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Parshas Mishpatim:

More Than Common Law

Rabbi Ephraim Hochberg

[Don't forget to see the Halacha Encounters below!]

"And these are the laws that you shall place before them." (21:1) Most of the laws in Parshas Mishpatim are the laws of people damaging one another. Rashi points out the use of the words "that you shall place before them" explaining that Moshe was commanded to teach not only the laws, but also their reasoning in order that the people would understand them fully and apply them properly. Like a table that is set and ready for a meal. From here we can see the importance of these laws and that Moshe was told to explain them in this special way. In fact, the Gemora in Bava Kama (30a) tells us that a person who wishes to become a pious person should be careful regarding the laws of damages.

The question therefore arises, what is so important and unique about these laws? Aren't these laws just simple moral standards for living that help society function better?

Furthermore, Dovid Hamelech tells us in Tehillim (147), "He (Hashem) relates His word to Yaakov. His Statutes and Judgements to Yisroel. He did not do so for any other nation, such judgments - they know them not." What is meant by "He did not do so for any other nation"? Don't other nations have the same style laws that are found in Parshas Mishpatim? The other nations also know that murder, robbery and other acts of damage are wrong and they have laws to prevent these things from happening.

To answer these questions we must differentiate between the laws of Parshas Mishpatim and the laws of other nations. Other nations have laws that were set up in order to protect people from becoming victims of a crime. For example, a person may not steal, because he is victimizing another. He may not damage someone else because it isn't right to hurt someone else. Hashem's laws, however, are also set up to prevent a person from becoming a perpetrator of a crime. Hashem tells us not to steal, not only for the victim's sake but also for our sake - we should be people that are above stealing. Don't damage someone in order that you not sink to the level of a perpetrator. We should be on a higher level than that.

Now we can understand the importance of these Mishpatim. A person who follows them will truly be a pious person for he will remain on the higher level that is expected of him. The reason why Moshe had to explain these "simple" laws fully was to teach us fully the elevated level that we should be striving to attain.

If we work on being careful regarding the damaging of others - the world will be a better place to live because we will be better people.

Rabbi Hochberg is an alumnus of the Kollel and a rebbe at Yeshivas Tiferes Tzvi.


Halacha Encounters

Kiddush Levana

Rabbi Ari Friedman

Every month we are confronted with a mitzvah that many of us perform with minimal understanding. This is the mitzvah of Kiddush Levana. "What is this mitzvah all about?" and "What am I doing here?" are probably thoughts that run through our minds when standing under the moonlit sky exchanging "Shalom Aleichem" with our fellow congregants. Let us explore this mysterious mitzvah and explain some of its laws.

"R' Yochanan said: Anyone who blesses the new moon is as if he has greeted the Shechina" (Sanhedrin 42A). The first aspect of Kiddush Levana is to recognize Hashem through appreciating His world. Observing the phenomenon of the ever-changing moon should inspire us to appreciate Hashem's total control over His creations. When we contemplate Hashem's existence and are keenly aware of His presence we are regarded as greeting the Shechina.

The second aspect of Kiddush Levana is about Klal Yisrael's connection to the moon. Many commentators, when explaining why we base our calendars on the moon and not on the sun, draw comparisons between Klal Yisrael and the moon. Just as the moon draws its light from the sun and reflects it to the earth, so too does Klal Yisrael receive its light from Hashem and reflect His Divine influence for all to share. Just as the moon shines in the dark, so too does Klal Yisrael have the ability to shine even in the darkest of times. Most significantly, just as the moon, following its diminished appearance, always reappears, so too will Klal Yisrael, despite its dark times and practical disappearance, shine once more. When we are mekadesh the levanah, not only do we identify with this message of the new moon, we are also praying for that ultimate rebirth and renewal when our light will blaze to fullness.

