One day, some years ago, I was in conversation with a rabbi when someone interrupted with a “very urgent” question in halacha.
This man relayed that his daughter had buttered a slice of toast. The bread slipped and landed butter side down on the floor.
He wanted to know if there were now any kashrut issues with the toast.
Jews are famous for answering a question with a question. When that fails, we answer with a story.
The rabbi related that when he was studying in yeshiva in Israel, the Shabbat schedule included a half hour learning session after the morning prayers.
One week, the cook hurried into the study hall and approached the Rosh Yeshiva (dean). He said that while opening the cholent pot, a cat jumped in and frolicked in the hot stew. Fortunately, he was able to remove the cat unharmed.
The cook was concerned that perhaps the cat rendered the cholent unkosher.
The Rosh Yeshiva looked at the cook and answered “kosher? You want to know if it is kosher? What about yosher (proper)?
Is it proper to serve the students cholent that a cat jumped into?
You should be just as concerned about the yosher as you are the kosher!”
The buttered bread petitioner then realized that he was “toast” for asking such a question. I learned something fundamental to Judaism that originates from this parsha.
“ואלה המשפטים..AND these are the statutes”
The first letter of the parsha is a “vav” which in Hebrew means “and”, therefore connecting two separate ideas.
The great commentator Rashi explains that the word אלה (these are) usually comes to nullify previous ideas or commands. When preceded with a “vav” (connector), however, the new subject becomes an addition to, rather than a replacement of, what was earlier stated.
Parshat Yitro teaches us the Word of God from Mount Sinai. The foundation of our connection to Him. To serve God through observing His commandments.
Parshat Mishpatim are mainly laws and commandments relating to interpersonal activity and relationships. Mitzvot between people. How to treat a servant, monetary damages, etc.
Mitzvot that even if not commanded, would “make sense” to observe.
The parsha begins with a “vav” to emphasize to us that the need to be stringent and diligent in our interpersonal relationships must be the same as our dedication to mitzvot between man and God.
Our “yosher” must be as important to us as our kosher.
The words with which we speak to others must be as holy and compassionate as the words of our learning and prayers.
We would never consider violating the Shabbat, so too we should never violate the feelings, privacy or property of our fellow human.
The money and time of others must be as dear to us as our own.
Are we as careful with the dignity of a person as we are with respect of sefarim and other holy objects?
We are commanded to erase the Name of God if it will bring peace between a husband and wife. Torah study is the essential activity to Jewish survival. However we must leave the study hall in order to facilitate the burial of an indigent person who has no one else to do so. Kavod habriut outweighs one’s learning. Although one can return to the sefer, it is much more difficult to return the dignity to one who is slighted.
“V’aleh hamishpatim” AND these are the statutes.
We must make that same connection that God himself makes in His Torah.
To be truly devoted to HaShem we must remember that He wants us to be devoted to others.
As the the man with the toast came to realize, that is the “Bread and Butter” of authentic Judaism.
Shabbat Shalom and Chodesh Tov!