World Class

Parashat Mishpatim 5780

by Meir Sendor

This week thousands of Jews gathered at the Kotel to pray for the people of China, afflicted by the coronavirus that broke out there and is threatening their entire country, and the whole world. The prayer vigil was proposed by the Chief Rabbi of Tzfat, Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu, Shlit”a, who issued the heartfelt call late last week saying:

“טוֹב ה’ לַכֹּל וְרַחֲמָיו עַל כָּל מַעֲשָׂיו”. אנו נקראים להתפלל על תושבי סין שנמצאים במצוקה גדולה. עשרות אלפי אנשים נמצאים בבידוד. מיליונים בהסגר. חמישית מתושבי העולם בחרדה גדולה. על כל אחד ואחד מהם נאמר: “חביב אדם שנברא בצלם”.

אנו נקראים להתפלל על תושבי סין, אנו נקראים להתפלל על כל החולים במדינות האחרות. להתפלל על העולם. ביום ראשון (16-2) בשעה 4:30 בכותל המערבי נתפלל כולנו. ויהי רצון שה’ ישמע תפילתנו ויקיים בנו. “וְנִבְרְכוּ בְךָ כָּל מִשְׁפְּחֹת הָאֲדָמָה וּבְזַרְעֶךָ”. (בראשית כח יד).


“HaShem is good to all His creatures, and His mercy is over all His works (Ps. 145).” We are called to pray for the citizens of China who are in great distress. Tens of thousands of people are in isolation. Millions are in quarantine. One fifth of the residents of the world are in great anxiety. Of every single one of them it is said “precious is a human being who has been created in the divine image (Avot).” We are called to pray for the citizens of China, we are called to pray for all who are ill in other countries. To pray for the world. On Sunday, February 16 at 4:30pm at the Western Wall we will all pray. And may it be HaShem’s Will to hear our prayers and fulfill in us “and through you will be blessed all the families of the earth and through your offspring (Gen. 28:14).”

The united prayer gathering was an inspirational instance of human solidarity in these times plagued by petty tribalism and sectarianism. The Rabbi’s statement is both an ethical and a spiritual vision: we are enjoined to support every human being because every one of us is created in the image of God, and just as God cares compassionately for all God’s creatures, so should we. This vision of the preciousness of every single human being also lies at the heart of this week’s parashah.

The first and major part of the parashah is a collection of detailed laws regulating personal, civil and business relations between people. In the Midrash Shemot Rabbah Rabbi Eleazar says:

שמות רבה (וילנא) פרשת משפטים פרשה ל סימן יט

כל התורה תלויה במשפט, לכך נתן הקדוש ברוך הוא דינין אחר עשרת הדברות


The whole Torah depends on Law, therefore the Holy One, blessed be He, gave laws after the Ten Commandments.

Nachmanides explains that the Ten Commandments in last week’s parashah represent the general categories of Torah Law. This week’s parashah then goes into examples of specific laws that exemplify those categories and that express the key principle that the realization of Torah in true justice has to be finely tuned, worked out in detail for individual people in individual cases (Ex. 21:1).

This fine tuning is evident in the complexities of justice with which the parashah wrestles. For instance, one verse says:

 שמות פרק כג פסוק ו

לא תטה משפט אבינך בריבו:


Do not pervert justice against your poor person in his dispute.

The context is that a poor person tends to lack social status and power and is often treated unfairly in many societies. Therefore a judge is warned to be careful not to allow a person’s poverty to influence the decision against him in a court case. The poor person is called “your poor person,” conveying our sense of connection and responsibility for each other. Yet three verses earlier in the parashah it says:

שמות פרק כג פסוק ג

ודל לא תהדר בריבו: ס


Do not favor a poor person in his dispute.

The midrash halakhah Mekhilta explains the context here:

מכילתא דרבי שמעון בר יוחאי פרק כג פסוק ג

שלא יהדרנו בדין שלא תאמר עני הוא זה בן טובים הוא אזכנו בדין ונמצא מתפרנס בנקיות


That one should not favor him in judgment saying “this poor person is of a good family, I will vindicate him in the judgment and it will turn out that he can get some financial support cleanly.”

In other words, in this case the judge is warned not to lean ideologically to the other side and show favoritism to a poor person because he tends to be underprivileged in society at-large and use his court case to make him some easy money off a richer litigant. Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch deals with the contradictory verses:

רש”ר הירש שמות פרשת משפטים פרק כג פסוק ג

ואין דבר ההולם יותר את רוח המצוה הזאת, מלהפגין שערכו וכבודו של אדם אינם עולים ויורדים לפי רוב עושרו ומיעוטו. מחוץ לתחום בית הדין אין מצוה גדולה מזו: “להדר דל”. אולם בריבו, כאשר הוא עומד לפניך בסכסוך משפטי עם יריבו, חייב אתה להתייחס אל שניהם ביחס שווה לחלוטין – אפילו בדברים חיצוניים גרידא, ואל לך לתת לאחד כבוד יותר גדול מאשר לשני.


