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Parsha Mishpatim

By: Herschel Karp (10th Grade)

This week’s Parsha, Parshat Mishpatim, follows the aftermath of the giving of the Torah from Parshat Yitro. Now, Moshe begins teaching all of the different laws the Torah commands. Among these laws, Moshe reviews the different types of shomrim (guardians), which is someone who agrees to watch someone else's item. There are four different types of shomrim; there is someone who will watch an item for free, someone who will watch another’s item for money, someone who pays another person in order to use an item, and someone who is paid to borrow something. All of these people have different levels of liability, should anything happen to the item. This degree of responsibility is determined by the benefit that the owner of the object and the guardian both get.

The first category, the unpaid guardian, would not be liable if the object is lost or stolen (unless he was negligent), since he receives no benefit from watching it. The next two categories, the paid guardian and the renter, both receive some benefit, and therefore have some liability. They may be obligated to pay if the object was lost or stolen, but not if the object was destroyed by an event that was completely out of their control. The fourth guardian, the “borrower,” receives many benefits, and is therefore liable to the greatest point. Monetary laws of the Torah are a lot deeper than laws in place to facilitate a functioning economy and society. Just as with all other parts of the Torah, the monetary laws have another meaning that is more spiritual.

We can learn from here that the laws of the four guardians also represent four states of mind in our relationship with Hashem, our neshama, and our purpose of creation. In our day to day life, a healthy relationship is something in which both parties benefit from. Often, a bad relationship is characterized by somebody wanting everything but not contributing, which is reflective of the borrower who is only in it for personal gain. However, our relationship with Hashem is all of these and more. The Torah tells us that Hashem created Adam and “placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.” In regards to our relation with Hashem, He entrusts us with a spiritual soul and places us on this earth with a mission to “work it and guard it,” to preserve and increase the goodness on this earth. We act as guardians, and we are able to receive benefits from our work on behalf of Hashem. However, just like in human relationships, there are different levels in the relationship with Hashem. On one end of the spectrum is a person who is primarily interested in receiving the benefits life has to offer. On the other end of the spectrum is the person whose love for Hashem is completely altruistic; his motivation is to serve Hashem and do the right thing.

In a wholesome human relationship, we can and should benefit from our relationship, yet we must also experience selfless devotion to our partner. The same is true in our relationship with Hashem. At times we will be a “borrower,” motivated primarily by our own needs and desires. However, we should always seek those moments when we transcend our own ego and act as an unpaid guardian, motivated primarily by the desire to devote ourselves to our beloved.

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