In the world in which we live, truth is a rare commodity. Fiction, deviation, misinformation and half-truths are pervasive. The only way to have a real connection to the truth is by following the Torah. Mishpotim, the laws that govern finances, must have a basis in the Torah in order for them to be truthful and just.
In focusing on Parshas Yisro, which teaches us about Mattan Torah, and in Mishpotim, the parsha that follows, a theme emerges. The drama and glory of Maamad Har Sinai were an introduction to the laws governing how we deal with each other.
The depth of the connection between the two parshiyos is revealed by the Sefas Emes, who explains that “Ve’eileh hamishpotim asher tosim lifneihem” is the natural consequence of “Anochi Hashem Elokecha.”
The posuk states, “And these are the laws that you shall place before them, asher tosim lifneihem,” teaching that even though these laws appear to be rational, Jews are forbidden to adjudicate their disputes in secular courts. Even if the secular laws seem to be the same as those that appear in the Torah, we must know that they are not.
There are truths and then there is the Torah’s truth, composed and transmitted by the One whose seal is truth. We don’t live our lives in accordance with social mores and customs of the world around us. We live with Hashem’s truth. We faithfully follow the laws of the land, but when we have a financial dispute with a fellow Jew, we turn to experts in Jewish law to adjudicate the matter.
The world runs on a form of fiction, a lie that is compelling and enticing and bears all the similarities to the truth. But it is still a lie. The system of justice presents itself as honorable and precise, but all too often we find that the people who administer justice are lacking in fidelity to a just code.
When I became involved in the case of Sholom Mordechai Rubashkin and began to examine the legal case against him, things didn’t make sense. It was obvious that the case was built on a vendetta and did not come about as a result of someone’s pursuit of justice. I was, and still am, a neophyte when it comes to the law and legal terms, so I turned to Sholom Mordechai’s lawyer and asked him to explain the case to me in a way I could understand. The lawyer is a very respectable, accomplished leader in his field in the state of Iowa. He said to me, “Let me tell you something: If people would know how the justice system works, there would be rioting in the streets.”
It is only recently that people have become educated about what goes on in the name of justice and have begun fighting back. Groups such as the Innocence Project work to get innocent people out of jail and have been successful in a number of cases. Klal Yisroel came together for Rubashkin, and thankfully his 27-year sentence was commuted by the president. You have seen ads in this paper for the past couple of weeks on behalf of Rabbi Osher Eisemann, known as a tzaddik for his work on behalf of special children. He is another victim of over-zealous prosecutors.
IT’S ALL A GAME
The Justice Department went after one of the president’s friends who made some outlandish claims about his high connections. The old man’s braggadocio earned him a 5 a.m. wake-up call from a group of armed riot police who had come to arrest him. He was put on trial in front of an Obama judge. When he was found guilty, prosecutors asked the judge to sentence him to 7-9 years in jail for the first-time offender who was found guilty of a process crime.
The president pointed out the injustice involved and tweeted about it. The Justice Department concurred and asked the prosecutors to withdraw the request for the long sentence. The four prosecutors involved in the case resigned in protest. The president responded, “Who are the four prosecutors (Mueller people?) who cut and ran after being exposed for recommending a ridiculous 9 year prison sentence to a man that got caught up in an investigation that was illegal, the Mueller Scam, and shouldn’t ever even have started?”
Now, it was revealed that the jury foreperson is an open Trump-hating supporter of the Mueller investigation, shedding more bad light on the way justice was administered.
Civil libertarians lashed out at the president and accused him of interfering in the administration of justice. Because it has nothing to do with justice and everything to do with whose side you are on. The president, through prison reform, has allowed people with excessive sentences to leave jail early and attempt to lead normal lives once again. His experience with the Justice Department should lead him to increase his efforts to clean up the legal swamp so that all Americans can experience true justice.
Therefore, even when from outside appearances it seems that the Torah and secular laws are similar, they are not. One who trades the Torah system of jurisprudence for the secular one has blasphemed the Divine order of things and rejected the truth in favor of a system lined with fiction.
It’s all a game. Some people play baseball, some play football, and some play the truth.