There is nothing more befitting the spirit of this mitzvah than to demonstrate that the value and honor of a person does not go up or down according to his wealth or lack of it. Outside the realm of the court there is no greater mitzvah than to “honor the poor.” But in his legal dispute, when he stands before you in a legal argument with his litigant, you are obligated to relate to both of them in a manner that is absolutely equal – even in extraneous matters, and you may not give one more honor than the other.

The Torah enjoins us to work hard at finding justice for every person in the complexity of human interactions and relationships. The inner Torah principle at work here is the inalienable dignity and preciousness of every person. This is what Rabbi Akiva means in the Mishnah in Avot cited by Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu in his call to pray together for the people of China:

משנה מסכת אבות פרק ג משנה יד

[*] הוא היה אומר חביב אדם שנברא בצלם חבה יתירה נודעת לו שנברא בצלם שנאמר (בראשית ט) בצלם אלהים עשה את האדם


Rabbi Akiva used to say: beloved is the human being, created in the divine image; extra affection was made known to him, that he was created in the divine image as it says “in the image of God He created mankind (Gen. 9:6).

To be able to regard every individual as precious is not a dispassionate concept of abstract equality. Rabbi Akiva says every individual is “beloved” and given “extra affection.” Within the principle of justice beats the principle of love and compassion for every person as an image of God. Love and justice call us to righteousness, to treat each other with goodness. In a time in which Western political and academic culture has become obsessed with labeling and judging people according to tribal affiliations, the Torah comes to open our minds and hearts to each other, to learn to perceive and receive each other clearly and individually. This is an ethical imperative and a spiritual imperative – the divine vision that the prophet Yermiyahu conveys to us:

 ירמיהו פרק ט פסוק כג

כי אם בזאת יתהלל המתהלל השכל וידע אותי כי אני יקוק עשה חסד משפט וצדקה בארץ כי באלה חפצתי נאם יקוק: ס


Let him who praises praise this: understand and know Me, that I am HaShem, Who exercises love, justice and righteousness in the earth, for in these I delight, says HaShem.

Maimonides, in his stirring conclusion to his Guide of the Perplexed, explains:

It is clear that the perfection of human being that may truly be praised is that acquired by one who has achieved, in a measure corresponding to his capacity, awareness of Him, may He be exalted, and who knows His providential care extending over all His creatures as manifested in the act of bringing them into being and their guidance as it is. The way of life of such an individual, having achieved this awareness, will always have in view love, righteousness and justice, through assimilating God’s actions, may He be exalted.

Rabbi Shmuel Eliyahu’s call to prayer is also a call to wake up to our common kinship as human beings, to support each other justly, to help each other compassionately, and to manifest righteously the precious divine image that every one of us shares — together.


בכותל המערבי תפילה לרפואת הסינים מהקורונהמה דעתכםCoronavirus (COVID-19)pray .What do you thinkWATCH: Praying for China at the Kotel 以色列人民为中国人民祈祷עצרת תפילה התקיימה היום ליד שריד בית מקדשנו על ידי הרב שמואל אליהו ושלוחי חב"ד בסין, לרפואת העם הסיני מהנגיף הקטלני המעורר בהלה בכל רחבי העולם. עשרות אנשים, יהודים וסינים, הגיעו הצהריים (ראשון) לשאת תפילה ליד הכותל המערבי, לרפואת החולים הסינים בנגיף הקורונה, שעורר בהלה בכל רחבי העולם.עצרת התפילה אורגנה על ידי הרב שמואל אליהו, רב העיר צפת וחבר מועצת הרבנות הראשית, ועל ידי שלוחי חב"ד בסין שעזבו את המדינה והגיעו לישראל בעקבות הנגיף.בין המשתתפים בעצרת התפילה, היו גם נציגי השגרירות הסינית בישראל, והאירוע צולם במקום גם על ידי עיתונאים מכלי תקשורת ורשתות שידור בסין.בעצרת נשאו תפילה לרפואת החולים ולעצירת התפשטות הנגיף. אחרי אמירת תהילים ותפילה מיוחדת, תקעו בשופר.בעקבות ההתפשטות המהירה של מגפת הקורונה בעולם שכבר הובילה לעשרות אלפי נדבקים ואלפי נפטרים, מתקיימת כעת ברחבת הכותל המערבי תפילת המונים. ביוזמת הרה"ג שמואל אליהו, רבה של העיר צפת ונשיא איגוד רבני קהילות, בהשתתפות OU ישראל בראשות הרב אבי ברמן, איגוד רבני קהילות בראשות הרב עמיחי אליהו ורבנים נוספיםעשרות אנשים, יהודים וסינים, הגיעו הצהריים (ראשון) לשאת תפילה ליד הכותל המערבי, לרפואת החולים הסינים בנגיף הקורונה, שעורר בהלה בכל רחבי העולם.עצרת התפילה אורגנה על ידי הרב שמואל אליהו, רב העיר צפת וחבר מועצת הרבנות הראשית, ועל ידי שלוחי חב"ד בסין שעזבו את המדינה והגיעו לישראל בעקבות הנגיף.בין המשתתפים בעצרת התפילה, היו גם נציגי השגרירות הסינית בישראל, והאירוע צולם במקום גם על ידי עיתונאים מכלי תקשורת ורשתות שידור בסין.בעצרת נשאו תפילה לרפואת החולים ולעצירת התפשטות הנגיף. אחרי אמירת תהילים ותפילה מיוחדת, תקעו בשופר.WATCH: Praying for China at the Kotel 以色列人民为中国人民祈祷Because of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) jewish prayer this evening at the Western Wall

