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Mishpatim 5774

Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )

by Kalman Packouz

GOOD MORNING!   One time while I lived in Jerusalem, I parked my car in front of Uri's Pizza to pick up two pies for my family. When I came out there was a man leaning against my car -- scowling face, crossed arms, crossed legs. He looks at me with hatred spewing from his eyes and says with an aggressive edge, "So, you're the one!" I asked, "The one what?" He venomously replied, "The one who blocked my car in!"

I looked and sure enough, his car had no room to maneuver out of its parking spot. I put down the pizzas and said to him, "I'm sorry. I didn't realize that I blocked you in. In the future I will make sure to be more careful. Please forgive me for your wasted time and for being the cause of your aggravation."

The man got up from the car and came towards me! ... and then he gave me a big bear hug! He said, "This is the first time anyone has apologized to me. You can block me in anytime!" True story.

Every day we run into people who are upset -- and once in a while, that upset person is even us. Every single one of us is righteous in his own mind. We see very clearly from our own point of view why we are right, why the other person is wrong and why the other person deserves our wrath. (Recently, a recipient of the Shabbat Shalom faxed me 23 copies of the fax. I wrote him a nice note asking if there is a problem and how can I help. He faxed me back 23 copies of my note...)

It is hard to be rational and even compassionate when one is emotional. What can one do? One technique is "Go to the balcony." Pretend you're watching a play -- from the balcony. You're not involved; you're just observing. You will be able to see your situation more objectively.

Ask yourself, "If I were the other person, how would I react?" Seeing it from the other point of view helps build rationality and calmness. Talk in a soft voice. A soft voice turns away wrath. Don't say anything which will enflame the person. Don't interrupt the person when he's talking (it shows a lack of respect and is very irritating). Focus on what you can agree with and apologize where you can.

Lastly, know that on some level all human beings are a bit crazy. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. People do not want to "lose it" -- to lose control and become angry. Yet, they do it repeatedly. The advantage of knowing that we are all a bit crazy is three-fold: 1) we can have more compassion for others 2) we can have more compassion for ourselves 3) knowing we're a bit crazy, maybe we can do something about it! (If you aren't aware that there is a problem, you can't and won't do anything about it.)

There is one other "technique" I learned to stop the insanity. When I worked at the Aish World Center in the Old City of Jerusalem, the Jewish Quarter had a parking lot with one combined entrance/exit. This meant that regularly one car would want to enter and another would want to exit at the same time. One day I witnessed a verbal "tennis match" of two drivers arguing who should back up and give way to the other. Neither succeeded in convincing the other. (One bystander suggested that they "duke it out" in the best of American tradition with the loser backing up; they both agreed that the bystander was crazy and went back to yelling at each other.)

Finally, one disputant confidently and defiantly asked, "Yesh lecha te'udat normali?" (Do you have a Certificate of Sanity?) The other fellow was at a lost for words and didn't answer. He got back in his car, backed up and let the other guy enter the parking lot.

Another time I was visiting my wife's step-grandfather in the hospital. A man asked me how to get to a certain ward. I told him, "I am sorry. I don't know." Immediately he started to verbally lash into me -- "How come you don't know? You should know!" I went to "the balcony" and said to myself, "This is really bizarre." Then I remembered the incident at the parking lot! I interrupted him and asked, "Excuse me. Do you have a Certificate of Sanity?" He looked at me as if he was completely short circuited, shut his mouth and walked away.


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Torah Portion of the week

Mishpatim, Exodus 21:1 - 24:18

One of the most mitzvah-filled Torah portions, containing 23 positive commandments and 30 negative commandments. Included are laws regarding: the Hebrew manservant and maidservant, manslaughter, murder, injuring a parent, kidnapping, cursing a parent, personal injury, penalty for killing a slave, personal damages, injury to slaves, categories of damages and compensatory restitution, culpability for personal property damage, seduction, occult practices, idolatry, oppression of widows, children and orphans.

The portion continues with the laws of: lending money, not cursing judges or leaders, tithes, first-born sons, justice, returning strayed animals, assisting the unloading of an animal fallen under its load, Sabbatical year, Shabbat, the Three Festivals (Pesach, Shavuot & Succot).

Mishpatim concludes with the promise from the Almighty to lead us into the land of Israel, safeguard our journey, ensure the demise of our enemies and guarantee our safety in the land -- if we uphold the Torah and do the mitzvot. Moses makes preparations for himself and for the people and then ascends Mt. Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments.

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

Before Moses ascended Mt. Sinai to receive the stone Tablets, he and seventy elders were at the foot of the mountain. There "they saw a vision of the God of Israel, and under His feet was something like a sapphire brick, like the essence of a clear sky" (Exodus 24:10). What can we learn from their vision?

Rashi comments that the brick was in the presence of the Almighty during the time the Israelites were enslaved in Egypt to remind Him of their suffering since they were forced to build with bricks in their slavery. "The essence of a clear sky" is a reminder that once they were liberated there was light and joy before the Almighty.

Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz comments that whenever the Torah tells us about the attributes of the Almighty, the purpose is to teach us how we should strive to emulate Him. When someone else suffers, it is not sufficient for us just to try to feel his suffering in the abstract, we should try to ease his suffering if we can. We should also do some concrete action that will clearly remind us of the person's suffering -- rather than just forgetting it and continuing on with our lives.

Even at the time of redemption and joy, it is important to recall the previous suffering that one experienced. This adds an entire dimension to the joy. Many people would just like to forget all their suffering when it is over. The proper attitude is to remember it, and this will give a person an even greater appreciation for the good that he experiences.

Candle Lighting Times

January 24
(or go to

Jerusalem 4:31
Guatemala 5:34 - Hong Kong 5:48 - Honolulu 5:58
J'Burg 6:44 - London 4:17- Los Angeles 4:58
Melbourne 8:22 - Mexico City 6:05 - Miami 5:41
New York 4:46- Singapore 7:00 - Toronto 5:00

Quote of the Week

You can't push yourself forward in life
by patting yourself on the back


With Deep Appreciation to

Daniel & Lillian


With Special Thanks to

David & Marilyn


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