Mishpatim: Jewish Civil Law

There are times when you take extra pride in your children.  This week, I experienced it.


My daughter is in seventh grade, and, like all the girls in her school, she has English as one of her classes.  Unlike most of the school, she’s fluent in speaking English, and is on a high (for Israelis) level of reading.  For years, during class, she’s been doing her own workbooks that we buy for her, because everybody agrees that it’s a waste of time for her to participate in the class.


This year, the school decided to take all the higher-level English speakers for seventh and eighth grade and have a separate class.  There’s a total of seven girls in the group.  From the possible teachers, there are a few who have American parents, and therefore, they speak a pretty good English.  That being the case, the school decided to take a teacher who DOES NOT speak English, BUT is certified to TEACH English.  Makes sense?


Naturally, my daughter wasn’t too fond of this decision, since the teacher thinks that her (non-existent) English is better than my daughter's, because she’s a certified English teacher.  The teacher decided to put together a "newspaper" of some sort in English.  My daughter was to write about tornados, earthquakes, and volcanos, but she didn’t want to do the project, since she figured the teacher wouldn’t even read it.


So, in steps her mentor in life: me!  I explained that if she needs to do it, she should at least have fun with it and test the teacher.  So, I explained, start writing the paper, and close to the end, when she’s most likely not to read it, put in your own nonsense.  At worst, the teacher catches it.  At best, all the students will get to read it.  So, that’s exactly what she did.  She described that our city, over 160 years ago (it’s only 25 years old or so), was a victim of a 26-meter high tsunami, which killed over 240,000 cats.  And the last known volcano erupted in Tiberius a few years ago, and there is another one located under a certain well-known hill in the city, to which Rav Chaim Kanievsky said, when it erupts, it’s a sign that Moshiach is coming.


She handed in her paper three days ago.


Haven’t heard a thing from her teacher. J


Okay, too much rambling.


This week’s parsha contains much of the basics of Jewish civil law, known as Choshen Mishpat, which is considered to be one of the most challenging, if not THE most challenging aspect of Jewish law.


Once, the Moshgiach of my yeshiva, on behalf of his sister, had to go with somebody to Rav Yisroel Fisher, known as an expert in Jewish civil law. It seems this other person claims that the Moshgiach’s sister owed him money.  Instead of going to court, they agreed to go to Rav Fisher and do what he says.  The Moshgiach explained:

“It was a simple case.  It’s stated very clearly in the Shulchan Oruch.  I was going to make this guy happy, but it was open and closed.  As we are waiting there, the guy keeps on rambling on about how he himself is an expert in civil law, this case is really open and closed, it’s too bad that they have to waste so much time on this, and that he’s only doing this to make us happy.  We finally go in to see Rav Fisher.  This guy gives over the whole story, and in the end, Rav Fisher looks at him and says, ‘Nu?… what right do you have to ask for the money?' and then gives him a small verbal ‘smack-down’ for even entertaining such a thought.  We left and this guy was in shock.  The next day he comes to me and says, ‘I spoke to other experts in the field, and they too were in shock, they said that Rav Fisher was going against halacha, but, what can you do, it’s Rav Fisher….' So, I said to him, ‘You know what?  Let’s see for ourselves what the Shulchan Oruch says!’ So they open it up and lo and behold, in black and white, not ‘if’s and’s or but’s’, the halacha was exactly like Rav Fisher said.  The guy was silent for a moment, and blurted out, 'There must be another way to learn this!'”


Last week’s parsha and this week’s parsha are wonderful parshos regarding faith in Hashem.  Last week, there was a focus on the mun that fed us in the desert for forty years, and the lesson that Hashem will provide for us, and that we should not overdo our hishtadlus for money.


This week, we see faith in what the Torah teaches.  The Moshgiach said that many people falter when it comes to Jewish civil law, because they feel that they know it well, since whatever seems logical to them, must be the halacha.  However, civil law is still Torah and runs according to Torah.  One cannot decide on it based on what "seems right."  By accepting this in our minds, we will have a deeper level of faith in the Torah and it’s judges.