<I>Mishpatim</i>: Honesty, Principle and Unity

Basic laws of civilized existence are enunciated.

Moshe Burt,

Parshat Yitro concludes with the high moment to date in world history; the Asseret HaDibrot (The 10 Statements) on the sixth day of the month of Sivan.

In our parsha, Mishpatim, many basic laws of civilized existence are enunciated for B'nai Yisrael. The purpose of the mishpatim, the civil laws, are to protect the moral fiber of society by regulating relationships between men, encouraging truthfulness, sincerity and kindness, while condemning immorality and deceit.

I often think of discussions back in the "old country" with friends during which the suggestion is made that the Arabs, the Muslims, view the Jews as hypocrites who are totally lacking in principles. What is suggested is that the Arabs view and perceive an Israeli derech of total lack of modesty (tz'niyut), rampant promiscuity, irreverence, as well as a lack of ethics and morality in dealings between Jews themselves. And before the world, we gain discredit by scandals such as those of Haim Ramon and Moshe Katzav, as well as by Ehud Olmert's allegedly less-than-straight property deals.

Couple the above perceptions with Israeli equivocation regarding our land; as if the land were merely ordained upon us by mortal man via some United Nations vote in 1948, supposedly representing a Gentile expression of "guilt" regarding the Holocaust; rather than as we Torah-observant know, by Divine legacy. The Arabs, the Muslims - seeing our equivocation and waffling regarding the land of Israel, seeing a politically handcuffed military prevented from winning wars and whose focus has become expelling Jews from their homes - are emboldened to claim the land as theirs and to intimidate the Jews by all terrorist, Islamikazi means at their disposal with no fear of repercussions. Our lack of will and unity of national principle, as well as our equivocation regarding our land, sends a message to Islam perceptively validating Israel as a paralyzed government, that Israel is a temporary nuisance that will be overcome in a few years merely by demographics, false demographics at that, and terroristic intimidation.

The messages sent by an Israeli government that flees southern Lebanon, tail between its legs, expels Jews from Gush Katif, from the Shalhevet neighborhood of Hevron, from Amona, from other hilltops and yishuv extensions in our Eretz Yisrael, as well as that releases hundreds of Islamikazi terrorists, permits tens of thousands of illegal Arab buildings to remain standing, announces that military action is meant only to clear the way for more expulsions of Jews, and that clubs, bludgeons and brutalizes Eretz Yisrael-loving Jews, reinforce, rather than disabuse the Arabs of their perceptions.

A story is told about Rabbi Shimon Ben-Shetach that sets a standard for Jewish sincerity in his dealing with his fellow Jews and with HaShem.

It seems that, one day, Rabbi Shimon Ben-Shetach needed to purchase a donkey for traveling. He purchased the donkey from an Arab. At that time, neither he nor the Arab noticed that the donkey bore a small package in its saddle.

Sometime later, a student of the rabbi found the package and opened it. He was amazed by its contents. "It's a diamond, Rebbe. A perfect diamond. It must be worth an enormous amount. Sell it and you'll never want for money. Imagine all of the mitzvot you will be able to do with the new-found money."

Rabbi Ben-Shetach shook his head and responded, "I may be able to perform many mitzvot with the money, but they will never cancel the demerit that will be mine if I keep property that is not mine. No, I will return the diamond to its rightful owner, the Arab."

But the student responded, "Why not keep the diamond? The Arab will never know of his loss."

Rabbi Ben-Shetach responded, "But HaShem will know what I have done. I did not earn the diamond and so it is not mine." Rabbi Ben-Shetach was as good as his word and returned the diamond to the astonished Arab.

"I don't believe that anyone could be that honest," said the Arab. "The Jews must have wonderful laws. Blessed be the G-d of Rabbi Shimon Ben-Shetach."

Rabbi Ben-Shetach's strict adherence to mishpatim, to common decency to his fellow man, created a great Kiddush HaShem and should serve as an example for all to follow, to fulfill all of HaShem's mitzvot with equal zeal. (Lilmod Ulilamed by Rabbi Mordechai Katz, p. 81-82, quoting Talmud Yerushalmi, Bava Metzia, perek 2, Choshen Mishpat 266.)

Imagine the merit to be earned collectively by a unity of B'nai Yisrael, treating each other, at all levels - from daily man-in-the-street dealings and upwards, be they between merchant and customer, bus driver and passenger, employer and employee, civil servant and Yosef Q. Citizen, as well as those governing toward those being governed - as Rabbi Ben-Shetach treated the itinerant Arab, not even his Jewish brother. And imagine building on that national kindness and unity with a rock-solid, unified, unequivocal principle -- kol ha'aretz shelanu. ("This is our land.")

I return to what the Ibn Ezra said on parshat Yitro regarding the appointment of a judicial system, and the application of that lesson to all of us: "The Torah did not mention 'G-d-fearing men' because only HaShem knows what is in a man's heart." (Torah Gems, Aharon Yaakov Greenberg, Parshat Yitro, page 131)

May we merit in this coming year that our brethren -- the refugee families from Gush Katif -- be permanently settled and be made totally whole, that our dear brother Jonathan Pollard, and the three captive soldiers and the other MIAs, be liberated and returned to us, and that we fulfill HaShem's blueprint for B'nai Yisrael as a unique people -- an Am Segulah, not to be reckoned with as with "the nations." And may we merit the Moshiach, the Ge'ulah Shlaimah, as Dov Shurin sings: "Yom HaShem V’Kol HaGoyim,"; the Ultimate Redemption, bimhayra v'yameinu -- "speedily, in our time" -- achshav, chik-chak, miyad, etmol!





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