THE COLLECTED WRITINGS OF RABBI PINKY SCHMECKELSTEIN
This week’s Parsha, Parshas Mishpatim, is my favorite Parsha in Kol HaToirah Kooloh. It has everything: Laws, holidays, oxen, Moishe teaching Toirah, big feasts of Israelite elders, slaves with earrings, and men seducing hot Israelite virgins. And all of this culminates with the famous commitment of Klal Yisroel, “Kol Asher Dibber Hashem NaAseh VeNishmah” – “Whatever the Lord spoke we will do and we will listen.” Mamesh, with this kind of excitement, who needs YouTube or the Superbowl?
Of course, the Parsha is quite detailed and features many, many shailahs asked by Chazzal after drinking double espressos at Starbucks while waiting for their wives to come back from their weekly visits to the sheitelmacher.
One key question focuses on the collection of laws in the Parsha. In a Gemarrah in Brachois, Rav Huna asks: Why are all of the laws in this Parsha delivered in a seemingly random order? Laws about slaves lead to oxen, followed by ethical rulings (i.e. the treatment of widows) and religious injunctions (warnings sprinkled throughout against the worshipping of other deities). What’s Pshat?
In answer, Rav Chisda cites a Medrish that suggests that the jumbled order of the Mitzvois is related to the rambling discussions between Moishe Rabbeinu and Hakkadoshboruchhu as they… err… were enjoying some exotic bsomim they bought from a Bedouin in Sinai. Notes the Medrish, the whole time they were writing down the laws they were giggling non-stop and snacking on six boxes of Entenmann’s doughnuts while listening to Led Zeppelin in the background.
However, Rabbi Chananya holds farkhert. Chass V’Sholom Moishe Rabbeinu and the Reboinoisheloilum were using illegal substances! Rather, he brings down a Braisah that suggests that the Aimishteh suffers from ADHD. As proof, the Braisah notes the fact that the Jews, Hakkadoshboruchhu’s “Chosen People”, have been cast across the world for 2,000 years and, despite Divine promises, have never been able to settle down in one place for very long. Shoyn.
The RAMBAM asks an altogether different, and more disturbing, question. Noting the similarities between the laws in Parshas Mishpatim and many of the social and economic laws in ancient Near Eastern legal codes such as The Code of Hammurabi, the RAMBAM asks, “If these sets of laws are so similar, how can we believe that the Toirah is Divine and was in fact given to Klal Yisroel on Har Sinai?”
Commenting on this question, the Ibn Ezra suggests that, quote, “The RAMBAM is a total mechutziff, and if he were here today, I would Hakheh his Shinuv!” The Ibn Ezra goes on to protest that “Of course the Toirah is Divine. Look, the Goyim certainly copied these laws from us, just like the Muslims copied our prohibition on eating pork and the Pope copied our Yarmulkas. So what if Hammurabi lived 500 years before Moishe Rabbeinu? He undoubtedly used an ancient time machine to travel to the future and plagiarize the Toirah!” As proof he cites a Possuk from Sefer Dianetics, Parshas L. Ron Hubbard.
However, the RAMBAN suggests that the laws in Mishpatim were actually later added to the Toirah by “R”, also referred to by scholars as the Biblical “Redactor”, as he edited the final version of Shmois while in exile in Babylon. The RAMBAN also suggests that the entire story of the Bnei Yisroel crossing the Yam Suf was actually a source text that originally came from “S”, also known in Biblical Criticism circles as “Surfer Dude”, who is believed to have lived in Eastern Hawaii around 1700 BCE.
The MAHARAL disagrees, insisting that these laws were indeed written down by Moishe on Har Sinai. However, he holds that Moishe was acting at the suggestion of the Reboinoisheloilum who told him, “They are an Am Kshey Oiref. Please make up some laws that will keep them out of trouble.” But because of tight deadlines, Moishe did not have time to write new laws, and instead copied these laws off the Internet as “filler”.
Finally, the Vilna Goyn denies that there is any linkage whatsoever between Parshas Mishpatim and the Code of Hammurabi and other ancient Near Eastern legal codes. As an example, he points to the “seeming” similarities between the following:
-- The Toirah: “If men are fighting and one hurts a pregnant woman so that her fetus comes out, yet no harm follows, he shall be punished according to the will of the husband, and he shall pay as the judges determine. But if there is harm, then you shall pay a life for a life…”(Shmois, Perek Chuff Aleph, Possuk Chuff Baiz-Chuff Gimmel)
-- An ancient Near Eastern legal code: “If… strikes the daughter of a man and causes her to lose her fetus, he shall weigh and deliver thirty shekels of silver. If she dies, that man shall be killed” (Laws of Lipit Ishtar, ca 1930 BCE)
Says the Gruh, “Hey, these are common scenarios that any society would contemplate. I already accidentally caused the spontaneous abortion of three fetuses this morning alone!”
Perhaps the most fundamental question that we can ask about Parshas Mishpatim is how we should relate to these laws in our day. After all, so many of the Toirah’s rules reflect a different era, with different material concerns, social pressures and sensibilities. Do you and I have an ox? (To be honest, my Bashert, Feigeh Breinah, has on more than one occasion told me that I am “hung like a buffalo”. Kenaiyna Harrah.) Do we have slaves, Jewish or otherwise? As best verbalized by the Pri Megadim, “Parshas Mishpatim tells us that we should not charge interest and that we should worry about the widow and the orphan, and twice states that we should not abuse the stranger that is in our land because ‘we were once strangers in the Land of Egypt.’ The next thing you expect the Aimishteh to do is raise taxes! Has He gone mad?”
The Tzitz Eliezer answers this question by suggesting that Moishe actually proposed these laws during an election year, but never had any intention of enforcing them. However, they were ultimately left in the Toirah as part of a budgetary compromise package with the Speaker and the Majority Leader of the Anshe Knessess HaGedoilah. And therefore we just have to live with them.
However, the Schvantz Mordechai suggests that these laws were put into place in order to address the disturbing shidduch crisis. If Klal Yisroel were to accept the presence of strangers in the land, the poor, etc., then there would be many more men available to marry Klal Yisroel’s growing number of educated, frum, unmarried women who are over-the-hill at the age of twenty-two.
I am reminded of a famous Moshal. There was once a king who lived on a very small plot of land. When his son grew old enough, he arranged a marriage with the zaftig princess of a neighboring kingdom because her father owned “great tracts of land.” But when his son refused to marry the girl next door, he disowned him, and adopted a local pauper, who was delighted to marry the princess and be in line to inherit a great kingdom. When asked how he could disregard his own genetic offspring, he answered, “I make the rules here. If my son doesn’t like it, he should start his own damn kingdom!”
Such is the nature of our special Bris with Hakkadoshboruchhu. Sure, some of these laws make no sense whatsoever, and you feel like a total schmuck doing them. But by subordinating your will to the Word of the Reboinoisheloilum, you demonstrate your faith and allegiance to Him. You demonstrate that His word is timeless, and rises above the day to day considerations of, so-called, modernische society. And you also give Him something to laugh about when He is off getting stoned with Moishe Rabbeinu.
Ah Gutten Shabbos You Minuval.