Torah Portion of the Week – Mishpatim – Free Your Mind – Stop Being a Slave – A Powerful Parable about the Rich Brother – A Great Story about the Alter of Slobodka and Peace in Your Home – Don’t be a Zealot in Your Home
The Torah Podcast Transcript
089 – The Torah Podcast – Free Your Mind – Stop Being a Slave
Torah Portion of the Week – Mishpatim
This week’s Parsha starts out like this. The verses say, “And these are the judgements that you shall place before them. When you buy a Hebrew servant, and he shall work for six years, in the seventh year he should go to freedom without charge. If he shall come in alone, he should go out alone. If he is the husband of a woman, his wife should go out with him. If his master will give him a woman and she bears him sons or daughters, the woman and her children will belong to her master, and he shall go up by himself. But if the servant should say, ‘I love my master, my wife and my children. I shall not go free,’ then his master shall bring him to the judges. And they shall bring him to the door, or to the doorpost. And his master shall bore through his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever.” Now, Rashi explains like this. What is it about the ear that it should be bored, out of all the other organs of the body? Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai explains, “The ear that heard at Mount Sinai, you shall not steal, and nevertheless went and stole, let it be bored. And if on the other hand he sold himself because of his own poverty, so the ear that heard at Mount Sinai, for the Children of Israel are slaves unto Me, he went and he acquired a master for himself. Let that ear be bored.” And Rashi continues, “Rav Shimon expounded this verse as a packet of pearls. What makes a door and a doorpost unique among the furnishings of the house? The Holy One, Blessed-be-He said, ‘The door and the doorpost were a witness of what happened in Egypt, when I skipped over two doorposts. And I said for the Children of Israel are slaves to Me. They are my slaves, and not slaves of slaves, to which the person went and acquired himself a master for himself. That ear should be bored in their presence.’”
Rabbeinu Bachye asks, “Why do we begin with this law of how to treat a Hebrew slave?” The answer is that since we were slaves in Egypt and Hashem freed us for us to become slaves to Hashem, to serve God, all of a sudden this person turns around and makes himself a slave to another human being. Why is he doing this? He shouldn’t be doing this. We’re supposed to be free individuals. We’re supposed to be free to serve God, and that’s why He put this mitzvah first”. He also brings down that this mitzvah is a reminder that Hashem created the world. Why? Because it says after six years, on the seventh year you go free. That’s a remez, that’s a hint to Shabbos, that we’re supposed to be free on Shabbos in order to serve God, because free men are able to rest on Shabbos. He also explains, “One of the reasons why he put the awl through his ear on the door is because the blood’s going to come out and it’s also going to be a remembrance of the blood that we put on our doors when we were in Egypt, before we went out, which was a symbol of our freedom. And here, this person doesn’t want to be free. Therefore, it’s a reminder of such a thing, that really we should be free, we want to be free. We want to serve God. What’s going on with this person?” He brings the Midrash that says, “I opened the door to the house for him to enable him to walk to freedom, and he slammed the door upon himself in order to remain a slave. Therefore as a penalty, his ear should be nailed to the door.” And he says, “The door which is delet starts with a dalet. Which dalet are we referring to? The dalet at the end of Shema Yisroel. We say, “Shema Yisroel, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem echad,” and that dalet we think in all six directions when we focus on that dalet. Why? Because that’s the door, that’s the doorway to heaven, the gateway to heaven which the righteous enter. And this foolish person instead of being free to serve God, what did he do? He becomes a slave. Either he steals or he sells himself to slavery. But either way he says, “He foolishly traded his master for whom he could not see with his senses, with someone who can see, hear and feel. And he has to understand the mistake that he made.”
Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch explains that if he degraded himself to the level of six. Six years he was going to be a slave, in the seventh year he’s supposed to go free. What does six relate to? Six relates to the sixth dimensions that are physical reality, that’s all there are. It means totally physical. Through his crime the offender sank to the level of six, the purely material, physical world. And the thought of the seven was hidden from him, for the seventh means spirituality. He continues and says, “A servant who prefers the security and the carefree comfort of a state of bondage and rejects his own independent family life with all of its worries and cares, is brought by his master to the door. And his master pierces his ear on the door. What does the door represent? It represents redemption, freedom, the establishment of your own home, your own personal life. The doorpost of the home gives each Jewish soul the exalted mission of participating in the establishment of free homes, dedicated to God. We should be independent people. We should be free people. We should be doing what we need to do, and not be subservient to some other human being.”
