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SALT | Mishpatim 5784 - 2024

Rav David Silverberg

In memory of Eliezer Chaim ben David (Lawrence Davis) z"l, 
a lifelong student of Torah and philosophy 
whose yahrzeit falls on Shevat 28,
and in honor of his grandson, 
Binyamin Moshe ben Yosef Naphtali, 
a budding student of Torah and philosophy 
who became a bar mitzva this week on Shevat 28, 5784.


         Parashat Mishpatim opens with the laws concerning the "eved ivri," the indentured servant.  The Torah requires the employer to dismiss his servant after six years of work. The verse then states, "If he comes alone, he leaves alone; if he be the husband of a wife, then his wife leaves with him" (21:3).

         Rashi addresses the unusual word "be-gapo" ("alone") in this verse and translates it as "be-knafo." Rashi explains "be-knafo" as "coattail," meaning that this individual has no family with him, only his clothing.

         Interestingly, however, the Ba'alei Ha-tosafot, in "Moshav Zekeinim," also translate "be-gapo" as "be-knafo," only they understand this word, "be-knafo," differently. According to their approach, this term relates to the familiar Hebrew word "kanaf," wing.  The "Moshav Zekeinim" explain that an unmarried man lives a life of impermanence and thus resembles a bird who flies from place to place.  The verse therefore speaks of a single man as coming "with his wing," signifying instability and transience.

         Rabbi Matis Blum, author of the popular "Torah La-da'at" weekly in New York City, further develops this notion to explain the unique role of the community in the wedding festivities.  For example, a congregation omits the solemn "tachanun" prayer when a groom in his first week of marriage participates in the service (Shulchan Arukh O.C. 131:4).  The obvious question arises, why does the personal joy of the groom affect the prayers of his fellow worshippers?  The answer emerges from the wing analogy discussed earlier.  According to the "Moshav Zekeinim," a marriage marks not only the union of two individuals, but the establishment of their home in the given community.  As such, their joy extends beyond the confines of their home into the community at large.  Understandably, this communal joy is observed through the omission of "tachanun" when the groom is present in the synagogue.

         It should be noted, however, that this analysis may yield a surprising halakhic conclusion.  Namely, a congregation should perhaps omit "tachanun" in the presence of a groom only when the newlywed couple establish residence in that particular community.  If, however, the groom is visiting a synagogue in a different community, this approach would perhaps require the recitation of "tachanun."  To the best of this writer's knowledge, no such position exists among the halakhic authorities.

         In conclusion, we should note a third interpretation of the word, "be-gapo," that of Rabbenu Yosef Bekhor Shor (curiously enough, himself one of the Ba'alei Ha-tosafot).  Based on a verse in Divrei Ha-yamim, he associates the word with the more common word, "gufo," or "his body."  This term thus refers to one who carries with him only his own self, without a wife or children.


         Yesterday we encountered the comments of the Ba'alei Ha-tosafot (in the work, "Moshav Zekeinim") on a verse in Parashat Mishpatim (21:3), where they draw an analogy between an unmarried man and the wing of a bird.  Meaning, before marriage one has yet to establish permanence and stability.  As we discussed, this approach may shed light on the communal aspect of the wedding celebration.  Whereas marriage marks the absorption of the newlyweds into their community, that community shares in the festivities.

         Another possible basis for such an approach may emerge from one view in the Rishonim concerning the halakhot of Torah reading.  Although a congregation may add onto the standard seven "aliyot" during the Torah reading on Shabbat, it may not add any more "aliyot" to the three "aliyot" on Mondays and Thursdays. Whereas people must leave for work, the congregation may not prolong the prayer service by adding "aliyot" to the Torah reading.  On Shabbat, however, when people do not work, additional "aliyot" are permissible (within reason, presumably).  The Bet Yosef (O.C. 138), however, cites a view from the Mordekhai that allows adding "aliyot" on Monday and Thursday when two grooms, neither of whom are kohanim or levi'im, are present and thus deserve "aliyot."  In an apparent attempt to address the issue of forbidden prolonging of the service, the Mordekhai justifies this ruling on the basis of this day being a "festival" ("mo'ed"). The Rema cites this position in O.C. 135.

         The Taz raises the obvious question on this ruling.  True, the status of the seven-week period after a wedding as a "festival" for the newlyweds is well established in halakha.  But how does that affect the other worshippers who face an impatient, unforgiving boss upon their late arrival in the office?  The presence of two grooms in the synagogue that morning does not excuse everyone else present from work that day!

