D’var Torah: Mishpatim
The Torah on honesty in financial matters.
A social worker in Jerusalem told me about a teenage boy who was caught stealing milk at a store. He was hauled before the Jerusalem juvenile court and just before judgement was passed the judge, a compassionate man, said to the lad “tell me, why did you have to steal the milk? Were you thirsty?” The lad replied, “not at all, I had just had a meaty meal there is no way I would drink that milk!” (He was more concerned about the prohibition against mixing meat and milk than the prohibition against theft.)
The commencement of Parshat Mishpatim addresses such a phenomenon. ‘V’ele hamishpatim asher tasim lifneihem’ Hashem says to us ‘these are the ordinances which you shall place before them’.
‘Lifneihem – before them’ – what exactly does that mean? Rashi says ‘k’shulchan ha’aruch’ – we need to place these laws before the people just like a table which is prepared for people to eat at it. Rav Moshe Leib of Sassov says something really beautiful. He says actually what Rashi is getting at is that when we sit down to a meal, we will always enquire ‘where’s the food from? Who was the mashgiach? And which religious authority was it prepared? How many stringencies were included in the preparation of this food? Can I really allow it to pass my lips? In the same way, as we are naturally so strict with regards to the food we eat, so to we should equally be strict with all the ‘Mishpatim’ – the monetary laws which are presented to us in Parshat Mishpatim. Any person who is committed to fulfilling the word of Hashem should be absolutely scrupulous with regard to all financial matters.
You can take this one step further. Rav Yosef Karo when he wrote his masterpiece on Jewish law – the authoritative guide to Halacha to this day – the Shulchan Aruch, took the title from this Rashi. All of Jewish law, Rav Yosef Karo is suggesting, is like a table that is laid before us. In the same way we are strict with regards to Kashrut, so to we should be strict in every respect. Just as it matters to us deeply whether we are meaty or milky, so to we should be concerned to be strict in every aspect of Halacha.