The body of civil law that makes up Parshas Mishpatim was given directly after the Ten Commandments. In order for the Torah to be accepted, there had to be unity in Am Yisrael; one people with one heart, living in peace and harmony. (See this idea in the name of R' Menachem Nachum of Boyan found below.)
A judge who administers an honest verdict is considered a partner with Hashem in His Creation. Therefore, Jews who rely on the Torah and its laws to guide their lives and interpersonal relationships are also partners with Hashem in the Creation. (The flood in the time of Noach is proof of this. Because of the crimes of the generation, Hashem destroyed the Creation. "The earth is filled with crime because of them." Genesis 6:13)
The foundation of Torah is peace. Torah scholars argue with one another not to emerge victorious, or display their knowledge, but to arrive at the truth. For Am Yisrael to learn and teach Torah, there must be peace. Therefore Hashem gave us the body of civil and social laws first. Through a set system of social justice, a People can settle disputes easily and maintain peace. As it says in Pirkei Avos (1:18), "The world is sustained by three things, by law, by truth and by peace".
"And these are the laws that you must set in front of them". (Shemos 21:1)R' Yisroel of Ruzhin remarked that the verse tells us to place them "in front of them" and not behind them. What does this mean?
The Rizhiner once explained the difference between the opinion of Beis Shammai and Beis Hillel concerning lighting the Chanukah Menorah. Beis Shammai maintains that eight candles should be kindled on the first night, decreasing on each successive night until the last night, when only one is kindled.
Beis Hillel was of the opinion that one candle should be kindled on the first night and one candle added each night, until on the final night eight candles are lit. These two opinions represent two distinct paths of Teshuva and Avodas Hashem.
The path of Teshuva is outlined in Psalms 34:15. "Turn from evil and do good. Beis Shammai understood that the path of Teshuva begins with regret and remorse over the past, and one may even require mortifications to achieve his atonement. One must turn from bad ways and repair any damage that he caused. When the process is finished, he can then again begin to do Mitzvos. This position is represented in Beis Shammai's opinion on kindling the Chanuka lights. One must continually endeavor to diminish his transgressions until he is free from evil; only then can he turn his full attention to doing more Mitzvos.
Beis Hillel on the other hand, held that one should begin to repair his ways immediately by learning Torah and doing Mitzvos. The positive path of learning and Mitzvos, automatically disassociates one from harmful actions. The path to Teshuva requires looking forward, not looking back and dwelling on the past. Replacing bad habits with goods ones is the proper Avodah.
This is why Beis Hillel taught to add a candle each night, representing that Torah learning and Mitzvos add to one's life.
When the Rizhiner said that the laws should be placed "in front of them", he meant that a person should take the "positive" path to Teshuva and self- improvement. The Rizhiner taught that concentrating on the positive, means learning Torah and doing Mitzvos. It is building for the future; it is called "in front of them". The way of regret and remorse over past deeds is call "from behind".
By always looking forward and growing in Torah and Mitzvos, in time one will find that he has become a Ba'al Teshuva; a new and better person.
"And these are the laws that you must set in front of them". (Shemos 21:1)The Torah says, "in front of them", and not in front of "him". R' Yerachmiel Yisrael Yitzchok of Alexander commented that the Torah is warning every judge who might make a ruling in a case of Jewish law, to take into account that his ruling is going to effect not only the defendant who is standing in front of him, but his family, the plaintiff himself and his family, and ultimately, all of Klal Yisrael. This is implied in the verse: "In front of them", and not in front of "him".
"And these are the laws that you must set in front of them". (Shemos 21:1)Rashi quotes the Mechilta which sets down a principle of Biblical exegesis. When it is written "and these", it is coming to add a new understanding to that which was brought previously. When it says only "these", then it is coming to void that which was brought previously.
"And these are the laws. . .", the Midrash says just as the previous laws (of the Ten Commandments) were given on Mt. Sinai, so to were the laws of the Oral Torah given on Mt. Sinai. In Chassidic writings we find other applications of the above principle.
1) R' Dovid of Dinov in his work Tzemach Dovid, added that just as Mt. Sinai was chosen to be the location of the Giving of the Torah because it was the smallest and most humble of mountains, so must the judges and Rabbis who are adjucating Hashem's laws, act with great humility.
2) R' Menachem Nachum of Boyan (Tchernovitz) in his work Tiferes Menachem, reminds us, that the Torah was given on Mt. Sinai only after B'nai Yisrael were in a state of unity (Shemos 19:2 and Rashi). The voluminous code of Jewish civil laws was given with the intention of maintaining this state of unity and peace for the Jewish people.