UNTETHERED TO POLLS AND POLITICS
There is no truth outside of the Torah. In the big world out there, everything is fake. You cannot accept anything at face value. Leadership is about acting, about feigning sincerity and compassion, intelligence and presence. Politicians, especially now in the electoral season, poll test every word they say and every action they undertake. They have no real beliefs. Driving them, at their core, is ego.
Take a look at Mike Bloomberg, who you will be hearing a lot from pretty soon. First, he was a Democrat, but then he wanted to be mayor of New York in the shadow of Giuliani, so he converted and became a Republican. Now he wants to get rid of Trump, who he hates, so he became a Democrat once again. For the past few years, he has been spending his billions supporting the Democrat agenda to ingratiate himself with politicians from coast to coast. On the way, he has jettisoned the policies that allowed him to successfully govern New York so that the liberals will embrace him.
There is nothing real and true about anything said by most people in government. Take a look at Benny Gantz, who wants to unseat Binyomin Netanyahu and become Israel’s prime minister. How many times has he flipped his attitude towards the religious community? Every time the polls dip this way or that, he flips and flops.
Untethered to polls and politics, the Torah is eternally true and relevant. We, who are loyal to Torah, are not affected by today’s trends and fads, and we know that they will not stand the test of time. To compromise on truths for momentary appeal is to engage in a fictitious fleeting pursuit. To water down what we are and what we stand for to appeal to the world is a foolish endeavor we dare not engage in, no matter how tempting the desire.
Anyone whose neshomah was at Har Sinai must learn this parsha and realize that if we study Parshas Yisro and accept the Torah and its truth but fail to study and properly observe the laws contained in Parshas Mishpotim, our acceptance of Torah is lacking. Yisro is contingent on Mishpotim. One who doesn’t properly carry out the laws of Choshen Mishpot can be neither a ben Torah nor a mokir Torah. Someone who lacks respect for the property of others practices fake religiosity. A deceitful person and those who lack integrity and are generally untrustworthy have essentially not accepted the word of Hashem into their hearts. Those who engage in fraud and disrespect are not only dishonest and uncaring, but have failed in their commitment of naaseh v’nishma.
Sometimes, people neglect or bend the laws of Choshen Mishpot because they place the pursuit of finances above all other values. In so doing, they demonstrate their human frailty as well as a lack of faith in the Divine order. At times, man’s vision becomes clouded. We must endeavor to always be honest and upstanding in our dealings, not permitting our own interests to subconsciously cause us to err.
The pursuit of money cannot be so extreme that it drives us to steal, cheat and be unscrupulous.
Yisro has to converge with Mishpotim.
The Torah that we follow is comprised of emes, and its paths lead to true peace. In order to achieve proper lasting relationships and friendships, they must be based on honesty and fidelity to the truth. If we are evasive or deceptive, as charming as we try to be and as hard as we try to mask our differences, we will ultimately fail. Our scheme will be discovered, and we will be left without friends or fortune, alone and forsaken.
Acting with strength and truth, and guided by the Torah, we can make the world a better place and prepare it for the coming of Moshiach. By being honest, facing up to our differences and surmounting them, we can reach accommodations that last over time.
We need shalom, but we have to equally value emes. We need great men to embrace others and draw them close, but we also need great leaders who will chart a course of truth and tradition, telling us when battles cannot be settled through compromise.
Without Mishpotim – honesty and uprightness in all areas – there is no Yisro. This means being honest in business, careful with the money of others, and aware of our mandate of how to behave with other people.
The wife of the Chazon Ish ran a small textile business. She once had a disagreement with a customer, who suggested that they ask her husband to adjudicate the matter. They approached the Chazon Ish, who ruled that the customer was right.
The Chazon Ish sensed that his wife was hurt that he ruled against her. He spoke to her softly and gently. “Tell me,” he said, “of what value is life if we possess even a lira that is not ours?”
She was placated by her husband’s explanation. What he said should be our mandate.
Just as life has no meaning without Torah, so is the order of creation interrupted by a lack of mishpot. When the baal korei reads the Aseres Hadibros, we sense that we aree hearing the song of life itself.
Mishpotim is the second half of that song and is just as critical. Hashem Elokeichem emes. His seal is emes. May we, the People of Truth, act in a way that will allow us to stand proud when the time of ultimate truth arrives.