         Apparently, this view maintains that on some level or another, the entire congregation participates in this "festival."  True, the community must still go to work.  However, halakha considers the first week after marriage a period of celebration for the entire community.  As such, they may add an "aliya" to accommodate the presence of the two grooms.

         One may, of course, question this analysis in light of a situation where only a single groom is present in the synagogue.  The Mordekhai stated this halakha only regarding the presence of two grooms.  If, however, the first week of marriage earns festival status for the entire community, presumably they would reserve the right to add "aliyot" even in the presence of a single groom, which the halakha certainly does not allow.


         Parashat Mishpatim is well known for introducing Torah civil law. Here we find the Torah's first presentation of legal guidelines concerning day-to-day financial and social interaction, the basis for some of the most widely studied portions of the Talmud and the rich area of Torah scholarship surrounding the fourth volume of the Shulchan Arukh - "Choshen Mishpat."

         Some recent "darshanim" have found significance in the fact that the Torah's initial discussion of civil does not begin with the relevant "mitzvot asei" - positive commandments.  Only much later in Chumash do we encounter mitzvot such as "Love your neighbor as yourself," "You shall do that which is right and good," giving charity, and leaving certain portions of the field for the poor.  A small handful of such mitzvot do appear in Parashat Mishpatim, including returning lost objects to their owner and leaving the fruits of the seventh year for the underprivileged, but only after the detailed list of damage laws.  The laws forming the bulk of the legal section of this parasha involves issues concerning the property of others and the requirement of compensation should any damage be incurred.

         The message, it has been suggested, is that specifically the most basic and elementary concepts of social conduct require emphasis and deserve priority, for it is often easier to be a "tzaddik" than a "mentsch."  At times a certain temptation arises to perform above and beyond the call of duty, to make especially generous donations of time and money for a given cause, due to the notoriety one receives in exchange or the good-will on the part of those involved.  These incentives often do not exist with regard to the call of duty itself: acting with basic decency and sensitivity to others.  The don'ts can become more difficult to observe than the do's.  The Torah therefore begins its presentation of civil law with the most elementary ethical guidelines - the care and concern for the property of others.

         Some have added in this context an interesting insight regarding the famous story in the Gemara about the cynic who asked Hillel to teach him the entire Torah "on one foot."  Hillel responded, "That which you despise - do not do to your fellow."  Interestingly, Hillel did not say, "That which you enjoy - do to your fellow." He decided instead to teach the very foundation of Jewish ethics, which begins before the performance of kindness for others: avoiding harming, insulting or disturbing others.  This forms the backbone of Torah law and requires special emphasis.

         Sometimes we can become too sophisticated for the "simple" matters; we often afford so much importance to the extraordinary that we overlook the ordinary.  After the brilliant, dramatic display of Matan Torah, the Torah teaches us that the Torah begins at the most basic level of human interaction, and with the most simple and straightforward sense of care for other people.


         Parashat Mishpatim introduces us to the mitzva of "shemitta," the prohibition against agricultural labor and commerce during the seventh "Sabbatical" year (23:10-11).  As 5761 is observed as a "shemitta' year here in the State of Israel, we will take this opportunity to look at some of the aspects of religious life that this mitzva is meant to reinforce.

         The Rambam, in his Moreh Nevukhim, suggests two underlying reasons for this prohibition.  First, letting the land lay fallow once in seven years helps strengthen the ground so that it can continue producing many healthy fruits in the subsequent years. The Rambam then presents a more inherently religious reason for this mitzva: to assist the poor.  The farmer is enjoined to consider his fields ownerless so that the underprivileged can enjoy free access thereto.

         The Sefer Hachinukh picks up on this second point of the Rambam, only with a twist of his own.  The Torah's requirement that one disavow any ownership of his field is meant for the farmer to develop a stronger sense of benevolence and become less possessive of his belongings.  In other words, the direct beneficiary of this mitzva is not the mendicant, but rather the farmer himself, as once in seven years he trains himself in the art of giving of his own property to others.

