Mishpatim – Living with the Torah’s Weekly Portion

Mishpatim: Sunday: The Hebrew Slave

Not everyone connects to gematria, the study of the numerical value of Hebrew words. While gematria is one of the methods that the Torah is expounded upon, and Israel’s scholars (particularly scholars of Kabbalah) throughout the generations have employed it in their Torah study, one generally needs a special affinity to numbers in order to appreciate its depth. Some gematrias, however, are so exact and amazing that even the most numero-phobic among us can also bond with the Divine wisdom that they express. Here is one of them:

The first portion of Mishpatim deals with the laws of the Hebrew slave (Eved Ivri):”And these are the ordinances that you shall put before them, if you buy a Hebrew slave…and he shall serve him forever”. There are 76 words in this portion, the numerical value of eved, ‘slave’. If we count the letters (in Hebrew) in this portion, we get 282 letters – the numerical value of Ivri! In other words: In the Torah portion that discusses the Eved Ivri, there are Eved (76) words and Ivri (282) letters!

Is it good to be a slave? On a simple level, the Torah relates to slavery as a negative matter and there is criticism of a person who has “acquired for himself a master”.  But the concept of servitude also appears in the Torah in a positive light, later in this Torah portion: “And you shall serve Havayah your G-d”. Servitude to G-d can have a relatively lower dimension, if a person serves G-d as if he is being coerced to do so. That is why the verse says of the Eved Ivri, “For six years he shall serve and in the seventh he shall go free, for nothing”.

But there is certainly a loftier side of servitude to G-d. The faithful servant of G-d, who also reaches complete identification with Him, is none other than the King Mashiach, about whom it is written in Isaiah:  “Behold, My servant shall prosper, he shall be exalted and lifted up, and shall be very high.” The numerical value of Eved Ivri  is…Mashiach!

Mishpatim: Monday: Pi Day

But if he lives for a day or two days (yom o yomayim), he will not be punished, for he is his money”.  How long? One day? Or two days? Our Sages explain: A day that is like two days. And what is that? מעת לעת – 24 hours.

Why does the Torah use this unique wording?

We will begin with a gematria: Let us calculate the numerical value of the word yom, ‘day’ from our verse above. When its letters are written in full as follows: yud, vav, mem (יוד ואו מם ), it equals 113. This is also the value of the following two words from our verse o yomayim (or two days)! This is the day that is like two days.

One of the important numbers in mathematics is the number that represents the relation between the circumference of a circle to its diameter, called pi. The exact value of pi cannot be written in numbers (it is an irrational number) but we use close values. In the Torah, there are a number of allusions to pi (as the Vilna Gaon pointed out). The following is an allusion that relates to the dimension of time:

The year (shana) is cyclical. The yearly cycle repeatedly goes around and around.  (In Hebrew, shana also means ‘to repeat’). Shana can also mean shinui, ‘change’. Nature changes throughout the year, wilting and growing anew. The day (yom) on the other hand, is relatively like a straight line. It is like the diameter of the circle. “And G-d called the light day (yom).” Light symbolizes constant stability. It is no coincidence that shana is a feminine word, while yom is a masculine word. This is the relation between the feminine circle and the masculine line.

The closest value to pi (in numbers until 1000) is 355 divided by 113. In other words: If the circumference is 355 units, then the diameter is 113 units. Note how exact this is: 355 divided by 113 = 3.1415929…, while the exact number for pi is 3.1415926…! Now for the gematria: 355 = shana (‘year’), 113 = yom (day) when written in full as above. The year is the circumference and the day is the diameter!

Mishpatim: Tuesday: Marry Her

And if a man entices a virgin who is not engaged and he lies with her, he shall pay her dowry to be his wife”. Unkelus translates the word for “entice”, y’fateh, as y’shadel, ‘try hard to convince’. The Rebbe of Kotzk said: In the Zohar it says that a person should ‘try hard’ in the study of the Torah. This also means ‘enticement’!” In other words, we entice and try hard to convince the Torah to reveal itself before us.

How do we convince-entice the Torah? When we approach it with humility and lowliness of spirit. Humility finds favor in G-d’s eyes, and then He reveals to us His secrets, concealed in the Torah.

In the verse above, however, the enticement carries a negative connotation. If so, we can explain that there is also a negative enticement in the Torah. A person may want to taste the Torah and its secrets, to delight in it without being committed to it, similar to a person who entices a young woman so that he may enjoy fleeting pleasure. It is in relation to that eventuality that the Torah continues, “he shall pay her dowry to be his wife”.  Do you want her? Marry her!

Mishpatim: Wednesday: Helping the Donkey

And if you see the donkey (chamor) of your enemy sprawled under its burden, and you will stop yourself from helping him? You shall help to unburden him.”  The Ba’al Shem Tov said: The donkey (chamor) is our material (chomer) body and all its powers, inclinations and desires. The body is sprawled under the burden of Torah and mitzvot. It does not want to participate in this labor and it seems as if it hates its soul…One may think that if this is the case, one should hate his body in return, to distance oneself from it, to oppress it and to diminish its strength with fasting and the like. In relation to this the verse continues “You shall help to unburden him.”  Do not hate your physicality and do not attempt to break it. Instead, help it, include it and encourage it to become rectified. After all, the inner dimension of the Torah explains that in the future, the superiority of the body over the soul will be revealed – so much so, that “the soul will receive its nourishment from the body”!