"And these are the laws that you must set in front of them". (Shemos 21:1)Rashi brings that, "in front of them", means like a table which is set and prepared with everything ready to eat. Why?
R' Shlomo of Radomsk, the Tiferes Shlomo, provides an answer. "All that Hashem created is for the benefit of the Jewish people. Therefore, our system of civil law, which is to promote peace and harmony amongst Jews, is set out like a delicious meal, prepared and ready to be enjoyed".
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"This is the law when two men fight and one hits the other with a stone or with his fist. If the victim doesn't die, but only becomes bedridden, and later gets up and walks under his own power, then the one who struck him shall be held blameless. Still, he must pay for the victim's loss of work, and he must provide for his complete cure." (Shemos 21:18-19)Every Shabbos, R' Sholom Yosef, who became Rebbe after the passing of his father, R' Yisroel of Rizhin, would have an elder Chassid retell some of the wisdom of R' Baruch of Mezhibuzh, the grandson of the Baal ShemTov.
Once he was told in the name of R' Baruch'l (as he was called) an explanation of the verse, ". . .he must provide a complete cure, (v'rapoh yirapee)". He said the (medicinal) herb would provide a cure for the sick man and the sick man would provide a cure for the herb. R' Sholom Yosef explained.
"When Hashem decrees that a man must undergo suffering, the sufferings are enjoined to strike him at a particular time, and to cease at a particular time by way of a particular person and in response to a particular cure." (Talmud, Avodah Zara 55a)
Why are a person's sufferings commanded to act in such a way? It is all for the sake of the herb that has to find it's Tikkun (healing, rectification) by healing the man. When Adam fell from his lofty spiritual level as a result of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, many sparks were toppled and fell below. Every act of eating or drinking serves to restore these sparks to the place where they belong and thus bring the world ever closer to perfection. How can an herb which is bitter and poisonous find it's Tikkun? When it is the appropriate cure for a certain ill man and he takes it using the proper intentions, then the Tikkun is effected and the herb has it's sparks restored. That is what the Sages meant, "by way a of particular person". It refers to the sick person. As R' Baruch'l said, "the ill man heals the herb".
Similarly, the Baal Shem Tov once explained the nature of Divine Providence and the way in which fallen Holy Sparks are returned to their Source.
"People will travel half way around the world in pursuit of wealth. The more they endeavor, the more it seems to them that they are indeed acquiring the wealth they desire. But in truth it doesn't work like that."
"These people are not traveling for their own purposes as they think. They are actually on a mission from Hashem and on the way to fulfill His will; even if they don't know it. They are making rectifications in Hashem's world, and all of their travels and efforts are only for this purpose."
"It is possible that a man could travel to some distant land simply to make a meal of a particular loaf of bread, or to slake his thirst from a certain jug of water that he needs for the Tikkun of his soul. It just happens that the bread is in one country and he is in another, but he must partake of it. Or perhaps he needs to take a sip of water from some particular place and drink it with a certain intent. . . all this is known only to the Creator. Therefore a man might have to travel thousands or even tens of thousand of miles to complete in himself that which is not yet whole."
"It also occurs that a person will take an attendant with him on one of his journeys, and in reality the whole trip is only for the purpose of the attendant being able to partake of a particular slice of bread or a sip of the water of a certain place. In reality, the master doesn't need to make the trip at all, but the attendant does. Since the attendant might be a poor man without the funds to make the trip, Hashem sends the master on business and he takes the attendant along.
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"If a burglar is caught tunneling in to commit a robbery and is struck and killed, it is not considered an act of murder." (Shemos 22:1)"If he is coming to kill you, you must rise and defend yourself and kill him first." (Rashi)
R' Menachem Mendel, the Kotzer Rebbe, commented in his penetrating way, "Dig deep enough in your heart and you will surely find a burglar coming to steal from you; the Yetzer Hora (the bad inclination). Therefore one must rise (early) each morning to plot out his strategy, to defend himself from the wiles of the Yezter.
"Do not mistreat the widow or the orphan. If you mistreat them and they cry out to Me, I will hear their cry." (Shemos 22:21-22)
Literally "if they cry and cry", then I will surely hear their cry". R' Asher of Stolin said, "This is the way of tefilla (prayer). One must daven (pray) and then daven again and again, beseeching Hashem without giving up. Then Hashem will hear; He will surely hear."
