Parashas Mishpatim

This week’s parashah deals with civil laws: justice and concern for our fellow men. It is written (Yeshayah 56:1): “Thus said Hashem: ‘Observe justice and perform righteousness, for My salvation is soon to come, and My righteousness to be revealed.’” The Midrash on this week’s parashah expounds on this verse as follows (Shemos Rabbah 30:24):
It does not say “your salvation is near,” but rather “My salvation.” … Said the Holy One Blessed Be He to Israel: “If you have no merit, I will do it – so to speak – for My sake.” … As it is written (Zechariah 9:9, which literally speaks of Moshiach but is intepreted as speaking of Hashem Himself): “Jubilate greatly, O daughter of Zion; shout for joy, O daughter of Jerusalem. For behold, your King will come, righteous and victorious (nosha).” It does not say “saving” (moshia), but rather “saved” (nosha).
The Maggid notes that the Midrash’s reading of the end of the verse in Yeshayah is at odds with the beginning of the verse. Why must we take pains to observe justice and perform righteousness, if the final redemption is going to come no matter what?
The Maggid answers as follows. It is true that the final redemption is sure to come. Still, it makes a difference whether the redemption comes due to our merit or due to a decision by Hashem to bring the redemption for His own sake. If Hashem redeems us due to our merit, then He will do so in a magnanimous way. On account of our overall high level of righteousness, He will redeem all of us – even those who are not so worthy. But if Hashem brings the redemption for His own sake, then He will be very selective – He will redeem only the most saintly ones among us. Thus, the proclamation “My salvation is soon to come” serves as a warning: If we are not careful to observe justice and perform righteousness, and thereby bring the final redemption through our own merit, then Hashem will step in and bring it for His sake – on less favorable terms than if we brought it ourselves.
The passage in Yeshayah continues (verse 56:2): “Praiseworthy is the man who does this.” We may read this statement, the Maggid says, as teaching that it will be praiseworthy for us to be the ones to bring about the final redemption. And, if we do so, the redemption will be of the kind described in the subsequent verses in the passage – a redemption embracing all classes of people, with no one set aside.
Zechariah 9:9 concludes by portraying the King – meaning Hashem, according to the Midrash – as “a humble man riding on a donkey.” The Maggid explains the idea behind this portrayal with a clever analogy. Suppose that a person on the outskirts of town is making a bris. If he wants many people to come, he will send a convoy of wagons into town. If he wishes just to bring in some close relatives and friends, he will send a single wagon. And if he wants merely to fetch the mohel, he will send a lone man on a donkey. The message is that if Hashem is forced, so to speak, to bring the redemption for His own sake, He will act like a lone man on a donkey – He will take along but a few.
It is generally acknowledged that we are now in the era of the footsteps of Moshiach – the redemption is coming soon. If we bring it about through our merit – by observing justice and performing righteousness – it will be on the grandest possible scale. If, instead, we let Hashem bring it about on His own, it will be on a more limited scale. The choice is ours.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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