The phrase used in this verse for “You shall help to unburden him” – “azov ta’azov imo”, which could also mean, “you shall leave it”, is very unique. What is the Torah alluding to with these words?  From the above explanation of the Ba’al Shem Tov we can say that initially, the soul wishes to leave the physicality of the body, which bothers it. This is a positive predisposition. Ultimately, however, we explain to the soul that it must help the body. But the soul can only help the body if it is not subservient to it. When the soul is free of the body and leaves it a bit, it can convince the body to leave itself a bit, to purify itself and join it.

Mishpatim: Thursday: Cleverness

And you shall not take bribery, for bribery blinds the eyes of the clever (pikayach) and perverts the words of the righteous”. From this verse we see how important it is to be clever. The Ba’al Shem Tov said that to be clever, wise (ah kluger in Yiddish) is like a mitzvah of the Torah, and to be stupid is like a sin of the Torah.

To be clever and wise, means, primarily – do not fool yourself. Do not think that you are completely righteous, that everything about you is perfect, that you have managed to abolish your evil inclination and that you are the consummate example of virtue. Open (p’kach) your eyes and see yourself for what you are.

What is the bribery that causes people to lose their cleverness? Everyone around you tells you that you are a tzaddik, compliments are raining down upon you  – beware! Don’t accept the bribe, don’t believe the compliments too much. This is just another trial that you must successfully negotiate. After all, you know yourself inside out. This is a clear statement in the Gemara: “Even if the entire world tell you that you are a tzaddik, you should be as a wicked person in your own eyes.”

The Torah portion of Mishpatim develops Jewish cleverness, as the Sages said: “He who wants to become smart should delve into the monetary laws”. It is no coincidence that the root of the word Mishpatim, shin, pei, tet ,שפט  is the reverse order of tipesh, טפש ‘stupid’.

Mishpatim: Friday: The Blessing of Health

And you shall serve Hashem your G-d and He will bless your bread and your water and I will remove illness from your midst.” This is one of the special blessings in the Torah, the blessing of natural health.

What is the connection between the blessing of the bread and water and the removal of illness? Rebbe Nachman of Breslev said: “There are many different remedies for many different illnesses, such as herbs, each of which has its own unique healing properties. Each remedy has to be appropriate for the particular illness. But that is true and necessary only on a low level. A person who has complete faith in G-d, however, can be healed with any food or drink: “and He will bless your bread and your water”. With true faith, even the simple bread and water will bring you a complete recovery, “and I will remove illness from your midst.”

This is what Rebbe Nachman alluded to in his “Tale of the Wise Man and the Simple Man”: “And he would say to his wife: My wife, give me to eat. And she would give him a piece of bread and he would eat. Afterwards he would say: Give me the beans with the gravy. And she would cut him another slice of bread and he would eat. And he would praise the food and say: How delicious and good is this gravy! And he would also direct her to bring him meat and other delicacies, and each time she would cut him another slice of bread and he would take much pleasure in it and praise it and say how delicious and good it was, as if he was actually eating that food. And truly, he would taste in the bread the flavor of each dish that he wanted, due to his simplicity and great joy”. This simple man is not stupid at all. He truly believes that there is a concealed blessing in the simple food that G-d gives him, “and He will bless your bread and your water”. He doesn’t need more than that.

From the beginning of the verse, “And you shall serve Hashem your G-d” we learn the mitzvah of prayer to G-d. Before we eat, we pray to G-d that this food will give us health and with the energy and vitality that we receive from the food, we will be able to serve G-d. Then G-d blesses the food to be the most healthy and most delicious in the world.

Mishpatim: Shabbat: A Covenant of Blood


And Moses took half the blood and put it in basins (aganot) and half the blood he threw on the altar. And he took the Book of the Covenant and he called out in the ears of the Nation and they said, ‘All that G-d has spoken we will do and we will hear’. And Moses took the blood and he sprinkled it on the Nation and he said, ‘Behold the blood of the covenant that G-d has made with you in agreement with all these words.’” This covenant, at the foot of Mount Sinai, is reminiscent of the Covenant of the Pieces with Abraham. There, however, the covenant was made over animal parts and here it is made over blood. It is a more inner and essential covenant.

The two halves of the blood of the sacrifices represent the two sides of the covenant – G-d and Israel. Moses immediately sprinkles the first half of the blood onto the altar. He puts the second half in basins and later sprinkles it on the Nation. Which half represents G-d and which half represents the Nation? The Midrash says, “Moses said before the Holy One, Blessed Be He, “What shall we do with Your portion? He said to him, ‘Sprinkle it on the Nation’. ‘And what shall we do with their portion? He said to him, ‘Sprinkle it on the altar.’”


Our blood is sprinkled on the altar – an expression of our complete devotion. We nullify our will before G-d. The Jew gives himself to G-d, in the merit of which a covenant is made and G-d sprinkles His half of the blood upon us.

What does “the blood of G-d” mean? The blood is vitality, the essence. “The blood is the soul”. G-d gives Himself to us from within the Torah, as our Sages say, that the word Anochi אנכי , the first word in the Ten Commandments is an acronym for “אנא נפשי כתבית יהבית” ) “I wrote and gave Myself”). This blood passes through the basins, the proper vessels – particularly the Wise Men of the Sanhedrin, about whom it says in the Song of Songs “Your navel (agan) is like a round basin”.

Every time that we recite the Shema Yisrael prayer, “Hear Israel…And you shall love…and with all your money” we are giving ourselves over to G-d, sprinkling our blood on the altar. The next verse immediately follows: “And these words that I command you today shall be on your hearts”. G-d gives us the Torah. His blood reaches all the way to us.


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