 Shevat 5777
Annual (Exodus 21:1024:18): Etz Hayim p. 456-480; Hertz p. 306-322
Triennial (Exodus 21:1-22:3): Etz Hayim Etz Hayim p. 456-465; Hertz p. 306-311
Maftir (Exodus 30:11-16): Etz Hayim p. 523-524; Hertz p. 352-352
Haftarah (2 Kings 12:1-17): Etz Hayim p. 1276-1279 Hertz p. 992-995


If You Afflict Afflict the Widow or the Orphan
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty and Coordinator, Torah Sparks

Exodus 22:21-22 Do not afflict [t’anun] the widow or the orphan.  If you afflict afflict [anei t’aneh] (them), if/when [ki im] they cry cry [tsa’ok yits’ak] out to me, I will hear hear [shamo’a eshmah] their cry.

Last year Rabbi Hillel Skolnick explored the meaning of the unusual ki – im (if – if/when) phrase in verse 22.  There is additional interesting grammar in this verse – each of the three verbs is repeated in the Hebrew, which challenges the translator.  None offers the translation above – the verb translated literally twice. “If you afflict them at all … I will surely hear their cry” is typical (, but by not repeating the verb, the translator is interpreting.  We’ll look at anei t’aneh – afflict afflict here.

The Rabbis disagreed over the meaning of the repetition: one said any mistreatment, even trivial, will trigger God’s anger; another said one is liable only if he/she repeats the offence.  Thus we see that the repeated verb can minimize (e.g. “at all”) or it can intensify (“surely”).  There are other examples of this in our parasha.  Ex. 21:2 entitles the Hebrew slave to go free after six years, but if amor yomar, he says says ‘I love my master…I will not go free’ his ear is pierced and he is a slave for life (Ex 21:5).  The rabbis say “he must say so twice.”  A one-time remark, whether made casually or in jest, is not enough to commit him to servitude for life.  On the other hand “one who strikes a parent mot yumat – shall surely be put to death” (Ex. 21:15).

The disagreement over “afflict afflict” is substantive.  1500 years ago the rabbis were aware of different ways to deal with bad behavior – whether to have “zero tolerance” or to show patience and indulgence for the first-time offender.  Today we debate this question, and much depends on the person and the circumstances.

So what should be our approach to offenses against the weak and defenseless, symbolized by the widow and orphan?  The Mekhilta, a halakhic midrash to Sefer Shmot (Exodus), tells of the conversation between two leading rabbis being led out to their deaths by the Romans in the early second century CE.  Rabbi Shimon said: “I don’t understand what offense I committed that deserves execution.”  Rabbi Ishmael replied: “Did anyone ever come to you for a lawsuit or to ask a question and you kept them waiting while you finished your coffee (“drink”) or getting dressed?  The Torah says ‘If you afflict afflict,’ even if it be minimal.”  And Rabbi Shimon replied: “Master, you have consoled me.”

There are persons for whom it is not injustice to keep them waiting, but when we are dealing with “widows and orphans,” it’s different.  The Shulchan Orech says one must be very careful in doing the mitsva of tsdaka (charity for the poor), for if one delays in responding to their request for help, there is the risk of liability for bloodshed, should they die of starvation due to the delay.  One reason we do not make a bracha before giving charity (it’s a mitsva like lighting Shabbat candles) is that the poor person’s suffering may be aggravated even in the short time it takes us to say the blessing.  When it comes to those in real need, the Torah’s approach is zero tolerance.

A Vort for Parashat Mishpatim
Rabbi Daniel Goldfarb, CY Faculty

aZaL said of one who lends money without witnesses that his prayer (claim) is not answered (tso’ek v’eino na’aneh, B”M 75b).  The reason – it is careless to make a loan without some form of proof.  On the other hand, one is commanded to give tsdaka discreetly, with no witnesses, “a gift in secret subdues anger” (Prov. 21:14).  The Gaon of Vilna (R’ Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, 1720-1797, Lithuania) said both are hinted at in Ex 22:24, “If you loan money to/with my people (et ami)” – publicly, before witnesses; “…to the poor with you (et ha’ani imach)” – no one should be present when tsdaka is given.

Table Talk
Vered Hollander-Goldfarb, CY Faculty

We ended last week with the revelation at Sinai.  As part of that, the people received some of the laws of the Torah (“Mishpatim” means ‘laws’.)  Here is a taste of a few of them:

1)  21:12-14 are laws concerning homicide.  What is the punishment for this crime?  V. 13-14 recognize that not all homicide cases are equal.  What should the court look at when deciding the penalty of a person who killed another person? When is the penalty of v.12 applicable?

2)  V. 22:4 brings the law of an owner of an animal who released his animal and it ate from another person’s field. What is the problem with what the animal did?  What is the penalty for the owner?  Why do you think that the owner is held responsible? – After all, the animal went by itself!

3)  In 22:24 we have a case of a person who lent money (or silver) to another person. Why did the person borrow the money? What is the lender forbidden to do?  Why do you think that the Torah forbids this practice in this case?

4)  23:14-19 lists the 3 pilgrimages during the year.  Which holidays are pilgrimages?  What does one do on a pilgrimage holiday? None of these hagim (holidays) are listed by the names that we use for them today (but we do keep them!) Try to match each hag to its current name.

5) This week we add a special reading as Maftir (the last Aliya to Torah) because we are about to enter the month of Adar. We read about Shekalim (Shmot 30:11-16).  What did every person have to give towards the work in the Tabernacle?  Why do you think that the Torah forbids people to give more or less than the instructed amount? This section is read now as a reminder to get ready to deliver the ½ shekel by Nissan (the next month.)