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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Mishpatim

Parshat Mishpatim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Mishpatim 5781                                                     Print Version
2nd of Adar, 5781 | February 13, 2021                                     

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Shlomo Farhi
Polish the Diamond

One polled study conducted in 2005 determined that 68% of people who leave prison would be back in prison within two years. A full 77% would be back within three years.

On Rabbi, in speaking to inmates, asked why this would be true. “Do you want to be on an uncomfortable bed stuck in a prison cell? You want to be served this kind of food? Do you want someone to tell you when you can get up and when you can go to the bathroom, or when you can go outside and see the light of day?”

The Rabbi went on. “Is it because you don't think you're good enough to be able to succeed out there in the world? I’m here to tell you that the behavior that you're exhibiting – it's beneath all of you. You are better than this. You're brighter than this.”
As the Rabbi gave this talk to hardened criminals, it struck a chord. Someone thinks that this is not who they are. Maybe there was a possibility of leading a different or better life.

There was one boy, Josh, who sat there with his hands crossed, shaking his head the whole time. Finally, after the Rabbi finished, Josh piped up. “Rabbi, you're talking a load of baloney. What do you want from my life? You don’t know what you’re talking about. You don’t know anything about me. You think I'm a good person. Does he know what I’ve done? Do you know where I’ve been?”

The Rabbi looked at Josh. “I think you're mistaken, but it sounds to me like this is a conversation we should have in private.” Josh reluctantly agreed. In another room, Josh started to tell him about the time when he was 10 years old and his father checked out of his life. His mother couldn't have cared less. The kids were at home without much food, and with their mother not home often. Eventually, the neighbors called social services.

“My sister and I were sent into foster care. There are only two words there – Foster Care – and one of them is a lie. The first house I went to, they had seven children and were fostering another five. The only reason why they had us was because they would be given the foster check. My foster parents barely fed us, and we'd be sent off to school hungry. I didn't dare ask for any extra food, because I’d get punished. One day, at the age of 10 years old, I went to school and saw a sandwich in someone's briefcase. I didn't even think twice.

“I grabbed the food and started eating as quickly as I could. I was a thief at the age of 10. Even though they made fun of me, and even though I got in trouble, my hunger was stronger than my pride. What started off as sandwiches eventually got worse, until one day the principal called my parents in because I’d stolen something a little bit more valuable. I got it from my parents that day. That night, I grabbed whatever I could from the house that I thought I’d be able to sell, stuffed it into my school backpack, and ran away.”

Josh looked at the rabbi with tears in his eyes. “Rabbi, no one ever came looking for me. They carried on cashing the check, happy that they had one less mouth to feed. Now I was on the streets, and I got good at stealing watches, stealing phones, whatever I could get my hands on. I’ve been in prison six times. I’ve seen the worst side of the world, I’ve seen the worst side of myself, and I don't believe there's another side of me.”

The Rabbi sat there quiet, listening to Josh’s every word.

Finally, after Josh had finished, the Rabbi chimed in. “You remember the last time you were in a jewelry store, looking at a diamond necklace?” Instantly, Josh’s face blushed. “Yes, I do.” “Do you think it started out like that? Someone, somewhere, was down in a mine and saw a lump, black as coal, covered in mud. What was it? It was a 10-carat diamond. But using your logic, what would you do? You'd step right past it, toss it in the garbage. All it took was for someone to pick it up, to realize it's worth, and to spend a little bit of time polishing off all the soot, muck and garbage. Then it took someone to cut a couple of painful facets into its side.”

If the diamond was a person, it would be for the person to cut something out of himself. To do a little Teshuva, say a few Psalms, pray just a little, give a little Tzedakah. That's how diamonds shine. They take a piece off themselves. If you leave the diamond in its fullest amount, yes there's more of it. But it's pointless in that shape and form. If you're willing to chisel away at yourself, you'll start to see that there's a diamond there too.”
Josh was silenced. It was the first time someone was taking the time to talk to him about himself like this. This was someone who didn’t need to be there. It wasn’t his job and he wasn’t getting paid for it.

