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Friday, February 1

The Weekly Shtikle - Mishpatim

    At the beginning of this week's parsha, we are taught a number of different offences for which the punishment is death. Among them are the striking and cursing of one's parents. One would certainly have expected to find the two pesukim next to each other. However, surprisingly, after the pasuk dealing with the hitting of a parent (21:15) we are taught that one who kidnaps an individual and sells him is also subject to the death penalty. Only after that are we taught the punishment for cursing a parent.
    Ramban explains in the name of R' Sadiah Gaon that the placement of the pasuk dealing with kidnapping gives us an insight into the gravity of the crime and why it is punishable by death. Kidnapping victims are often younger children. When a young child is kidnapped he is taken from his family and forced to grow up away from the warmth of a loving family. He grows up not knowing his parents and thus is more likely to hit or curse them when he is older. This would have been a truly unfathomable act coming from a child who was the beneficiary of a full life of parental love and nurture. Since the kidnapper is responsible for creating this scenario, his act is punishable by death as well.
    Another approach offered by the Rishonim is that the pesukim are actually following a logical progression of increasing novelty, commonly referred to as "lo zu af zu." First, we are taught (21:14) that someone who plans and premeditates the murder of his fellow Jew is to be put to death. This is understandable. The next pasuk, dealing with hitting a parent, teaches us that it is not only murder that warrants the death penalty. One can even get capital punishment for merely hitting. Thedeath penalty for kidnapping then teaches us that one can be guilty of a capital offence without causing any physical harm whatsoever. Finally, we are taught that one can even be put to death for the improper use of his words in the form of a curse.
    Bechor Shor offers a fascinating take on the issue. When the kidnapper stands before the court and is accused of his crime, he is likely to curse his parents and blame them in order to vindicate himself. That is why the pasuk dealing with kidnapping is snuck in here to be juxtaposed to the pasuk dealing with cursing. (I am not sure why a kidnapper is more likely to do so than any other criminal.) This idea teaches a very poignant lesson which is most applicable in our time. We live in a society where crimes are very often justified by outside causes. When a heinous crime is committed, too often we get wrapped up in the perpetrator's background, his upbringing, what kind of music he listened to or what he watched on TV. What made him do this? The Torah teaches us - HE made him do this. Regardless of what influences might have played a part, one is always responsible for their own actions and must face the consequences thereof.
    It's been a while since I sent out this classic trivia question which R' Kulefsky, zt"l, used to love to ask: The law of "Edim Zomemin" states that a witness who attempted to make his friend pay a certain amount of money and is found to be lying and goes through the necessary process of "hazama" must pay the money himself. It is generally assumed that he pays the original defendant. But what is the source for this? Maybe it is a tax that he is required to pay Beis Din. [For a real challenge stop reading here.] Said R' Yisroel Salanter, the answer is in Rashi in this week's parsha. But you could go through the entire parsha and miss it. Happy hunting! .

Have a good Shabbos.


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