He says, “If a Jew rejects the status represented by the doorpost, the responsibility of independently bearing the burden of a home, he sells his freedom for the ease of belonging to someone who has no ear for heeding God’s code of freedom and independence. And his ear is bored upon the door as he faces the doorpost.”
So, I want to explain a little bit more about the details of what exactly did this person do wrong? The Rambam explains, “If this person who stole was single, when he goes to be a slave under this master, he is not given a wife. But if he already had a Jewish wife and he went to be a slave under this person, so then he’s given a gentile slave, a woman who’s already a slave, he’s given as a wife. What happens is, he has children with that woman, and they all continue to be slaves. So, the master is going to gain having more slaves. But this is only true in the case where he stole, not when he sold himself because of poverty. If he sold himself because of poverty, he’s not given an extra wife. But if he stole, he is given an extra wife. So, why is that true? It seems strange.” The Rabbi wants to explain, the reason is because after six years when he decides to go free, he leaves that wife and those children by his master. He himself, if he would experience the pain of having something taken away from him, that’s because he stole. That’s going to be his lesson. The lesson is, don’t steal. Don’t take things away from other people. Have respect for other people’s property, and now you’re going to learn your lesson. Why? Because you’re going to be given a wife, and you’re going to have children. And you’re going to have to leave them with the master. It’s going to be taken away from you, midda kenegged midda, tit for tat. And that’s the way you’re going to learn your lesson, and it’s the most basic lesson of being a human being. Have respect for other people’s property. What are you going to do? You stole, how could you steal?
And the Chassam Sofer explains another point. It’s specifically by a thief who stole and nobody saw him, this thief who got caught, that’s the one who sold him to slavery. But if he was a gazlan, he robbed at gunpoint, so we don’t sell him into slavery. What’s that about? This person thinks he can trick God. If he’s the person who stole with a gun, he did it out in the open, he doesn’t know any difference between God and man. He’s not afraid of anybody. But the person who stole at nighttime and nobody saw him, he thinks he’s getting away with something which is intrinsically a bad character trait, to actually believe that you can get away with things that God doesn’t see.
Now, Rav Schwab has an unbelievable question. We saw that the Rashi that brought the Gemara that said, “Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai explained that on Har Sinai, the Jews heard with their own ears, ‘You shall not steal.’ Yet this person stole.” But he says, “Wait a second. That was one of the Ten Commandments. The stealing that it says in the Ten Commandments, ‘Do not steal’ is talking about kidnapping. What do you mean kidnapping, he didn’t kidnap anybody. He stole. Secondly, why do we see that he only gets punished, is that his ear only gets bored after he decides to stay? It should be right at the very beginning. That should be the punishment at the very beginning. He didn’t listen, and he stole. So why do we wait until he decides to stay a slave?” So, the answer is no, he did kidnap. When did he kidnap? At the end, and that’s when he gets his ear bored at that point. Why? Because he kidnapped himself. He wants to explain that Rav Yochanan ben Zakkai was talking about the ear that heard at Sinai, he’s talking about the end of the whole process. When he decides to continue to be a slave, he kidnapped himself. He gave himself over. He says like this, “He sold himself into slavery, violating the prohibition against kidnapping. He’s kidnapping himself from Hakadosh Baruch-Hu. He’s going to be subordinate to another human being. He can no longer be an absolute servant to Hashem. Why? Because he has to serve other people. If you have to serve other people, you can’t be a servant to Hashem, you have to be free. It’s like the Jews after the Holocaust, they came to New York. They had to keep quitting their jobs because every time they tried to keep Shabbos, so they’d have to get a new job every week. Why? Because if you’re subordinate to other people you’re not free. You’re not free to serve God.
And the Kli Yakar brings the possuk from Mishlei which says, “And the door, the door turns on its hinges, and the lazy one does not wish to go out.” That’s this person. This is like someone who sits in prison and they give him the opportunity to leave. Run for your life, and instead he chooses the benefit of being in prison. At least he gets food, he gets drink, he has a place to sleep. He says, “Thus he’s exchanged the level of God for the level of his maidservant wife, and therefore his ear should be pierced at the doorpost.” This person is giving up on spirituality for the sake of the physical. And you have to hear this – this is unbelievable what he says. He says, “Besides all these reasons, this is a good example of those who are blind in the camp of the Hebrews. They go all their days through all types of slavery and suffering and pain, in order to gain wealth. And to obtain this wealth he sells himself as a slave for life. This is what most people do. And he claims that he’s compelled to earn a living and go for the sake of his wife and his children.” That’s what the Gemara says. “He’s accumulating it all for their benefit, and he doesn’t have time to go free all of his day. He rationalizes, and he accepts upon himself saying…which is like the verse said, ‘I love my wife and my children.’” It sounds very noble, it’s a very noble cause. Then he’s therefore not going to go into freedom. Which freedom? The freedom to learn Torah, the freedom to do mitzvos, the freedom to do the will of God. He says, “No, I’m bound by human suffering,” and the bonds of the love of a wife and children. Therefore, he’s called a submissive servant. All the days this man will not rest. And all his days end as a breath and all of his years in turn, with all the troubles one after another.