Two years later...

Josh was no longer in prison and was hired to work at a halfway house, One day, Shelly, the head of the halfway house, said to Josh, “Someone just called in, and said they have a lot of furniture. An old woman passed away. Could you go to the house and pick up the furniture and bring it here? They want to donate it.” “Sure,” Josh said.

He jumped in a truck and drove to the apartment. But everything smelled like mold and mothballs. “Shelly,” Josh said over the phone, “nothing in here is worth taking. Everything is broken.” “Just take it. They're going to feel bad that we didn't want anything. Take a few things and tell them we don't need the rest.”
Josh looked around, found a few items that looked the least worn out. A small couch, an end table, and a rocking chair.

As he hauled them from the apartment to the halfway house, the couch tore open, and the springs popped open. Josh worked to straighten it out, until his eyes noticed a wrapped-up cloth amongst the springs. He unfolded it and saw, to his dismay, bills stacked with rubber bands. He counted slowly, quietly, making sure nobody saw. His heart was racing. $3,200. For Josh, it was a gold mine.

“No one knows,” Josh thought to himself. “Their family just wanted to give it away. Nobody saw. There are no cameras in the halfway house either. So Josh put it in his pocket, walked out and said to Shelly, “You know, there's nothing here. It's a shame we even brought it back. We're probably going to have to throw it out.” “It's true, Josh,” Shelly said, “but when we told them we were coming, we had to honor our word and do the right thing, even if it's just going to leave more work for us.”

Her words ripped right through Josh, and the money began burning a hole in his pocket. He hadn't stolen anything in two years. And he wasn’t about to begin now.

“I found this in the couch,” Josh finally got out. “What do you mean? There's $3,200 here,” Shelly said astounded. “I know,” Josh mumbled. “It must be the old woman's money. We should return it to the inheritor.”

“I can't believe it. I knew your whole life, all you did was steal, and here you were with a chance and no one would have known you had it.” “We’ve got to do the right thing, even when it's not the easy thing,” Josh repeated, mirroring Shelly’s own words from just minutes before.

Shelly called up the Rabbi, whom Josh was still in contact with. “I just want to tell you what your student did today.”

The Rabbi came to the halfway house, took one look at Josh and gave him a big hug. “I guess we finally polished our diamond.” Both Josh and the Rabbi smiled together.

This was a young man who was thrown into prison for 27 months for stealing shampoo and a t-shirt from Walmart. This was a young man who took every chance he had to swipe five-figure discounts. But a time came when someone saw the light in him, when someone chose to light him up, and in that moment, he unearthed the beauty that had always been within.

That someone was Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski zt”l. And that man named Josh is somewhere in the world today leading a better life. He, as the diamond, was polished.

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
A Set Table

The parshah opens with the words, “And these are.” Rashi explains that by using this phrase, the Torah connects this week’s parshah to the previous week’s parshah, Yisro, the parshah in which we read the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments. Just as the Ten Commandments were G-d given at Sinai, so too were the civil and ethical laws cited in Mishpatim given by G-d at Sinai.

“…that you shall place before them.” Wouldn’t it have been more proper to say, “that you shall teach them,” or “that you shall command them”? Why does the Torah use the expression “that you shall place before them”?

Rashi elucidates the passage by explaining that Hashem instructed Moshe to present the Torah before the people like a “shulchan aruch – a set table.”

Why a set table? What is the connection between a set table and the teaching of the laws of the Torah? Through the imagery of an inviting table, we are taught an important lesson in how to share and impart Torah wisdom.

When we sit down at an elegant table, with a beautiful cloth, flowers, tableware, an enticing presentation all add to the ambience. It is a feast for the eye, it whets the appetite. We just want to stay and enjoy.

