Thursday, February 8, 2018




Mike began to panic. Sweat formed on his brow and his whole body began to quiver. He knew he was in serious trouble as he gripped the steering wheel with all his might and pushed the pedal to the floor. At a hundred and thirty miles an hour he was playing for keeps; there was no turning back. Mike was well aware that if he didn’t get there in time, this would be the last trip he would ever take. The road took a sharp turn and Mike turned the wheel with all his might. The car in front of him swerved out of his way and off the highway dropping a thousand feet into the abyss below. Mike heard a strange noise and he knew he was in trouble; he knew it was his engine…
          “Engine: Machine for converting energy into motion or mechanical work. The energy is usually supplied in form of a chemical fuel, such as oil or gasoline, steam, or electricity, and the mechanical work is most commonly delivered in the form of rotary motion of a shaft. Engines are usually classified according to the form of energy they utilize, as steam, compressed air, and gasoline; the type of motion of their principal parts…”.  

          In a sense, it seems like Parshas Mishaptim is analogous to the previous story, in the sense that it’s an abrupt interruption of exciting events, to provide lessons.
From the beginning of the exodus, things were incredibly exciting. Ten powerful plagues, the splitting of the sea, bitter water becoming sweet, manna falling from the heavens, and the war against Amalek.
The truth is, since the beginning of the reading of the Torah, every parsha contains exciting stories, and beautiful lessons. Gan Eden, the flood, Avrohom and his tests, having a child at 100 years old, the Akeidah, Yitzchok and the blessings, Yaakov dealing with Eisav and Lavan, the tribes and their internal struggles, culminating with Yosef revealing his identity, and then the descent into exile.
          Then suddenly, in middle of the continuous excitement, the Torah almost seems to ‘pull the emergency brake’ on the excitement to teach us the laws of slaves, maids, striking parents, judicial systems, goring oxen, stolen property, and witchcraft. Parshas Mishpatim contains the crux of the Talmudic tractates of Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia, Sanhedrin, Kesubos, Kiddushin, and Shavuos.
How do these laws involving mundane life fit with splitting seas and manna falling from heaven?
          We often hear amazing stories of miraculous salvations in the most hopeless situations, as well as stories of painful circumstances that end up being the key to great salvations. The only deficiency of these incredible and important stories is that we sometimes forget that our everyday lives, with all of their endemic frustrations and challenges, are also precisely orchestrated by G-d.
          If a man was drowning at sea and as he was gasping for air with his last bit of strength a hook came out of heaven and lifted him onto dry land, there is no doubt that he would rejoice and relate to everyone how G-d saved him. But when we wake up each morning and open our eyes to another day, we don’t appreciate the natural miracle, and sadly, are not overwhelmed with gratitude to G-d.
          Parshas Mishaptim is read right in the middle of all the hype of miracles and salvation to teach us an invaluable lesson: It is not sufficient to be a servant of Hashem when one is in the spotlight and seated at the dais with distinguished personalities.
Being a true servant of Hashem is recognized by the level of decency one treats his maid and servant, how one cares for someone else’s possessions, and how careful one is with his own property not to cause harm or pain to others. As much as the exodus is an eternal awareness in the life of a Jew, so are the ‘mundane’ laws of Parshas Mishpatim.
Consider the following true story:
A woman who lived in the tri-state area was offered a job in Los Angeles, California. The position would necessitate her moving west, which would be a great change for her.  She was nervous, but also very excited.
On the day of her flight she made sure to leave herself ample time to arrive at the airport. But as luck would have it, everything went wrong and when she finally arrived at the airport, she was just in time to see her plane take off without her.
          A short time later the dejected woman was informed that as the plane neared L.A. the pilot radioed that he was having difficulty with the landing gear. However, here’s the surprising end to the story. The control tower guided him with step-by-step instructions how to bypass the malfunction and the plane landed safely in L.A. To this day, she has absolutely no idea why it was destined for her to miss the flight and lose that job opportunity.
However, that story is no less a manifestation of Divine Providence than the amazing stories we hear so often, when there is tragedy on the plane that somebody was spared from because he missed the flight. At times we are privy to understand how and why thing transpire, while at other times we never find out why things had to happen as they did. We need to remind ourselves that there is a Divine rhyme and reason for everything that occurs.