         The Chinukh suggests two other bases for the mitzva, as well. Under normal circumstances, a year of agricultural idleness spells disaster for a farmer - a full year without income!  The Torah calls upon the farmer to exhibit ultimate faith in the Almighty by taking leave of his profession and refraining from any commercial activity with his produce. He must place his trust in God who promised to compensate the farmer for his lost produce (Vayikra 2:20-21).  The Chinukh's third approach associates "shemitta" with its weekly counterpart, Shabbat.  Refraining from agricultural work every seventh year serves the same purpose as abstaining from normal activity every seventh day: to reinforce one's belief in, and awareness of, God's having created heaven and earth.

         This association between shemitta and Shabbat is developed further by Rav Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook (in the introduction to his work on the laws of shemitta, "Shabbat Ha'aretz").  Rav Kook explains that shemitta does for the nation as a whole what Shabbat does for the individual: it allows the "internal spiritual light" to shine through.  A person's inherent spirituality can often remain subdued and concealed as a result of his mundane activity throughout the workweek.  Shabbat allows the soul the opportunity to reveal itself, bringing the individual to a refreshed awareness of his spiritual self.  Similarly, every seventh year the nation's entire financial system comes to a standstill.  (The law of the cancellation of debts during the shemitta year relates well to this concept.)  The "inner light" of the nation thus surfaces, as the mundane exterior gives way to the spiritual core of Am Yisrael.

         Another reason for the "year of rest" is alluded to by the Ibn Ezra (Devarim 31:10-12) and stated more explicitly by others: to facilitate a year of nationwide involvement in Torah study.  Just as Shabbat allows the laborer an opportunity to allocate more time for learning, so does the institution of shemitta give farmers a chance to spend an entire year free of the pressures of agrarian life and devoted to the intense study of Torah.

(Taken from the first section of Shi'urei Shevi'it by Rav Yosef Zvi Rimon.)


         As noted yesterday, Parashat Mishpatim briefly introduces the institution of shemitta, the seventh year during which a farmer may not till the land - a mitzva applicable (albeit on the level of rabbinic ordinance) this year in the Land of Israel.  The Torah in our parasha requires that a farmer render his land ownerless during the sabbatical year ("tishmetena" - 23:11). Meaning, one must allow all who wish to come and partake of his fruits during this year.

A major controversy surrounding the precise halakhic implications of this requirement erupted between two major authorities several centuries ago.  Rav Yosef Karo - the "Bet Yosef" - maintained that the Torah requires one to revoke his ownership of his land during the shemitta year.  If he does not, then he has violated this commandment and his land remains under his possession.  The "Mabit" strongly disputed this view and maintained that fields automatically become ownerless with the onset of the shemitta year. The Torah wishes specifically to reinforce the farmers' awareness of God's ultimate ownership over the earth. This is accomplished by God's coercive removal of all fields from their owners, leaving them free and open to all.

         The practical ramifications of this debate cannot be overestimated.  Most obviously, must the farmer make a verbal disavowal of ownership when the shemitta year sets in?  The Bet Yosef would clearly require such a proclamation, while the Mabit would view a formal declaration superfluous; the Torah revokes his ownership anyway.

Additionally, may one enter the field of another and take fruits during the shemitta year if the latter had not declared his revocation of ownership?  According to the Bet Yosef, doing so would be considered theft: so long as the farmer has not proclaimed his land ownerless, it belongs to him (albeit in violation of Torah law).  The Mabit, however, would allow taking fruit from such a field.  Even if the individual did not himself revoke his ownership, the Almighty did.

         Tomorrow we will be"H discuss this issue further.


         Yesterday we addressed the Torah's requirement that a farmer renounce his ownership of his lands during the sabbatical "shemitta" year, as mandated in Parashat Mishpatim (23:11).  As we saw, two basic opinions exist as to the precise definition of this obligation.  According to the Bet Yosef, the Torah requires a farmer to formally disavow his ownership of the land.  If he does not, then he has violated this mitzva and the land remains under his possession.  By contrast, the Mabit claims that the "shemitta" year automatically removes all fields from their owners' possession.

One critical ramification involves fields in the Land of Israel owned by gentiles.  According to the Bet Yosef, fruits grown by gentiles on their fields during the shemitta year are not considered "shemitta fruits." Since gentiles presumably do not revoke their ownership of their land [as they are not bound by the Torah's requirement in this regard], the land remains in their possession.  As such, these fruits are not endowed with the status of "shemitta fruits."  Hence, the prohibitions relating to shemitta produce - wasting them or conducting commerce with them - do not apply to fruits grown by gentiles. The Mabit, by contrast, considers all land in Eretz Yisrael de facto ownerless.  Therefore, the stringent laws applicable to shemitta fruits will bind these fruits, as well.