Psalms teaches us in regarding to the study of the Torah, “ta’amu u’reuh ki tov, taste it, and you will see that it is good” (Tehillim 34:9). In other words, “try it, you’ll like it”. Rashi is telling us that to effectively communicate words of Torah, it requires a shulchan aruch, a set table. A table that whets the Torah appetite of the soul.

When we share teachings of our holy Torah with others, it should be transmitted with the same love and care that one uses to set that elegant table.

The Torah scroll is always adorned with a beautiful mantel, covering, and silver ornaments. How much more so must we present the holy words of the Torah written within. Each of us possesses Torah wisdom that we can teach to family, friends and neighbors. Let us share it with honor and grace.

A set table also requires proper utensils and tableware.

My father zt”l, HaRav Meshulem, once joined us for dinner. I began the meal with a vegetable soup. “Chaya Sora.” Abba called out to me, “Come, taste the soup.” “As soon as I finish serving the kids,” I responded.

Once again, my father beckoned me to the table. With a wide smile on his face, he again asked me to take a taste. Hmm, I wondered, is it too spicy, too salty? I made it to the table and realized that I forget to place a soup spoon by his setting.

We both had a good laugh. It was Abba’s sweet way of saying that something was amiss.

To enjoy a bowl of soup, one needs a soup spoon. When we sit down to our “Torah table” we need our Torah tools, our holy books. Baruch HaShem, we live in an age when there is a plethora of study tools available to us. Entire libraries of Torah books, translated into numerous languages, presented to accommodate every age, background and level of understanding – from the very basic to the truly advanced. We can even avail ourselves of Torah resources in so many multi-media and electronic formats.

My zeide zt”l expounded on Rashi’s teaching of a “set table.” He explained that a good host tries to have something for everyone. To accommodate special requests, be it likes or dislikes, allergies, or special diets.

So it is with the Torah table. King Solomon teaches us in Mishlei, “Chanoch l’naar al pi darko – teach a child according to his way.” Different people, different needs. A Torah-set table is properly prepared when it is sensitive to the needs of each person. As my mother, the Rebbetzin, would often say, we must convey the teachings of the Torah in a manner that ignites the spark within each individual’s neshamah, to awaken the pintele yid that each of us has within our souls.

The greatest teacher of all-time, Moshe Rabbeinu, understood the concept of a “set table;” he was able to reach an entire nation. He reached the young and the old. The wise and the simple. The men, women and children.

Hashem wants all of His children to sit around a Torah table. The Midrash writes that there are “seventy faces to the Torah.” There are many valid ways of understanding the Torah. We have to make room at our table and in our hearts for everyone, to teach each person on their own level, in accordance with their abilities, intellect and understanding. In doing so, we will give Hashem the greatest nachas of all.

One nation. One family. One set table.

A Short Message From
Rabbi Efraim Twerski

As we arise in the morning, we recite the well-known words, “Modeh ani le’fanecha Melech… - I gratefully thank you, living and eternal King…” It is interesting to observe that we refer to Hashem with the description of “King” in Modeh Ani. Wouldn’t it be more appropriate that we start out our day calling Hashem “Our Father”?

As we are familiar, these two types of relationships – that of a King and His subjects and a Father and His children – characterize how we relate to Hashem and how He relates to us.

But what differentiates the two most concretely is the fact that they are initiated in opposite ways. The former relationship of a King and his subjects is one which is incumbent upon us. We are the ones to declare Hashem our King and accept upon ourselves the yoke of Heaven. We cannot, in this sense, declare Hashem our Father and take advantage of that rite of passage because we know He will love us unconditionally. We must recognize our obligations and responsibilities and act accordingly with honor and dedication. It is only once we conduct ourselves as such that Hashem in turn compassionately treats us as a Father does his children.

We thus refer to Hashem as “King” as we awaken in the morning, for we wish to emphasize that the day up ahead is not to be taken for granted, but ought to be valued and maximized to the fullest. It is a precious gift which we mustn’t waste, but must rather appreciate and endear as an opportunity to further fulfill our true purpose in the world.

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