"Distance yourself from falsehood. . ." (Shemos 23:7)The Targum Onkelos, the Aramaic translation of the Torah found in most Chumashim, reads this phrase a bit differently. It says, "Make yourself distant from falsehood. . ." Onkelos uses the word "distant" as a noun instead of a verb. The implication is that one should place himself in a permanently distant position from falsehood. Said the saintly R' Zusia of Anipoli, "When one is distant from falsehood he is close to Hashem. But if one embraces falsehood, he is the distant from Hashem."
"And you (pl.) shall serve Hashem your L-rd, and he will bless your (sing.) bread and your (sing.) water, and I will take away all illness from you (sing.). (Shemos 23:25)"Which service is the service of the heart? It is Tefillah (prayer)!" (Talmud, Tractate Ta'anis 2b)
A careful look at this verse reveals that it begins in the plural and finishes in the singular. The Torah teaches us how to serve Hashem truthfully and how to direct our service towards heaven in a pure and straightforward fashion so that it will be acceptable before Him.
The Talmud(Tractate Ta'anis 7b) decries the Talmid Chocham (sage) who learns alone and doesn't share his Torah knowledge with the community. More than that, the Talmud states that one who learns alone without a study partner to sharpen his understanding, in the end learns only nonsense.
Community is especially important when it comes to Tefillah. From our verse the sages learned that one who strives to always daven in a minyan, is assured of a steady livelihood and all of his efforts will be blessed.
It says in Proverbs (14:28) "B'Rov Am, Hadras Melech. In a multitude of people is the King's glory". When a community gathers together to pray, it proclaims the greatness of the King whom it is praising. Moreover, public prayer can serve to effect the nullification of harsh decrees. The word "Hadras" is glory, but it has an additional meaning, "to return". When people pray together, the King can return or rescind a harsh decree, and we experience Freedom and Salvation.
When one prays alone, his kavannah (intention) determines whether or not his prayer will be acceptable. If one prays with a minyan of 10, then the Tefillah, even if it lacked kavannah, soars straight to the source.
The angels who call out to each other, "Holy, Holy, Holy, is Lord of Hosts. . .", understood well the idea of community prayer. The Malbim, quoting the Aramaic translation, says that they "received" from one another. By praising Hashem together, they gave each other a spiritual boost that enabled them to achieve an extraordinary comprehension of Hashem's greatness.
"God spoke to Moshe saying, "Take a census of B'nai Yisrael to determine their numbers, each one shall be counted by giving an atonement for his life. In this manner they will not be stricken with a plague when they are counted. Each one counted shall give a half-shekel according to the sanctuary standard. . ." (Shemos 30:11-13, Parshas Ki Thissa)"Take a census of B'nai Yisrael. . .", literally translated is "lift up the heads of B'nai Yisrael". What is the meaning of "lifting up the head"?
In numerous Chassidic writings we find the following idea. The census was designed to demonstrate Hashem's love for His people. By counting them, like a shepherd counting his flock, He shows that each individual is important. Lifting up the head means lifting each person up to his own potential and unique special path in life.
Furthermore, in the laws of Forbidden Mixtures, we find that an item which is normally counted, when found in a mixture of kosher and non-kosher, cannot serve to nullify the non-kosher items even if they are 60 times their amount of the non-kosher items, (the usual threshold for nullification of non-kosher mixtures). An egg from a non-kosher bird, cannot be nullified when found in a mixture of kosher and non-kosher eggs, even if there are 60 times the number of kosher eggs. Such is the nature of something which is counted. It acquires an importance which can never be nullified. Another census was taken in Parshas Bamidbar when a new aspect was included in the nature of the counting.
The Baal Shem Tov encouraged the custom that anybody who was in need of a healing, or divine intervention would mention his name to one of the Tzaddikim, and the Tzaddik would pray on his behalf. This idea is found in the Ramban in Parshas Bechukosai (VaYikra 26:11). If a person would fall ill, he should not look to the doctors for his cure. Rather he should turn to the sage or the prophet to show him the path of healing and teshuva. Certainly his physical ailment is a manifestation of a spiritual ailment.
This idea is also found in the Ramban in Parshas Bamidbar (Numbers 1:45). It is written (Num 1:3), that each Jew above the age of 20 was counted as he passed before Moshe Rabbenu and his brother Aharon the Cohen. Why did Moshe and Aharon do the counting? The Ramban says, "That when one comes before the father of all the prophets and his brother, the Holy servants of Hashem, and he becomes known to them by name, he receives a spark of life, a spiritual edge. For now he is included in the heart of his People. He becomes inscribed in the Book of the Nation, a People whose greatness is defined by the cohesiveness of its community. So it was for each Jew who was counted by Moshe and Aharon; they looked upon him with their life-giving gaze, and on his behalf , beseeched Hashem for love and forgiveness.