By Rabbi Moshe Meir Weiss
With the help of Hashem, several years ago I completed writing a commentary on bentching. (As an aside, if you are interested in purchasing this bencher, please call me at (718)-916-300 or email me at RMMWSI@aol.com.) As the bencher went through the rigorous editing process, I found something that all proofreaders are very allergic to: starting a sentence with the word, ‘And.’ In the world pf proofreading, that is almost a capital offense. Yet Hashem not only starts a sentence with ‘And,’ He starts an entire parsha with this word, for Parshas Mishpatim starts off, “V’Eileh HaMishpatim – And these are the laws.”
Why does Hashem make this grammatical exception? Rashi explains that this is an example of the connecting vav, which acts as a bridge to connect the subject of mishpatim, words of Jewish jurisprudence, to the subject matter mentioned earlier, namely the Ten Commandments. In the words of Rashi, “Mah harishonim miSinai af eilu miSinai – Just like the Ten Commandments were taught at Sinai so too the laws that govern our co-existence with our fellow man were also taught at Sinai.” This lesson however is puzzling, for wasn’t the whole Torah given on Sinai? What novelty does this connecting vav impart to us?
I believe that Hashem put it there for the sake of emphasis. It is to teach us that if someone leaves a shovel sticking in the ground halfway buried in the snow and someone else stumbles upon it, he commits a Torah prohibition on the same scale as wearing shatnez. Similarly, if he sees a lost article of his enemy and refrains from picking it up, it’s just as criminal as eating a piece of pork. The shopkeeper who assures the customer that his price can’t be beat when he knows that one can get it cheaper at Wal-Mart or Target is transgressing, “Midvar sheker tirchak,” which is just as bad as missing zman Krias Shema.
As the saying goes, we have to be just as concerned for a “bloodstain” on our money as we are for a bloodstain in our eggs. It is for this reason that the great Rav Yehudah HaNasi, author of the Mishnah, chose to start Pirkei Avos, Ethics of Our Fathers, with the preface, “Moshe kibeil Torah miSinai,” that Moshe accepted the Torah from Hashem at Mount Sinai. We would think that the message that the Oral Law is also Divine should’ve been placed at the very beginning of the Mishnah, at the start of Masechtas Berachos. Why did Rebbi wait until deep into Seder Nezikin to inform us of this truth? Again I believe it was to impress upon us that the laws of human behavior to avoid anger and to spurn haughtiness, to be benevolent and kind, are not simply examples of good common sense but are also of Divine origination from Sinai.
I vividly remember how Rav Avigdor Miller, Zt”l, Zy”a, would caution us about safety issues. He would say that if there is a home with young children and medicine bottles are left around without child resistant caps, the parents are guilty of, “Lo saamod al dam rei’echa – Do not stand idly by your brothers’ blood.” He would say that if a school had windows without window guards on the second floor in young children’s classrooms, then that school should close down until they make the proper corrections. Following Rav Miller’s direction, when we built our new shul, the Agudah of Staten Island, twenty-six years ago, I insisted that the shul be built according to all fire codes. This was expensive but it is the dictate of the Torah and an important lesson to the Baal Habatim. Rav Miller noted that the Rambam bunches together Hilchos Rotzei’ach with the laws of Shemiras HaNefesh, guarding a soul. Rav Miller explains this is to teach us the important lesson that if one doesn’t take proper precautions not to cause harm to others, it is tantamount to murder. Thus, if one leaves the metal doors to their basement open in front of their shop and a passerby falls down the concrete steps to the basement below, he is guilty of negligent manslaughter. Rav Miller adds the novelty that even if day after day no one falls, he has still repeatedly committed the crime of lo saamod al dam rei’echa.
May it be the will of Hashem that we attach as much importance to these laws as we do to such laws as not eating a mixture of meat and milk, and in that merit may we be blessed with long life, good health, and everything wonderful.
Sheldon Zeitlin takes dictation of, and edits, Rabbi Weiss’s articles.
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