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Parsha Mishpatim

01/31/2019 08:58:59 PM


There are different points in the Parsha that emphasize the value of listening, and specifically how listening can have intrinsic value that is not measured by its active outcome.  Although Matan Torah was in last week’s Parsha, it is the end of Parshas Mishpatim that relates the axiomatic phrase of Jewish commitment- “Na’ase V’nishma”- we shall do and we shall listen.  The order of the commitment, we shall do before we shall listen, obviously reflects an incredible dedication to acting without even first understanding, but it also portrays listening as a value unto itself that can appreciated without being a cause for action.  After the “na’ase” has already been accounted for, “nishma” is an added power that augments the pledges of “na’ase.”  After Klal Yisroel uttered these famous words, Chazal teach that God gave them two special crowns to symbolize their royalty of being children of the King, one of Naseh and one of Nishma, but after the infamous sin of the Golden Calf, these crowns were eternally removed from their heads.  There is a Midrash that depicts Klal Yisroel as crying out in pain to God after being stripped of their crowns, and claiming that although their sinful acts warranted the removal of the crown of Na’ase, they had done nothing to lose the crown of Nishma!  This bold claim seems to suggest that Klal Yisroel perceived their listening commitment as strong and still worthy of a crown, despite their inconsistencies with their commitment to action.  Even within the sins, claimed Klal Yisroel, there is a part of us that is still listening to the truth and knows that the sins are not right.  The Sefas Emes suggests that this Midrash is actually the message behind the mitzvah of Shofar on Rosh Hashana, a mitzvah that is uniquely defined only by the ability to listen, because as we approach God with our sins and we know we have failed in our commitments to action, we desperately wish to convey that God should see that we still listen well and that a part of us has never stopped hearing the truth.

This idea is present in the beginning of the Parsha as well, where the Torah tells the laws of a Jewish slave who has the option of freedom after six years, but instead chooses to continue on as a slave, and the Torah instructs that his master pierce his ear before keeping him.  Chazal teach that the ear is singled out for this punishment, because it was the ear that heard at Har Sinai “I am Hashem your God” and still went and found another master that is deserving of a piercing.  Although the slave’s choice is not indicative of a particular sin of action, it is indicative of a general lack of commitment to listening to God’s messages, and as such, it is a weakness of listening that brought the slave to his complacent mentality.    

In a very different context, Parshas Mishpatim warns against taking advantage of the unfortunate and the indigent, as the Torah writes: “If they shall cry out to me, I will listen because I am compassionate.”  We don’t know why God does not change the fate of the unfortunate or the indigent, but we do know that he listens carefully to their cries.  Coming from a theme developed in the Sefer Tomer Devorah,  we know Man is meant to emulate God’ traits in all possible ways, and this specific trait of God is very pertinent for our limitations and abilities to change things for other people.  We may not be able to fix someone else’s problems or take away their sadness, but one thing we can always do is listen.  Although that listening may be completely removed of any chances for active change, it remains a powerful tool that is succinctly known as compassion.  We see from the Parsha that knowing how to listen is an important tool in it of itself, and how it impacts both our personal relationships with God and our relationships with others.

Mon, November 29 2021 25 Kislev 5782