This question clearly affects the purchase of fruits and vegetables in Eretz Yisrael during shemitta.  Those following the position of the Bet Yosef may purchase Israeli fruits grown by gentiles without any concern for the prohibitions relevant to shemitta produce.  According to the Mabit, however, these fruits are halakhically equivalent to those grown by Jews in Eretz Yisrael during the shemitta year.

Whereas the Chazon Ish ruled in accordance with the Mabit, many others adopted the Bet Yosef's position.

In conclusion, we should note that a third position may exist, as well.  Based on a textual nuance in the Rambam's treatment of these laws, Rav Moshe Feinstein (Iggerot Moshe, Y.D. vol. 3, 90) understood that both the Bet Yosef and the Mabit are correct.  Meaning, a farmer's ownership of his land automatically dissolves with the onset of the shemitta year.  Nevertheless, the Torah requires him to verbally affirm his revocation of possession. If he does not, then he has neglected the Torah's mitzva but has not affected the legal status of his field: it leaves his possession nonetheless.


         In Parashat Mishpatim we encounter for the first time the prohibition against "boiling a goat in its mother's milk" (23:19), which Chazal interpret as outlawing the cooking or consumption of meat with milk. According to Torah law, the prohibition against eating meat with milk extends only as far as that: eating the two foods together.  Torah law does not, however, proscribe eating dairy products after the consumption of meat. Chazal, however, instituted a waiting period after the consumption of meat before partaking of dairy foods. Many different customs exist as to the precise duration of this period; perhaps the most common practice is to refrain from dairy foods for six full hours after eating meat.  (For purposes of convenience, we will assume this practice for the remainder of our discussion, though it applies equally to all customs.)

         This practice has given rise to the following interesting halakhic query.  What should one do if he recites a berakha over a glass of milk (for example) but before drinking realizes that he has eaten meat less than six hours earlier? If he drinks the milk, he violates the prohibition against consuming dairy foods for six hours after meat.  On the other hand, refraining from the milk will retroactively render his berakha a "berakha levatala," a wasted berakha, the recitation of which constitutes a serious transgression. Quickly finding another "parve" food to eat instead is not an option, for whereas the person did not intend for any other foods or beverages when reciting his berakha, the berakha cannot apply to anything other than the glass of milk. 

         So, what should he do?

         At first glance, it would seem that this would depend on the source of the prohibition against uttering a wasted berakha.  Whereas the Rif and the Rambam (see Magen Avraham, 215:6) view such a blessing as a Biblical violation, many other Rishonim - Talmidei Rabbenu Yonah, Tosafot, and the Rosh - maintain that this prohibition is of rabbinic origin. If one views a wasted berakha as a Torah violation, then clearly we would prefer that one transgress the rabbinic decree of waiting between meat and milk rather than violating the Torah's prohibition against a wasted berakha.  We would therefore advise the individual to take a sip of the milk. Conversely, if uttering a "berakha levatala" as a rabbinic transgression, then the individual must decide between two rabbinic violations.  In such instances, when one must choose between two violations of equal severity, we always prefer inaction to an active violation.  Therefore, we would tell this individual to refrain from drinking the milk, even though this would render his berakha retroactively unnecessary.

         However, some authorities have ruled that even if reciting an unnecessary berakha constitutes only a rabbinic prohibition, we would still prefer that the individual take a sip of milk in such a case.  The reason is that several Rishonim - including Tosafot and the "Yerei'im" - actually maintain that once one concludes his meat meal, clears the table and recites "birkat ha-mazon," he may eat dairy products immediately.  Needless to say, common practice does not follow this position.  Nevertheless, the fact that some Rishonim posit such an opinion allows us to invoke this view when a need arises.  Therefore, in our situation, we prefer that one rely on this position to take a sip of milk, rather than refraining from drinking and thereby violate the prohibition - even should it be rabbinically ordained - of "berakha levatala." 

         Whereas the authorities debate the final halakhic ruling in such a case, one should either ensure not to get into such a situation, or, if he fears that he may, seek competent halakhic guidance before it happens. (Needless to say, if someone in this situation asks a rabbi what to do, then clearly he does not drink, as his questioning constitutes a "hefsek" - interruption - between his berakha and the drinking, rendering his berakha invalid.)

(Taken from Rav Elyakim Dworkes' column in "Mi-saviv La-shulchan," issue #79.)


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