He brings the example of Pirkei de Reb Eliezer who says that a man has three friends. Which three friends? A man has three friends in this world, his children, his grandchildren, and his wealth. What’s going to happen? He says, “I love my wife and I love my children.” But he explains, “These things do not go out when a man leaves the world. The one who said, ‘I love my wife and I love my children,’ this wife and this children are not going to be able to help him at all when he comes to the grave, for they don’t love him so much they’ll go beyond and with him,” he says. On the contrary, they are going to abandon him at the gate – the entrance to the grave – and beyond, where his sins crouch at the entrance. From the gates and beyond, his family will not enter him to advocate for him. This is the correct example, and one of the secrets of the Torah. It’s unbelievable, this is what most people do. They say, “For the sake of my wife and for the sake of my children, for the sake of my grandchildren, I have to work 24/7 to produce millions and millions of dollars to support them for generations.” What happened to Torah? The Torah is pushed to the side. What happened to doing God’s will? What’s happening to learning, what’s happening to growing in spirituality? We don’t have time for that. We have to take care of our wives and our kids. This is exactly what most people say. But the Torah is coming to teach us, “No, that’s called slavery. Don’t give up your freedom. Don’t give up your spirituality for the sake of the physical.” I’m not saying a person doesn’t have to go to work. I’m not saying a person doesn’t have to take care of his wife and his kids. Of course he does. But that’s not the essential, it’s not the main focus. It’s not the purpose of your life. The purpose of your life is to grow in spirituality, to grow in ruchnius and do mitzvos, because that’s what we have when we leave this world.
Rav Wolbe adds another point. He says like this. “The essence of Torah observance is freedom from bondage to outside forces. Servitude to Hashem does not tolerate servitude to any other master.” It’s says that when Rav Wolbe would say the beracha that we say every day, “Thank you God that you didn’t make me a slave,” he would have in mind, “Am I truly not a slave?” A person who is obsessed with what other people think of him and tailor’s his actions to fit them, they are ideals that the very essence of what of slavery represents. He neglects what he knows is right, in order to conform to social pressures – another form of slavery, another form of not really serving God. Why? Because you just do what everybody else is doing. The whole world’s doing like that, the whole world’s doing like this. But that’s also called a type of a slavery, not a real free person, with real free will, really deciding what you should do with your life, and really doing the right thing regardless of what other people think and what other people say. It’s another form of slavery. We have to be completely free. Our minds have to be free in order to serve God, because we have to be creative. We have to be thinking people, not just following a dogma. Some people turn to religion because they’re weak. They want somebody else to tell them what to do, how to act, how to dress. That’s not real religion. Real religion is the relationship with the Creator, with creativity, with thinking, making the right decisions, deciding really what you should do, really thinking out things to the end.
Rav Yisroel Salanter explains, what does it mean nishbar lev that Dovid HaMelech said, “He had a broken heart.” Every day, he would think, “Am I doing the right thing? Is it the right avoda? What am I doing with my life? I have a broken heart in the sense that I’m not sure, I’m not exactly sure what’s my avodas Hashem, what my service of God really should be. Why was I created? What’s my specific task that I was created to do in this world? That’s a real eved Hashem. He’s not bound by religion in the sense of protocol, in the sense of how you dress and how you look and what you’re doing. We do that for other reasons, in order to protect ourselves. But that’s not the essence of who I am. I have to decide on my own being what’s the right thing to do.
And the Shem Mi Shmuel brings in another point in the same direction. He says like this. “We know that Moshe Rabbeinu after he killed the Egyptian he had to run away. And the verse said, ‘I know that the matter is known,’ Moshe said.” The Maharal explains there, he says, “Once he saw that the Jewish people were speaking to each other against other Jews, and he saw that they lost the quality of modesty, of being humble, and they had inside them evil, so then he said the matter is known. It was apparent to him why the Jews were still enslaved in Egypt, because they didn’t have the proper character traits. They lost the Jewish quality of being tzniyus, of being internal as compared to external, of being in touch with their inner being. That’s what they lost. So, he understood that maybe the Jews didn’t have the merit to go out of Mitzrayim.”
