Parashas Mishpatim

The second segment of this week’s parashah discusses the laws that apply when a father sells his daughter as a maidservant. The Midrash expounds homiletically on this segment, describing Hashem’s conveying His Torah to the Jewish People (Shemos Rabbah 30:5): “I had a lone daughter, and I sold her to you, but you cannot take her out unless she is encased in a chest.” The Maggid offers an interpretation of this enigmatic Midrash.
Regarding the creation of man, the Torah states (Bereishis 2:7): “And Hashem God formed man out of dust from the ground, and He blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and man became a living being (ויהי האדם לנפש חיה). Ramban remarks that the prefix ל- in the word לנפש seems superfluous. He notes that the prefix ל- generally serves to describe something being transformed into something else, such as in the phrase והיו לדם in Shemos 4:9, which describes water turning into blood. Accordingly, he explains that Hashem’s action transformed man from a lump of clay into a living being.
Let us bring out the meaning of what Ramban says. There are several key differences between the works of man and the works of Hashem. One of them is as follows. When a man creates some item, he invests energy into the item only while he puts it together. After he puts it together, forming it so that it will last a certain length of time, it will last for that length of time without any further intervention from him. By contrast, Hashem constantly infuses His creations with sustaining force, moment after moment, and if He would halt the flow of sustaining force to some creation, it would immediately cease to exist. In this vein, the Midrash teaches (Bereishis Rabbah 14:9, expounding on Tehillim 150:6: “Let all souls (כל הנשמה) praise Y-h, Hallelujah”) that it behooves a person to praise Hashem for each and every breath (נשימה). Similarly, Nechemiah 9:6 states that Hashem “sustains them all.” And the Gemara (Yoma 71a) teaches that when one Sage would take leave of another, he would say: “May the One who provides life grant you life” – that is, may Hashem continue to infuse into you the spirit of life. It is just like a person blowing into a pouch whose mouth is open – so long as the person keeps blowing, the pouch remains inflated, but when he stops blowing the air goes out and the pouch deflates.
This being the case, we may well ask: What exactly did Hashem accomplish, in His initial creation of man, by blowing into him the breath of life, given that He must continue “blowing” for man to continue in existence? We can answer this question as follows. A seed planted in the ground produces a developing plant that draws its sustenance for continued growth from the earth. Had the seed not been planted, the earth would not have been able to transmit sustaining force. Similarly, the first breath of life that Hashem blew into man enabled a continued flow of sustaining force into him from then on. This is what the Torah means when it says that the initial breath of life from Hashem caused man to become a living being: The initial breath of life gave man the capacity to receive the flow of sustaining force from above.
A similar pattern is seen with Hashem’s giving His holy Torah to man. It is a fact that Hashem gave the Torah over into our hands. Nonetheless, we are in constant need of a flow of wisdom from above to understand the Torah’s teachings. Thus, Shlomo HaMelech says (Mishlei 2:6): “For Hashem grants wisdom; from His mouth comes knowledge and understanding.” Shlomo does not say that Hashem granted us wisdom sometime in the past, but rather that Hashem is constantly granting us wisdom at every moment: The phrasing is יתן חכמה – with the future tense verb form being used to indicate continual action. [Cf. Rashi on Shemos 15:1.] In truth, although Hashem gave us the Torah, the principal corpus of Torah wisdom remained in heaven. This corpus includes the hidden reasons behind the mitzvos and the profound secrets that the Torah encompasses. These are concepts that the human intellect cannot fully grasp on its own; we must ask Hashem for help. In this vein, David HaMelech pleads (Tehillim 119:18): “Open my eyes, so that I may perceive wonders from Your Torah.”
Shlomo HaMelech exhorts (Mishlei 4:1-2): “Hear, O children, the Father’s instruction, and be attentive to know understanding. ‘For I have giving you a good teaching (לקח) – do not forsake My Torah.’” Here, Shlomo is speaking of how a person must make himself fit to receive the Torah’s wisdom by diligently working to probe its depths. And Hashem is telling us that He has given us a means whereby we can take possession (לקחת) of the Torah. It is just like a person handing to someone else a long object: Once the recipient grasps of one end, he can pull the object toward him and take hold of the whole object. Thus, the Torah that Hashem gave over to us is called a לקח, because it enables us to take hold of the Torah’s inner wisdom. 
The idea we just brought out is reflected in a teaching in the Gemara (Shabbos 89a):
When Moshe descended from before the Holy One Blessed Be He, the Adversarial Angel (שטן) came and asked Him: “Master of the Universe! Where is the Torah?” God replied: “I have given it to the Earth.” The Adversary went to the Earth and asked: “Where is the Torah?” The Earth replied (Iyov 28:23): “God [alone] understands its way, and He [alone] knows its plan.”
Seemingly, the Earth gave the Adversarial Angel a false answer. But in fact the answer was the absolute truth. True, Hashem gave the legislative portion of the Torah to the Earth. But, as we explained, the primary corpus of the Torah – the hidden inner meanings – remained in Hashem’s possession: God alone understands its way.
This is the message of the Midrash we quoted at the outset. Hashem gave us the Torah, but we do not have the capacity to bring its secrets out into the open. Rather, these secrets remain hidden, encased within the Torah’s simple meanings.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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