By Rav Shmuel Brazil
The parsha of Mishpatim begins with the mitzvah of eved ivri. The mefarshim ask why was this chosen to begin the parsha that deals with dinim when other laws that are mentioned after eved ivri seem more pertinent and appropriate for this category. Secondly, what is the connection between the end of parshas Yisro that concerns itself with the halachos of building the mizbaiach?
The gemarah in Kiddushin 20b quotes the passuk [Devarim 15,16] ki tov lo eemach and explains that one must treat his eved ivri at least equally to himself and not set higher standards for his own behalf. For instance, if the master eats bread made from sifted flour he cannot give his eved bread made from coarse flour. If he sleeps on quilts and down blankets he cannot make his eved sleep on straw. By acquiring this eved you are actually acquiring a master upon yourself. As Tosfos explains that if you have only one pillow it must be given to him.
The Arugas Habosem takes this gemarrah and explains it according to the theme that Hashem also fulfills the mitzzos in the Torah as it says the words ” ushemartem es mishmartee” [Vayikrah 18,30] which translates you should preserve My watching or mitzvah. We also find that Chazal describe the contents of “Hashem’s” tefillin. Being so, the Arugas Habosem continues to explain that Hashem has with Yisrael that identical relationship and obligations that the Torah describes between eved and master as we are also avdai Hashem. It is therefore necessary for Hashem to also fulfill the passuk mentioned by eved ivri [Devarim 15,16] “ki tov lo eemach”. Hashem by acquiring us as avadim must not only bestow upon us kindness as a master to his eved, but He also has acquired a master upon Himself. This takes the form of tzadik gozair veHashem mekayem, that when a tzadik makes a decree, Hashem will fulfill it as Dovid Hamelech says Retzon yeraiav yaaseh that the will of those who fear Him He will fulfill.
To bring out this thought of the Arugas Habosem let us take a look at the first dibbur of the aseres hadibros which is Anochi Hashem Elokecha.. The Zohar hakadosh says that this dibbur contains the quintessence of all of the Ten Commandments. In the sefer of Ohr Gedalyahu he explains a Chazal which express that this parsha of Mishpatim is an extension of the entire aseres hadibros in the form of clothing to it. This is the reason why it follows Yisro the parsha of Matan Torah. Being so, we can say that the first din in this parsha parallels the dibbur of Anochi. Hence we have the teaching that the same way that we are commanded to treat our eved ivri “ki tov lo eemach, in the same manner Hashem has to treat us because we are His avadim.
We can take his words yet a step further that the more deeper and committed we demonstrate that we are an eved to Hashem the more He has to fulfill this passuk ki tov lo eemach.
In the realm of gematria we find a support to the above thought. This relationship of “kee tov lo eemach” that the master must have with his eved ivri is gematria 213. This specific number relates to the mitzvah of mezuzah. For we have a mesorah from earlier sources to write on the mezuzah for protection these names of kuzu bemuchsaz kuzu which is equal to 213. the Igra Depirka writes that the two nations of Sichon and Og are gematriah 213 for they served as a protection [mezuzah] for the “other side” not to allow any kedusha such as Am Yisrael from entering Eretz Yisrael. The eved’s life of kee tov lo eemach is in one aspect so enjoyable and catered to that he forgets that he has a heavenly master above the human master that he has to own up to. The eved is brought to the mezuzah which contains the name kuzu etc which equals kee tov lo eemach to teach him the lesson that this is the cause of his willingness to remain in this eved state until the Yovel year. The mezuzah not only symbolizes the cause of his disobedience but also the method of rectification of his shortcoming. He must be reminded at the mezuzah which is gematria 65 the same gematriah as the name Adonoi which means master. He must be reminded that Hashem is the master of all masters and it was inappropriate for this eved ivri to have voluntarily subjugated himself to some other domineering power for the extra extended period.
So the next time when we demonstrate our affection to the mezuzah by kissing it, we should also have this in mind: that to the degree that we subjugate our lives to the role of avdus by Hashem, a theme which permeates the contents of the parshiyos found inside, the more Hashem will fulfill us with kee tov lo eemach.
Now we can understand why the first din in this parsha of civil laws and damages commences with this din of eved ivri. This introduction comes to differentiate between the observance of the civil laws found in the Torah and the observance of civil laws which originate from human intellect alone. Mishpatim of the human intellect were instituted only to preserve law and order so not to have a constant scene like the Wild West where everyone just did what they saw as fit and just in their own eyes. However Hashem gave to the Yidden our mishpatim in order that through them we can bring ourselves closer to Him which will then allow us to be showered with “kee tov lo eemach”.
We can now explain the juxtaposition of the building of the mizbaich to the parsha of mishpatim. Chazal [Kesuvos 10b] say that the word mizbaiach contains the hinting to other similar sounding words which mean to feed, remove evil decrees and atone for sins. In essence the mizbaiach is an expression of ki tov lo eemach similar to he relationship of an eved to his master. The mizbaiach is like the mezuzah which protects the house and its inhabitants from negative forces.