He wants to explain the same thing by this thief, like we said before. We’re not talking about a gazlan, we’re talking about a ganef. We’re talking about somebody who does something hidden. And if somebody does something hidden, he effects his inner being more than if he does it when it’s out in the open. He’s using the quality, his hidden qualities, to do wrong, to do the wrong thing with his internal being. And therefore, he’s completely off the way and has to be sold to be a slave. He says, “He cannot handle his own free quality of being a true Jew, and therefore he must be rehabilitated.” In other words, what you do, who are you when you are alone? Who are you when nobody sees you? Your real inner, deepest being, are you being an eved Hashem? Are you running away from God? Are you making yourself a slave to society, a slave to somebody else, a slave to your work, a slave to your friends? Is all you care about what other people think about you? Are you only doing what other people tell you to do? Or are you really independent, freedom to be an eved Hashem a person has to be free. But that means free in so many bechinas, so many aspects. Free in his mind, free from society, free from gashmius. He’s not addicted to all the physical world. He has to be totally free.
I just want to end off with a Midrash that takes this whole Chazal and turns it round in another direction. We see from here that there’s really 70 facets to the Torah. You can learn these possukim in a totally different way, listen to this Midrash. The Midrash says of the verse, “Six years he shall serve.” What are they talking about? Man’s active life in the world is 60 years. And in the 70th he should go free. After 70 years he departs from the world. Then he becomes free from the obligation to do mitzvos. If he came in by himself because of his poverty, in other words he came in by himself, he spent his life without Torah and mitzvos, then he should go out by himself. He will leave the world without any merits, oy vavoy. If he’s married, he’s married to the Torah. We know that the Torah is considered a man’s wife. Then the wife should go out with him. The Torah will accompany him, even after death. Like it says, “If a man dies neither gold or silver will go along with him, but only Torah and mitzvos.” If his master has given him a wife and she bears children, what does that mean? He raised students who are considered like his children. But his motives in learning Torah were impure, then his wife and his children should stay by his master. What does that mean? He’s going to go up by himself. He’ll leave the world without any merits. But if the slave said, “No, I love my master, and I love my wife and my children.” I occupy myself for Torah. I love God. I raised students for the sake of Heaven, and I will not go out free. What does that mean? I will never lose the Torah which I acquired. Even after death, he will go from strength to strength in the next world.
Then it says, “His master shall bring him close to the judges, Elokim, he will merit to see the shechina, God’s presence. And He will bring him to the door. Which door? The door to heaven where the tzaddikim go in, or the doorpost which means he’ll go from heaven to heaven, in the seven heavens. Then he shall serve Him forever, what does that mean? At the time of techiyas hameisim, he’ll be resurrected at the time of the dead, and he’ll serve God forever.”
A Powerful Parable
So, the verse says, “You must serve Hashem your God.” What is it talking about? The Mechilta explains, “You shall serve Hashem your God, that’s talking about tefillah, prayer. It’s a service of the heart. You shall serve Him with all your heart, that means tefillah.” The Maggid Mi Dubno brings a parable. What is a desirable prayer?
He says a story like this. A poor man with a large family had no food, and all of a sudden his oldest daughter became of age. So, his wife advised him to go travel to his wealthy brother to try to get some money to cover the wedding expenses. So, he decided to walk because he had no choice. He took his little piece of bread with him, and he started walking. And he walked for many days, and on the way all of a sudden he starts to feel very sharp pains in his legs and he can’t move. Thank God, there was a caravan that came by and picked him up. So, when he got there, his brother immediately called out the best doctor, and he had these treatments that lasted for weeks, and he had complete recovery, Baruch Hashem, thank God. But the problem is that the doctor’s fees were very high, and the rich brother gladly paid to the last penny.
Someone there said to him, “Wow, you’re really lucky it happened here, because your brother paid for everything. If it would have happened back in your home town, you would have never had such care.” So, the man says, “Listen, I’m not lucky at all. If I wouldn’t have had become afflicted with the pain, my brother would have given me money to marry off my daughter. But now after spending so much money on the medical expenses, I don’t have the heart to ask him for the money.”
