11 Feb 2021 Parshas Mishpatim: Holiness Through Restraint
In this week’s parsha, Parshas Mishpatim, we are introduced to the myriad of laws that follow the great Revelation at Sinai. The majority of the mitzvos in Mishpatim are mitzvos bein adam l’chavairo, laws governing interaction between man and fellow man. As opposed to the “sound and light show” that was Ma’amad Har Sinai, Parshas Mishpatim teaches us how to live our daily lives as Jews following the word of G-d.
In the parsha, we are commanded: וְאַנְשֵׁי–קֹדֶשׁ, תִּהְיוּן לִי; וּבָשָׂר בַּשָּׂדֶה טְרֵפָה לֹא תֹאכֵלוּ, לַכֶּלֶב תַּשְׁלִכוּן אֹתוֹ – And you shall be holy people unto Me, and flesh torn in the field you shall not eat; you shall throw it to the dog(s) (Shemos 22:30).
Rashi teaches: ואנשי קדש תהיון לי. אִם אַתֶּם קְדוֹשִׁים וּפְרוּשִׁים מִשִּׁקּוּצֵי נְבֵלוֹת וּטְרֵפוֹת הֲרֵי אַתֶּם שֶׁלִּי וְאִם לָאו אֵינְכֶם שֶׁלִּי – People of holiness you shall be unto Me: If you are holy and abstinent from the repugnances of carcasses of unslaughtered animals that have been mauled, behold you are Mine. But if not, you are not Mine.
Furthermore, why should unslaughtered meat be thrown to the dogs? Rashi explains: וְלִמֶּדְךָ הַכָּתוּב שֶׁאֵין הַקָּבָּ“ה מְקַפֵּחַ שְׂכַר כָּל בְּרִיָּה, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר וּלְכָל בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל לֹא יֶחֱרַץ כֶּלֶב לְשֹׁנוֹ, אָמַר הַקָּבָּ“ה תְּנוּ לוֹ שְׂכָרוֹ – The verse teaches you that Hashem does not deprive any creature of its reward, for it says ‘And for all the Children of Israel a dog will not sharpen its tongue’ (Shemos 11:7) [At the time of the Exodus from Egypt, the dogs did not bark at the departing Israelites.] Therefore, (in this verse) Hashem said (since they did not bark) ‘give the dog his reward.’
Even with Rashi’s explanation, the first half of the verse, “and men of holiness you shall be to Me,” and the second half of the verse “do not eat torn meat; throw it to the dogs” seem to have nothing to do with each other. What is this mitzvah ‘to be holy’, what does it have to do with the dogs, and what is Rashi trying to teach us?
Rabbi Shalom Rosner writes, “What does being holy have to do with not eating treifot and neveilot? Rabbi Mordekhai Eliyahu, in Divrei Mordekhai, quotes Rashi to explain the connection between the first and second parts of the pasuk. Rashi says: “If you are holy and abstain from neveilot and treifot, you are Mine.”
“Rabbi Eliyahu asks what was so amazing about what the dogs did at the Exodus from Egypt that forevermore we reward them with our non-kosher meat? The dogs would have barked if Hashem hadn’t stopped them. Why do they deserve reward? (Furthermore), why is the litmus test for deciding if something is considered hametz on Pesah based on whether it is fit (specifically) for a dog’s consumption – ראוי לאכילת כלב? Why specifically a dog?
“Rabbi Eliyahu explains that we can learn a few things from the dog. First, the dog teaches us that we can control our natural inclinations and desires. Hashem told them not to bark, so they didn’t! (They were able to reign in their natural impulse to bark, in order to fulfill ratzon Hashem – the will of G-d.) That is what Bnei Yisrael saw as they were (leaving Egypt on their way to) becoming a nation. As they were about to become a free people, they needed a message that they could control their natural tendencies. (The dogs, who held their tongues and did not bark, taught them this lesson.)
“To be holy people, they had to learn this midda (character trait), which the dogs taught them. The lesson is that not everything that comes naturally is appropriate or divinely blessed. There are many types of desires we may experience, but we must control ourselves… Being a holy nation means knowing how to control ourselves and knowing what is appropriate (to do) or not for us. Perhaps (now we can understand) why dogs are the yardstick for kashrut on Pesah: A dog is the symbol for us being able to suppress inappropriate behavior” (Shalom Rav, p.406-407).
What a beautiful chiddush (novel insight) and pshat (interpretation). וְאַנְשֵׁי–קֹדֶשׁ תִּהְיוּן לִי – and holy people you shall be unto Me. What reminds us and demonstrates what it means to be holy? The dogs. Why? Because as we left Egypt, we witnessed them controlling their ratzon (will) to do ratzon Hashem. And this is the essence of living holy lives: knowing how and when to control our most base impulses to adhere to G-d’s command. Hence, they are to be rewarded with torn meat.
“After he was married for a few years, R’ Aharon Rokeach (b.1975) experienced such a serious cold that his father, R’ Yissocher Dov (b.1948), the Belzer Rebbe, forbade his son to immerse in a mikvah until he was completely healed.
“R’ Aharon’s brother-in-law noticed that late at night R’ Aharon would go to the mikvah anyway! He could not understand how his holy brother-in-law would defy his father’s wishes. After a few nights of this, he got a friend to follow his brother-in-law to see what was going on. His friend reported back: R’ Aharon entered the mikvah area, undressed, and walked over to the edge of the mikvah. As he stood mere inches from the water, he said, ‘I am now fulfilling the mitzvah of honoring my father.’ He then went back up the steps, got dressed and left.
“R’ Aharon wanted to make it clear to himself that he was not refraining from immersing in a mikvah out of convenience, rather, he refrained from doing so only due to the mitzvah of kibbud av” (Portraits of Prayer, p.89-90).
Amidst the great Revelation at Sinai (Shemos 19-20, 24) and the myriad of laws that govern our daily living (Shemos 21-23), we are told: Holy people you shall be unto Me. What does it mean to be holy? Remember the dogs who refrained from barking as you left Egypt. To be holy means to submit our will to G-d’s will, to hold back our natural impulses in deference to the word of G-d, and to strive to always live exalted lives according to Torah and mitzvos.
Then indeed, אַנְשֵׁי–קֹדֶשׁ, תִּהְיוּן לִי, we will truly be a holy nation unto Hashem.
בברכת חודש טוב ושבת שלום,