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Mishpatim 5767


Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING! At one time or another almost all of us ask the age old question, "Why do bad things happen to good people?" Recently I received a copy of an amazing, insightful, book filled with wisdom, Finding Light in the Darkness - The Toughest Challenges and How to Grow from Them, by one of my beloved Aish HaTorah colleagues, Rabbi Shaul Rosenblatt.

What are Rabbi Rosenblatt's credentials for writing on this topic? At age 27 his wife and mother of 4, Elana, finds out she has cancer. After 3 years of embracing life and fighting for life, Elana returns her soul to her Maker and Shaul is left a widower to care for his children.

The book chronicles their struggles in understanding and ultimately growing from the situation. Halfway through it I ordered 10 copies to give to people who I thought it would help. Below are some excerpts:

"As a start to this — and most questions in life — we need first to define our terms. And, most significantly, in dealing with why bad happens in this world, we need to begin with a definition of 'bad.'

"I believe that much of our difficulty in dealing with bad things happening comes from a definition of bad that is entirely inconsistent with Judaism.

"I would imagine that for most people, the working definition of 'bad' is 'pain.' Bad and pain are basically synonymous. Be it the pain someone goes through while dying from a horrible disease, the pain of someone like Elana, knowing she will never dance at her children's weddings, or the pain of children starving in Africa or the Warsaw Ghetto. It's the pain involved in these situations that makes them 'bad.' If no one in the Holocaust went through any pain — if they were gently put to sleep without any knowledge of what was happening — it would still be a horrible thing, but it would not bother us in the way that it does. Take a few moments to consider this, because it's important to understand exactly what it is that bothers us before moving on.

"If pain is to be in any way linked with our definition of bad — be it emotional, physical, or spiritual pain — then the question of why bad things happen to people is fairly well unanswerable. Because pain happens to every human being, righteous or evil, throughout most of their lives. And if pain in and of itself is bad, then God has clearly made a world that is just filled with 'bad.'

"There is nothing — absolutely nothing — that happens to us in this world that is good or bad. It is all completely neutral. But everything that happens does have the potential to lift us to a greater level of goodness — or drag us further away from God. Everything has the potential to be good and everything has the potential to be bad. 'Bad' things don't happen to good people. But neither do 'good' things. Things happen that are either more or less painful. But they are not inherently good or bad. We human beings are the sole arbiters as to whether that which occurs in our lives will ultimately be good or bad. The choice is entirely within our hands.

"Elana and I made a decision when she first became ill. We didn't have a choice as to whether or not she would have cancer. But we did have a choice as to how we would respond to that cancer. We knew that we could allow ourselves to despair, that we could hide ourselves away from the world and accept our 'fate.' Or we could decide to be happy with the goodness that we had. We could make sure we enjoyed our time with each other and our children and enjoyed our lives in general. We knew that we could grow closer to God at this time or we could move further away — and that choice was entirely within our hands.

"And so, I ask you to ask yourself, and to be brutally honest — what are you in this world for? To be comfortable? To avoid pain? To live out seventy or eighty years of life with the least challenge possible? If this is your aim, then many 'bad' things will happen along the way — because this is a world of pain and pain is antithetical to all that you are living for. If, however, you believe, as I do, that we are here to lift ourselves into Godliness, to grow and to ultimately attain self-perfection, then all that happens to us is a golden opportunity — and the more challenging it is, the greater that opportunity. The Mishnah tells us that 'according to the pain is the reward' (Pirkei Avos 5:23). It doesn't say 'effort,' it says 'pain.' The level of pain defines the level of potential for Godliness. Of course,
we don't go looking for pain, but when it comes, we embrace it as an
opportunity to strive towards perfection.

"As a rule, does pain and difficulty in life make it easier or harder to rise spiritually? If we are honest, we would have to say that challenge helps us towards greatness. Greatness is not usually found among those who spend their days lying on beaches and sailing around the world in million-dollar yachts. Greatness is much more often found among those who face adversity head on and overcome it. Those who achieve their true potential are those who struggle through difficult situations and build their character in the process."

Finding Light in the Darkness is available at your local Jewish bookstore, at or by calling toll-free to 877-758-3242.

For more on "Dealing with Pain" go to!

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Torah Portion of the Week

One of the longest 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

The Torah states:

"And if a man shall open a pit or if a man shall dig a pit and not cover it, and an ox or donkey will fall in it, the owner of the pit shall pay." (Exodus 21:33-34)

The Torah tells us in the portion of Mishpatim the laws pertaining to damages caused by one's animals and damages caused by one's digging a hole in the ground. Rabbi Yeruchem Levovitz used to say that it is very easy just to look at these laws in terms of financial obligations. In some instances you are legally obligated to pay for damages and in other instances you are free from having to pay.

However, the proper way to view the laws of damages is from the perspective of the Chinuch (a book elucidating the mitzvot, the commandments - #243): the foundation of the laws pertaining to damages is the mitzvah of loving our fellow human being. When you care about others, you will be careful not to do anything that will cause them damage or suffering. When kind and compassionate people study these laws they do not think in terms of how much money they will have to pay, but in terms of what they can do to avoid causing others any loss or pain. Studying these sections of the Torah in the proper way will increase your sensitivity to the possibilities of your harming others.

(or go to

Jerusalem 4:51
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Pain in life is inevitable;
suffering is optional.

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