Posted by ‎חדשות הכותל המערבי Western Wall news‎ on Sunday, February 16, 2020

(Includes English)

5 thoughts on “World Class

  1. Peter G Berman

    I have much difficulty understanding the relationship between submission to the Divine Will and ethical behavior toward other humans…Is this not in part what The Rav refered to ( I am surely misquoting him) as the willful suspension of the ethical in relation to the sacrifice of Isaac, and perhaps his own role in imposing heartache on a convert and her Baal tshuva fiancé because of the boys apparent mohair ancestor ?r

    1. Rabbi Meir Sendor

      Hi Peter. I’m not clear on what you’re referring to — The Rav, Kierkegaard, and something about a yarn made from the hair of an Angora goat? This riddle is beyond me. But with reference to my blog post for parashat Yitro and it’s application here, ethical behavior towards other human beings and towards all creatures is not just a submission to Divine Will but a fulfillment of Divine Will and empowered through Divine Will. It’s of the very essence of Torah. You can base the ethical imperative on the fact that we are all creatures of God, and for human beings — that we are in the image of God. In the Gemara Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4 “it is taught: Rabbi Akiva says “love your neighbor as yourself (Lev 19:18)” — this is a great principle of Torah. Ben Azzai says “This is the book of the generations of mankind in the day that God created mankind, in the likeness of God He created him (Gen. 5:1).” Ben Azzai is often regarded as besting Rabbi Akiva here. But the verse “love your neighbor as yourself” i.e. as your self, also has endless depth. Levinas speaks of “the sacredness of man’s relation to man, through which God may pass.” Shabbat Shalom!

  2. Peter G Berman

    Thank you for your comments and good wishes…” Teleological suspension of the ethical” is a quotation from Kierkegard ( fear and trembling) in connection with which I believe Rabbi Soloveitchik expressed agreement ( Majesty and Humility , Tradition 1978 ) . For the Rav the concept was , I think, connected to the dialectic he often sees between man as the creative master and man as the obedient servant. Man in the later capacity will submit to the will of Gd even in the face of competing ethical claims….I believe that The Rav refered to this principle when describing the difficulty he experienced in connection with the problem of a woman who converted to Judaism . Her boyfriend , a secular Jew, was guided by her and brought to religious observance. The couple planned to marry, but discovered that the boy was a Kohain. …The abandonment of their plans to marry was cited as a submission to the will of Gd in the face of competing ethical claims….Kodesh Tov

  3. meir

    I see what you mean, Peter. As usual, you pose the hardest and best questions. Yes, we humans are suspended between “it’s about us” and “it’s not about us.” The third term, I might suggest, is a transformation of “us,” to which the Torah, truly and deeply understood, guides us. Piaget identified in children, as they mature, a process he called “decentering” — a child learning that she or he is not the center around which everyone and everything revolves. It’s a kind of Copernican revolution of the self to a perspective beyond self. It’s the divinely-constructed self, and the divinely organized society, not as a focus, but as a vehicle for what Jeremiah prophecies, and Maimonides quotes, as the ultimate purpose of human existence in imitation of God: “doing love, justice and righteous in the earth… (Jer. 9:23; Maimonides, Guide, 3:54).” Or something like that.

    1. Peter G Berman

      I understand the Rambam to say that ethical behavior is necessary for the perfection of the soul and thus for contact with Divine Intellect …or something like that…happy Purim.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.