J.J Gross

Mishpatim: Money, Tzaddikim, Mighty Men of Torah – and From the River to the Sea

One would least expect a helter skelter arrangement in a parsha called Mishpatim. If anything, a legal code should be a paragon of meticulous organization and presentation. And yet, Mishpatim is a jumble of laws — some simply declared, some explained; some in a context of similar rulings, others coming as complete non sequiturs. And there is certainly no apparent hierarchy of any sort in terms of importance, frequency, severity etc.

The overall mishmash is perhaps best illustrated by verses 15-16-17 in Chapter 21.

טו  וּמַכֵּה אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ, מוֹת יוּמָת.
טז  וְגֹנֵב אִישׁ וּמְכָרוֹ וְנִמְצָא בְיָדוֹ, מוֹת יוּמָת.
יז  וּמְקַלֵּל אָבִיו וְאִמּוֹ, מוֹת יוּמָת.

15: Who strikes his father and mother shall be put to death.16: Who kidnaps a person and sells him or he is found in his possession shall be put to death.17: And who curses his father and mother shall be put to death.

It would seem that verse 17 would follow verse 15 as both describe penalties for crimes committed against a parent. The interjection of verse 16 is entirely out of context here, making its placement unintelligible.

One might think that the hodgepodge nature of Mishpatim is yet again an example, as was Parshat YItro, of אין מוקדם ומאוחר בתורה — that the sequence of the Torah’s narrative is not necessarily the sequence in which things actually occurred. However while this is likely true for Parshat Yitro which is indeed narrative, I would propose the very opposite for Mishpatim which is legal.

Understandably, an avalanche of legal queries and lawsuits must have occurred immediately following the Revelation. The Bnei Israel had been waiting for the Torah to be given before filing their cases and posing their questions.

In Parshat Mishpatim the initial sequence of laws seems inchoate, unless we consider the very real possibility that these laws are in fact the adjudication of actual cases presented to the new legal system. Court cases, after all, are not filed in the order of their importance, but rather in the random sequence in which they are brought. If a case concerning , עבד עברי , an indentured Israelite servant, happened to come first, it is dealt with and recorded first. If a case of kidnapping happens to come between a case of striking one’s parents and another of cursing one’s parents, then this is how it is recorded.

And so we learn another lesson from Mishpatim: there are no big cases and small cases. Each one deserves attention, and each one should be dealt with in sequence. Indeed big business should get no priority over small claims. If only that were true in real life.

* * *

ושחד לא תקח כי השחד יעור פקחים ויסלף דברי צדיקים

And you shall take no bribe, for the bribe blinds the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. (Shemot 23:8)

Strange words. After all, how is it even possible that a righteous man would accept a bribe in the first place? Would this not automatically disqualify his from being classified as a ‘tzaddik’?

I would like to offer two suggestions.

  1. The tzaddik referred to here is not the judge who took the bribe. Rather, it is the  witness or litigant who is giving testimony. A judge has enormous leeway in how he chooses to ‘hear’ testimony, and can easily distort the meaning and intent of what is being declared on the witness stand in a manner that can impact his verdict.Hence when the verse says “and perverts the words of the righteous” it is the judge, who has accepted a bribe, who then proceeds to manipulate the meaning of a righteous person’s words so that they serves the purpose of the party who paid him off. After all, testimony is testimony. How can any judge rule against what is clearly posited by objective witnesses? The answer is he can, and often does, especially when his bias is all purchased and paid for.
  2. We tend to think of bribery in simplistic terms, ie. an attempt to fix a case. But, in fact, bribery is a far broader bailiwick than merely attempting to rig the outcome of a particular court proceeding. Any payoff that can garner unmerited benefits for the ’donor’ can, and should be, considered bribery.

Indeed when a wealthy individual makes a sizable contribution to a tzaddik’s yeshiva is this not bribery? Can it not – as it often does – lead to preferred treatment, ranging from accepting the donor’s otherwise lackluster son to the yeshiva – at the expense of a more qualified but impecunious applicant – to an express track גיור conversion for his new bride or his son’s? Not to mention the fact that tzaddikim really seem to have any problem granting instant access to those who grease their way in with cash, and to treat such individuals with a deference they reserve only for men with money?

Question: How does the most famous yeshiva in America deal with black-hatted donors whose materialistic excesses would shame the Borgias? 

Answer: By renting a basketball stadium and filling it with bootlicking roshei yeshiva and avreichim who then crown these moguls אדירי התורה  — “the Mighty of the Torah”. Such a pagan circus is ok, but G-d forbid, participating in a Jewish unity rally in Washington DC following October 7th is an איסור גמור totally prohibited. But then the organizers of the unity rally in DC are not known to have stuffed the roshei yeshiva’s pockets. Nor are the roshei yeshiva known to have concerned themselves with how their Black Hat Borgias acquired their wealth.

