Parashas Mishpatim

This week’s parashah presents some basic elements of the Torah’s code of civil and criminal law. In connection with the general topic of law, the Midrash (Shemos Rabbah 30:1, middle) relates a discussion the Jewish People have with Hashem about when He will impose judgment on our their enemies. The Jewish People ask Hashem: “Until when will You delay bringing our enemies to justice?” Hashem answers: “Until the time comes to harvest them up.” The Midrash elaborates:
As it is written (Yeshayah 27:2): “On that day it will be proclaimed about them – a vineyard yielding fine wine.’” No one harvests his vineyard before the grapes have ripened. It is after they have ripened that he picks them, puts them in the winepress, and tramples them. Then he sings, and those with him respond in song after him. In this vein, Hashem said to the Jewish People: “Wait for Me until Edom’s time comes, and then I will trample them.”
The Maggid explains this Midrash as follows. Retribution against an evildoer can be set in motion in one of two ways: either Hashem decides on His own that it is time to bring the evildoer to justice or someone petitions Hashem to do so. The Taz on Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chayim 118 uses a similar idea to explain the difference in the eleventh blessing of the Shemoneh Esrei between the ending “the King of justice” that we use during the Ten Days of Repentance and the ending “King who loves righteousness and justice” that we use during the rest of the year: During the Ten Days of Repentance, Hashem Himself initiates the process of justice, whereas during the rest of the year He carries out justice only when someone enters a complaint that he has been wronged. In regard to retribution against evildoers, Hashem generally does not take action on His own initiative until the evildoer reaches his measure of sin, but He can be petitioned to take action. A person who puts forward a petition is taking a risk, however, for he himself will be judged either before or along with whoever he complained about. As the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah 16b says: “One who submits a case against his fellowman is punished first [for his own wrongdoings].” The reason is that a petition for Divine judgment leads Hashem to open His records and examine the petitioner’s file to see whether he is worthy of calling others to justice.
Accordingly, if we submit a complaint against our enemies to Hashem when we ourselves are not clean, we take the risk of having Hashem punish us for our misdeeds. It is thus better for us to keep quiet and wait until our enemies reach their measure of sin and Hashem brings them to justice on His own. This is what the Midrash is teaching. Once our enemies “ripen” – that is, they reach their measure of sin – Hashem will proceed to trample them. He then will sing, and we will be able to sing after Him – we will be able to present our indictments against our enemies without any risk of harm.
This message is reflected in the passage in Yeshayah which begins with the verse that the Midrash quotes. The passage runs as follows (Yeshayah 27:2-8, slightly paraphrased):
On that day it will be proclaimed about them – a vineyard yielding fine wine. … I have no wrath – if only I were at war with the weeds and thorns, I would trample them and set them altogether afire. Or let them grasp onto My stronghold and make peace with Me – yea, let them make peace with Me. … According to their measure [of sin] He contended against their farmland.
Hashem is saying: “I Myself have no wrath against your enemies now, for they have not yet reached their measure of sin. And if you lead Me to wage war against your enemies, you may be trampled together with them. Alternatively, you can grasp onto My stronghold – cling to My Torah and make yourselves whole, free of any defect or impurity. If you do so, you will be at peace with Me – you will be able to ask Me to bring your enemies to justice without putting yourselves at any risk that My wrath will also be turned toward you. But until then, it will be best for you to be quiet.”
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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