Mishpatim (5779)

by Marc Mangel

• Today’s drash has advice from God and Thomas Jefferson about how to lead our lives.

• Movie trailer that we heard about a number of years ago. Congregant to Rabbi “Even though I am observant, I am not happy all the time”. Rabbi to congregant “That’s okay. Thomas Jefferson wants you to be happy. God want you to be productive.”


• But first —  a commercial for Hebrew Free loans, which come to us from Ch 22, v 24 [read].

• Just how important is this verse? According Sefer HaChinuch there are 53 commandments in this parsha.  In his compilation of the chazal, Studies in the Weekly Parsha, Nachsoni allocates 32 pages to Mishpatim.  If each of the 53 commandments were equally important, there would be about half a page of commentary per commandment (0.6 pages per commandment if you want to be precise).

• Nachsoni gives 6.5 pages to the commandment about free loans – about 10 times as much as we would expect if all the commandments were equal.

• Imagine if everyone went  home today committed to making a donation to the Hebrew Free Loan Association in SF after Shabbat, with the comment “This is part of the Mishpatim movement”.  They’d wonder what is going on in Santa Cruz.

• Lest you worry about the size of your donation, I wrote to Jamie Hyams, Development Director of the HFLA.

Me: “[At my drash] I would like to say “no size of donation is too small” but is that true?  That is, is there a minimum below which you find it uneconomical to process a donation?”

Jamie: “Thank you for reaching out and good luck on the drash this weekend.  

No donation is too small.  Everything is appreciated. “

• You can take it from here.


• Now  to the advice.  In Ch 23, v 29-30, God says to the Israelites “I will not drive out the inhabitants in a single year…I will drive them out little by little”.

• Now clearly God could have driven them out all at once and miraculously had the Israelites reproduce to fill the land. 

• What do we learn from this? From commentary in the Rebbe’s chumash:   “When we are trying to change”, patience is indeed the greatest virtue. Trying to tackle all of our obstacles at once will almost certainly end in failure; the methodological and gradual line of attack has much greater hope for success.  We must begin with the easier steps..only then moving on to more subtle struggles.  Similarly, we should first attempt to avoid whatever is bad before striving for perfection in doing all that is good”.

• That’s the advice from God. The advice related to Thomas Jefferson comes from the famous verse  Ch 4, v 7: [Read in Hebrew] “We will do and will learn/hear [as in ‘I hear you man’ that we said in the 60s]/understand/obey everything that God has spoken”. First we do, then we understand.

• 1981, Davis CA..  I walked into bookstore and found Dumas Malone’s biography of Jefferson, who wrote to his daughter “It is amazing how much may be done if we are always doing”. I thought that this is a good idea, so have been pretty much doing since then.  Thomas Jefferson, like God, wants us to be productive by always doing.  First we do, then we understand

• Shabbat shalom.