Eli Lipschitz is former Shaliach in Washington (2003-05), currently Israel MFA diplomat, spokesperson; Embassy of Israel in Canada
At the start of Parshat Mispatim the Zohar (book of Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism) states that this Parsha holds within it the secret of Gilgul Nishamot – the Jewish belief in reincarnation.
One can think of a number of Parashot or biblical stories and chapters that might relate to the spiritual idea of reincarnation but there are few that seem less related to such a mystical and spiritual topic as the ideas and Mitzvot or commandments that make up the majority of Parshat Mispatim.
Our parsha seems to be quite the opposite of spiritual. In a very sharp transition from the lofty and magnificent experiences of Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah on Mt. Sinai, we jump straight into the very mundane, day-to-day experiences in any society; neighborly arguments, property and bodily damages, employee/employer relations and more. Very much down to earth, but otherworldy - not so much.
In the Gemara, Masechet Shabbat 31a, Reish Lakish expounds on a verse in Yishayahu (33, 6): "והיה אמונת עיתך, חוסן ישועות חכמת ודעת, יראת ה' היא אוצרו" – "And the stability (faith) of your times shall be full of salvation, wisdom and knowledge and the fear of God which is His treasure".
In his explanation Reish Lakish states that the different phrases in this verse relate to the different topics in Torah Study and Halakha as they were organized by Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, the compiler of the Mishna. Accordingly, each phrase in the verse corresponds to one of the Six Sidrei Mishna. The word ישועות or Slavation, according to Reish Lakish refers to Seder Nizikin, the halakhot that we find in this week's Parasha relating to monetary damages, property arguments etc.
Again, a very lofty description of some of the most tiresome legal applications in the Torah. What is it about inter-personal relations, settlement of arguments or more generally 'law and order' that are deserving of such high regard? Why call it salvation and connect these topics to the secrets of the soul in reincarnation?
To answer these questions we need to try to look at the Torah from a birds eye view and not focus only on the stories or the details of each Mitzvah. The Torah is not only a history book telling us about the creation of the world and the wonderings of the Jewish people it's also not only a book of laws telling us how Jewish people need to act. The Torah is a blue print of what a just and holy nation looks like.
In the previous Parasha, after receiving the Torah, Hashem tells Am Yisrael that they need to be a 'Mamlechet Kohanim V'Goy Kadosh', a kingdom of preists and a holy nation. That is the goal and the path of the Torah, to lead Am Yisrael to the Land of Israel where they will create a just and holy society.
The goal is not, as we see later on, to sit at Har Sinai, eat Mannah and bask in the light of Hashem but rather to create a real, down to earth society with arguments, damages, courts and punishments that will all be part of a Just Society.
Reincarnation is the belief that a soul must return to earth in order to right a wrong or fix something that wasn't corrected. The Zohar sees the responsibility of the courts, proper legal judgments, and rules as the method to make sure that each person gets what they deserve and treats others properly. A mistake in judgement can lead to travesties for generations to come.
Reish Lakish sees Seder Nizikin, the laws of damages as the part of Torah that will bring salvation. This is the part of Torah, that will lead to the goal of a just and holy society in the Land of Israel, ultimately bringing salvation and Mashiach.
Throughout the very difficult situations affecting all of us in Israel and abroad it is the acts of kindness, the Ahvat Chinam and even the way we argue, that will ultimately lead to our salvation.
May we learn the secrets of Nizikin to help us reach the goal of Am Yisrael living peacefully, serving Hashem in Eretz Yisrael. Shabbat shalom!
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