The order of Kiddush Levana

We begin by reciting perek 148 of Tehillim, which refers to the heavenly bodies praising Hashem. Next is the beracha in which we praise Hashem "Whom with His word created the heavenly bodies and assigned them their unchanging tasks - which they perform joyously. As for the moon He instructed it to constantly renew itself to serve as a sign for Klal Yisrael that they too will one day renew themselves bringing glory to HaKadosh Baruch Hu."

We then continue with a series of phrases, which are repeated three times for emphasis.

Boruch Yotzreich etc. continues the theme of praising Hashem, Who created the moon. The next three phrases: K'shaim She'Ani Roked, Tipol Aleihem, and the reversed version - K'Even Yidmu are prayers to Hashem that we survive our dark galus. May our enemies be powerless against us and may they themselves suffer destruction. Rav Munk in his World of Prayer explains that the reversal of the pasuk implies that Hashem may at times reverse the order of nature performing open miracles in salvation of His nation.

Next we pay tribute to the dynasty of David HaMelech, whose rise, decline, and ultimate rebirth is compared to the moon.

Shalom Aleichem!

Perhaps the most intriguing part of Kiddush Levana is the exchange of Shalom Aleichem. The Levush explains that after having greeted the Shechina and blessing Hashem, we then turn to our friends and extend to them this blessing as well. The Mateh Moshe (540) explains that after having cursed our enemies, we make it clear that we wish our brethren only well and so we bless them. The Bnei Yisoschar (Maamar 4 Rosh Chodesh) explains that the original loss of light of the moon was caused by lack of peace between sun and moon. The moon resented being of equal caliber with the sun and was subsequently "punished" and its light diminished. (See Chulin 60B) We take a lesson from this and express our desire to be at peace with our friends. This theme is continued with the wish of Siman Tov Umazel Tov Yehei Lanu.!

Next follows a selection of pesukim in which we praise Hashem's sovereignty over the world and for the coming of the ultimate redemption. We end with a tefillah that the moon be restored to its former glory. Again, this is an allusion to the coming of Mashiach. The custom is to cap off the service with the recital of Aleinu. The Biur Halacha (426-2) explains that we recite this prayer, which is a declaration of our faith in the one and only G-d, to dispel any notion that our prayers in the moonlight were to any other deity.

Some points regarding Kiddush Levana:

  Kiddush Levana should be done with great simchah since, as mentioned before, we are greeting the Shechina. It is for this reason that we customarily recite it on Motzei Shabbos when we are in higher spirits (426-2). [For Kabalistic reasons, it is not recited on Shabbos (Mishna Berurah 12)]

  One may say Kiddush Levana starting from 72 hours after the appearance of the new moon. Lichatchilah, it should not be said after 14 days, 18 hours and 22 minutes after the appearance of the new moon (Mishna Berurah 426-20).

  Kiddush Levana may only be recited at night. In addition, it may only be recited if one has a view of the moon. If in the midst of the beracha the moon gets covered by the clouds he may complete the beracha, however one should not begin the beracha if he anticipates that this may happen (Mishna Berurah 3).

  Kiddush Levana is optimally performed outdoors, however, one who is unable to venture outdoors may recite Kiddush Levana indoors provided that he has a clear view of the moon through a window or door (MB 21).

  Although the Shulchan Aruch writes that one should view the moon during Kiddush Levana, some are wary of this practice lest it seem as if we are praying to the moon. Some suggest that one view the moon only during the beracha, while others only permit glancing at the moon before the beracha (MB 13 and Shaar Hatzion 14).

  Being that Kiddush Levana is a time-bound mitzvah, women are exempt. Even though there are several time-bound mitzvos that women have, over the generations, accepted upon themselves, Rabbi Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld (Salmas Chaim 1-259) explains that women traditionally do not publicly congregate outdoors, hence women have not taken this mitzvah upon themselves.

  In many communities it is the minhag to sing and dance following Kiddush Levana in anticipation of that great day when Klal Yisrael - as the moon - will be restored to its former glory!

Chodesh Tov!

Rabbi Freidman is a full-time member of the Kollel and is a frequent contributor to Halacha Encounters.


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