Pinny Arnon

A Guide to Our Innermost Truth

Photo by Greg Rosenke on Unsplash

Subsequent to the account of the giving of the Torah in last week’s parsha, this week’s reading, Mishpatim, goes on to enumerate a variety of civil laws that regulate societal conduct. The Chassidic masters teach that the practical laws of societal legislation outlined in this parsha are far more than they appear to be on the surface. While Torah provides a legal and ethical code that establishes structure for commercial and communal interaction, its seemingly mundane and pragmatic laws simultaneously provide profound guidance in our emotional, interpersonal, and spiritual pursuits.

This is evidenced in the four types of legal damages which are discussed in parshas Mishpatim: 1) “Shor” (ox) includes situations when one’s ox gores other animals or a person; 2) “Bor” (pit) details damages to be paid if one digs a hole in a public thoroughfare and a person or animal falls in it due to insufficient cautionary measures on the part of the digger; 3) “Maveh” (consumption) refers to the restitution owed by the owner of an animal who consumes another’s crops without permission; and 4) “Aish” (fire) concerns the destruction of another’s property by a fire that spreads because it is not properly tended.

It is a basic premise of mysticism that everything that exists in the physical realm has its parallel (and basis) in the spiritual realm. The Baal Shem Tov (Tzavaat Harivash 121) thus outlines how each of these categories refers to a spiritual damage as well. “Shor” is related to “ashurenu,” meaning “I shall look at him” (Numbers 23:9, 24:17). This refers to harmful sight, or looking at objects that lead us away from holiness. “Bor” is related to “s’dei bor” (Bava Metzia 104a), an empty field which is not plowed. This is likened to one who neglects study and lacks discipline – his emptiness makes him susceptible to distraction and temptation. “Maveh” is the tooth, and refers to a person who overindulges his hunger and appetite. “Aish” is the fire of anger, which is compared to idol worship and quickly leads a person astray.

From here we see that the four categories of legal damages are also a sophisticated guide to emotional health and spiritual growth. Similarly, all of Torah’s rules and narratives allude to deeper truths and conceal profound secrets, as the Zohar states: “How precious are the words of the Torah! For every single word contains sublime mysteries” (Zohar Bamidbar 202a).

In the context of this parallel between Torah’s exoteric and esoteric dimensions, the Chassidic masters expound the deeper meaning of Mishpatim’s opening verse, “v’eileh hamishpatim asher tasim lifneihem/And these are the laws that you shall present before them” (Exodus 21:1). While on the simple level Hashem is instructing Moses to present the laws to the people, the last word of the verse, “lifneihem,” means not only “before them,” but it also literally means “to their face.” In chassidic parlance, “PaNiM/face” is a reference to one’s “PNiMyus/innermost core.” Therefore, G-d is telling Moses here that the Torah’s laws must be taught to the people in a way that it reveals to them the deepest recesses of their being.

By aligning oneself with Torah’s mitzvot, and by studying their deeper meaning, one not only conforms with the law, but one opens the channel within oneself to find and express her/his innermost divine nature.

Pnei Hashem is an introduction to the deepest depths of the human experience based on the esoteric teachings of Torah.

About the Author
Pinny Arnon is an award-winning writer in the secular world who was introduced to the wellsprings of Torah as a young adult. After decades of study and frequent interaction with some of the most renowned Rabbis of the generation, Arnon has been encouraged to focus his clear and incisive writing style on the explication of the inner depths of Torah.
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