That was the moshul, what’s the nimshal, conclusion? He said, “We are mistaken when we pray. We should ask Hashem to rebuild the Beis Hamigdash. But instead, with our small minds, we stand and we ask for money, for parnassah, to make it through the week. If we would ask for the big thing which is the Beis Hamigdash, all the brochas, blessings would come, and we wouldn’t have to worry about the small problems.
Great Stories – The Alter Mi Slabodka
The verse of this week’s Parsha says, “If a man will open a pit or if a man will dig a pit, he has to pay compensation.” One time, the Alter Mi Slabodka, Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel, was walking and he saw a young man taking a paper from the street. Then he threw the paper back down. So, the Alter asked him, “What was that about?” He says, “Well, I saw there was Hebrew letters on it. I thought it might be Torah, and then I saw that it was really something mundane, so I threw it back down.” He asked him, “What is the law concerning a person who causes another to fall?” He says, “He has to pay. It’s a financial obligation.” “So, what’s the difference?” he said. “How can you not realize that another person’s going to come along just like you? He’s going to see Hebrew letters on that piece of paper. He’s going to bend over, and he’s going to pick it up. That’s not called an obstacle? What’s the difference in causing another person to fall, and causing them to bend down and pick up the piece of paper? You should throw the piece of paper away if you really want to be a mentsch.”
Peace in Your Home
Rav Moshe Aaron Stern speaks, when there’s a newly married couple, the husband shouldn’t be such a zealot. He says, “It’s a common problem.” What happens is, the husband comes from a house that’s very frum, and all of a sudden he sees a little mix up with his new wife, a little mix up between a spoon in the wrong sink, this or that, and he starts to flip out. “The whole kitchen’s treif,” this and that. The Rav says, “Listen, he has to calm down. That’s not the way to handle it.” He says, “Rav Avraham Blau was one of the biggest kanaim of Eretz Yisroel. That’s not the way we act. Lo aleinu,” he explained, he had a story like this. One time he saw a boy in Meah Shearim throw some garbage out on a girl who was not dressed properly. So, he ran over to him. He says, “Listen, that girl’s a Jewish girl. How can you do such a thing?” He explains, “Being a zealot is only after you’ve worked on all the other good middos. If a person has good middos, so then he could be a zealot, but not before.
Rav Eliyahu Lopian explained, “Why in Ashrei it says, ‘He destroys the wicked,’ but that’s only at the end of Ashrei. Before then, we have all the other verses – Hashem is good to all, His mercy extends towards creatures, He rises up the fallen, He fulfills the desires of those who fear him’ Only after that does he say, ‘He destroys the wicked.’ But first you have to have all the different qualities. If you don’t have good qualities, you don’t have good middos, that’s not called being a zealot. That’s not being a religious fanatic, or a proper religious person. That’s just bad middos, bad character.”
He explains that his uncle, Rav Aaron Katzenellenbogen, was a tremendous kanai. He was very, very strict, and very strong, but he didn’t stop learning for a moment. And his concern for a fellow Jew was unbelievable. What ahavas Yisroel he had. He had love for every Jew. He says, “One time he walked all the way from Meah Shearim to Shaarei Chessed just to speak to a couple that was having a problem with shalom bayis. He asked him, ‘Why did you walk so far?’ He said, ‘Maybe because if the people understand that I was mesirus nefesh to walk, then the husband’s going to listen to what I have to say.’” He cared about Jewish people, he cared about shalom bayis in people’s houses.
The Beis HaLevy also brings a proof for this. He brings in Parshas Pinchas, Pinchas was the classic kanai. He killed Zimri because he was doing the wrong thing. He killed a man and a woman. But we see that his reward is only mentioned a week later, not in the same Parsha. The reward that he received from doing such a thing was only a week later. He wants to explain, “In order to make sure that the act of being a kanai, the act of being strict, of being extremely religious, it’s only after a person spends time to examine his motives. A person has to be really, really sure of himself if he’s going to act in such an extreme way. He has to make sure he’s doing the right thing, and not before that. If he sees a little mix up in the kitchen, he shouldn’t be screaming and yelling. He has to have good character. He has to be relaxed.
He brings a raya, proof from Adam HaRishon. It says, “The woman you gave me, she gave me the tree and I shall eat.” Chazal point out that it doesn’t say, “achalti,” I ate, but rather I will eat. Adam said, “I ate and I will eat.” How can he say such a thing? Adam meant that he never asked Chava if what she served him was kosher or not. He relied on his wife. He trusted her for the sake of peace in his home.
Okay, that’s it for this week’s Torah podcast. Please share it with your friends, and please leave comments.
Rabbi Eliyahu Mitterhoff