After the flood was finally over and Noach emerged from the Ark unscathed, the pasuk states, “And Noach, the man of the earth, profaned himself and planted a vineyard.”[2] Noach was originally called, “A righteous man, perfect in his generations; Noach walked with G-d.”[3] What happened to the great Noach? How did he debase himself from ‘a man of G-d’ to ‘a man of the earth’?
At the beginning of his story, the world was full of deceit and evil and Noach stood alone, an island of morality. G-d spoke to him alone and he performed G-d’s bidding in constructing the Ark, while the rest of the world mocked him. But after the flood was over, Noach was no longer in the spotlight and G-d was no longer speaking to him directly. The great Noach lost some of his greatness, so that he was now ‘a man of the earth.’
Our challenge is to be G-dly not only in the presence of others, but even when we are alone and no one is there to see our actions.
When Shlomo Hamelech describes the woman of valor he states, “Her children arise to praise her; her husband to laud her.”[4] Why is this the praise of a great woman; wouldn’t she be greater if those who deal with her in her daily affairs praised her? Shouldn’t we judge her by how she is described by friends and fellow employees, not her own family?
The truth is that the real essence of a person can be gleaned from how he acts in the privacy of his own home, especially after a hard day, when he arrives home to relax. Similarly, a woman of valor is recognized by the fact that her husband and children who see how she acts ‘behind closed doors’ praise her.

[5]“This shall they give – everyone who passes through the census- a half-Shekel of the sacred Shekel…half a Shekel as a portion to Hashem…The wealthy shall not increase and the destitute shall not decrease from half a shekel…”[6]
The vernacular of the pasuk seems redundant; why does the Torah repeat that the required contribution was a half-shekel within the same pasuk?
The Yerushalmi[7] relates in the name of Rabbi Meir that G-d took out a ‘fiery coin’ from beneath His Throne of Glory and showed it to Moshe declaring, “like this you shall give”. The commentators question why this was necessary. What was so complex about a tax of a half-shekel that Moshe couldn’t comprehend without a Divine demonstration?
Perhaps part of Moshe’s hesitation was that he couldn’t comprehend how a coin can represent a Jew. Hashem replied by showing him a מטבע של אש - coin of fire. The word matbeia is connected to the word teva – nature. Even the most mundane can be elevated and utilized for holiness. All of nature can be viewed and utilized for greatness, and coins are no different.

The holiday of Purim connects with this idea as well.  One living at the time of the unfolding of those miraculous events could have written them off as fascinating extraordinary coincidences, that went in the favor of the Jews. The Queen defied the King’s command, so she was executed. The worthiest maiden to be the successor happened to be Jewish. She was smart enough not to disclose her identity and when the enemy tried to destroy her nation she informed to the king and the enemy was obliterated.
The miracle of Purim was a tapestry of hidden events. Only one who appreciates the idea of the Hidden Hand of Providence, can appreciate the beauty of the succession of miracles that led to the downfall of Haman and the salvation of Klal Yisroel.

“These are the judgements you shall place before them”
“He showed him a coin of fire and said ‘Like this you shall give’”

Rabbi Dani Staum, LMSW
Rabbi, Kehillat New Hempstead
Rebbe/Guidance Counselor – Heichal HaTorah
Principal – Ohr Naftoli- New Windsor

[1] This essay is from the first year when I began writing Stam Torah in 1999. It was adapted from a lecture I heard in the Agudah of Staten Island by Rabbi Avi Shafran, Shabbos Kodesh Mishpatim/Shekalim 5759.
[2] Bereishis 9:20
[3] Bereishis 6:9
[4] Mishlei 31 (Aishes Chayil)
[5] “Parshas Shekalim” is the first of four unique Torah portions read during various Shabbosos prior to Pesach. The portion of Shekalim recounts the half-shekel tax which every Jew was obligated to contribute to the Temple treasury prior to the month of Nissan. After Klal Yisroel entered Eretz Yisroel and the Bais Hamikdash was built, just prior to the beginning of the month of Adar, the courts would send out emissaries to remind the people of their obligation to contribute a half-Shekel to the Temple treasury. In commemoration of that injunction by the courts, we read Parshas Shekalim during the Shabbos before Rosh Chodesh Adar.
[6] Parshas Ki Sisa, Shemos 30:13-15
[7] Shekalim 1:4


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