One might see all this as an example of  מסלף דברי צדיקים , assuming one considers these rabbonim tzadikim in the first place.


From the River to the Sea – A strategy for Gaza/Palestine

לֹ֧א אֲגָרְשֶׁ֛נּוּ מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בְּשָׁנָ֣ה אֶחָ֑ת פֶּן־תִּהְיֶ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ שְׁמָמָ֔ה וְרַבָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יךָ חַיַּ֥ת הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃
מְעַ֥ט מְעַ֛ט אֲגָרְשֶׁ֖נּוּ מִפָּנֶ֑יךָ עַ֚ד אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּפְרֶ֔ה וְנָחַלְתָּ֖ אֶת־הָאָֽרֶץ׃
וְשַׁתִּ֣י אֶת־גְּבֻלְךָ֗ מִיַּם־סוּף֙ וְעַד־יָ֣ם פְּלִשְׁתִּ֔ים וּמִמִּדְבָּ֖ר עַד־הַנָּהָ֑ר כִּ֣י ׀ אֶתֵּ֣ן בְּיֶדְכֶ֗ם אֵ֚ת יֹשְׁבֵ֣י הָאָ֔רֶץ וְגֵרַשְׁתָּ֖מוֹ מִפָּנֶֽיךָ׃

(Shemot 23:29-31)

We are all preoccupied with the Palestinian situation, and not just in Gaza. We crave a silver bullet that might solve the problem with a single miraculous shot. We see red when we learn how UNRWA, and by extension the entire UN, is embedded with the murderers of Hamas – as if this were something we suddenly discovered.

And, yet, we must put some serious daylight between what we want and how we go about getting it. Take UNRWA, for example. Our gut wants to see it summarily eliminated. But cooler heads caution against making that happen right now.

Parshat Mishpatim would have us listen to those cooler heads:

לֹ֧א אֲגָרְשֶׁ֛נּוּ מִפָּנֶ֖יךָ בְּשָׁנָ֣ה אֶחָ֑ת פֶּן־תִּהְיֶ֤ה הָאָ֙רֶץ֙ שְׁמָמָ֔ה וְרַבָּ֥ה עָלֶ֖יךָ חַיַּ֥ת הַשָּׂדֶֽה׃

I will not drive them out before you in a single year, lest the land become desolate and the wild beasts will overwhelm you. (23:29)

Eliminating UNWRA in one fell swoop is certainly achievable. But the victory would be pyrrhic. By rendering Gaza totally bereft of food and supplies the wild beasts would only multiply. Indeed, if we know one thing about the neighbors across our ravaged border, it is that the more impoverished they are, the more babies they make in order to raise another generation of ‘martyrs’.

Indeed, a more long-term perspective is called for:

  מְעַט מְעַט אֲגָרְשֶׁנּוּ, מִפָּנֶיךָ, עַד אֲשֶׁר תִּפְרֶה, וְנָחַלְתָּ אֶת-הָאָרֶץ

I will drive them out before you little by little, until you have increased and will then possess the land. (23:30)

Important things take time. They don’t happen all at once. History is replete with stories of mass migrations, none of which happened overnight. Consider the fact that so many of the Arabs who now call themselves Palestinian are themselves the progeny of those who came from afar in order to benefit from the Zionist presence in our Land.

As opportunities expand in other Muslim countries, the more rational and ambitious will understand they are better off elsewhere. After all, their so-called Palestinian nationality is a recently concocted artifice with abundant leaves, but shallow roots. Others – those less inclined to leading productive lives – will likely join the expat communities now ravaging the cities and campuses of Britain, Germany, Canada, US, and Australia.

As for the genocidal slogan “From the river to the sea”, the Torah spells out very clearly how our patience and resolve will play itself out.

  וְשַׁתִּי אֶת-גְּבֻלְךָ, מִיַּם-סוּף וְעַד-יָם פְּלִשְׁתִּים, וּמִמִּדְבָּר, עַד-הַנָּהָר:  כִּי אֶתֵּן בְּיֶדְכֶם, אֵת יֹשְׁבֵי הָאָרֶץ, וְגֵרַשְׁתָּמוֹ, מִפָּנֶיךָ.

I will set your borders from the Red Sea to the Sea of Philistia, and from the wilderness to the Euphrates; for I will deliver the inhabitants of the land into your hands, and you will drive them out before you. (23:31)

Patience, my friends. Patience.

About the Author
J.J Gross is a veteran creative director and copywriter, who made aliyah in 2007 from New York. He is a graduate of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and a lifelong student of Bible and Talmud. He is also the son of Holocaust survivors from Hungary and Slovakia.
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