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Part 1
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Part 13 to 21

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MODIA
A web site on how to study and live
Judaism, Torah and Talmud

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Shemot 21, 1-24, 18

Commentary
by Yehoshua Rahamim ben Avraham
 
based on the books of our Sages

*****

Judaism : unity of action and spirituality

Plan
Themes of the parasha
Two dimensions in the peshat
The meaning of unity between spiritual life and social acts
An eye for an eye
Understanding Judaism
Source versus source
Control of perception
Perceiving the completeness of the “other”
Projection
Mishpatim, the conditions of happiness
Levels of application of the mitzvot

*****

Themes of the parasha
Following the preceding parasha and the granting of the 10 commandments which represent the fundamental basis of morality, this parasha lays out 53 mitzvot which relate to how we live and our relationships with others (mitzvot 42 to 95, in the 613). Moshe is told to take with him Aaron, Nadab and Abihu and 70 elders and advance towards Mount Sinai. Then he proceeds alone (Shemot 24).
The people say that he will carry out everything that Hashem tells him to do.
Moshe asks the young men to make a sacrifice, read the book of the Covenant, take blood and say: this is the blood of the covenant.
Together with the Sages he goes towards the mountain and they contemplate on the glory of the G-d of Israel and the sapphire stone. After rejoicing, they eat and drink.
Hashem then tells Moshe that He wants to give him the tables of stone and Moshe ascends with Joshua. Then the divine glory appears like a raging fire and Moshe penetrates into the cloud and goes up into the mountain where he stays for 40 days and 40 nights.

Two dimensions of the peshat
Note that the laws that govern daily moral conduct in this world are placed between the revelation of the 10 commandments and the revelation of the divine glory. This tells us immediately that there is no difference between these different levels and this is the real originality of this moral revelation. It has no relationship with a declaration of human rights and duties, but is the revelation of one and the same reality: the relationship between man and man and the relationship between man and G-d. This explains why the two tables are parallel, with each commandment from 1 to 5 which relate to the love of G-d directly paralleled with each of commandment from 6 to 10 which relate to love between men. These are not parallel concepts but one and same reality and nature. This is what is constantly expressed in the double-term expression “the heavens and the earth” (hashamyim vehaaretz).

Once we have understood the full meaning of this double existence which is ours, and which is transmitted to us through the very structure of the text (which is the basis of the Jewish method of study) we can now examine these rules of conduct in detail without falling into the erroneous belief that they represent “morality” or “social legislation” on a horizontal and earthly level. He who harms in the world below, also harms in the world above; he who loves concretely in the world below, also loves in the world above. This is the most important aspect of Jewish teaching: every single mitzva involves Hashem; this is why we say: mishpete Hashem.
We need to read the mitzvot described here in detail (Shemot 21, 1-23, 33) in order to understand how they relate to our daily lives:
--- work relations, employees and slaves,
--- assaults, murders, kidnappings, curses, laughter, wounds, rapes,
--- compensation for damages,
--- robberies, break-ins, negligent care of goods, interest loans, lost objects,
--- vulnerable people who are at risk in society or in the courts,
--- idolatry, etc.

In order to stress the unique character of these mitzvot, we are reminded, in the middle, of the coming out from Egypt, the Pesah commandments and the pilgrimages to Jerusalem : actual slavery on the one hand and divine Jerusalem on the other, constitute a single trajectory. We should remember this during the Pesah seder.

This unity is very well expressed verse 19, 10 from the Psalms:
Mishpete Adonut emet, tzidku yahdav
“The judgments of Hashem are true and righteous altogether.”

(Note - Once again, we can see the ignorance and slander on which age-old religious anti-semitism was based: it attempted to present Judaism as a religion that is trapped in automatic repetitions of rituals and is dominated by fear and trembling -- in contrast to the new revelation which was supposed to teach love of one’s neighbor and the concept of a loving God. Judaism long ago stated this explicitly in a single concept. Why try to distort the Torah of the Jews in this way in order to steal it and in order to steal their land? Why? And why dare to do this to G-d? And why kill the bearers of this message in order to take their place? Judaism does not claim to be a “spiritual religion,” since it does not distinguish between the concrete, material, relational, spiritual and abstract.)

The meaning of unity between divine life and social actions
Commenting on the above verse from the Psalms, the Shla says that this unity is shlemut haadam, human completeness , true human peace. This is the Jewish peace now, the shalom akhshav of the Jew, his “peace now” ; it has nothing to do with resolution of political conflicts. One should understand that the Jewish word shalom includes ipso facto this completeness of “higher” and “lower” dimensions in a single unity which takes the form of divine life over the whole earth and among men through their actions. The Shla explains, as follows, what this completeness consists in.

The word for shield in Hebrew is magen. The word shlemut (completeness and peace, as explained above) has a triple meaning, based on the consonants of the word magen : shlemut of mamon (money), shlemut of the guf (body), shlemut of the neshama (soul). (Refer to the source of this formulation, which is in Rashi’s commentary on Bereshit 33, 18 and in Tractate Shabbat, page 33 b.)
It is this threefold connotation of the word shlemut which we remember each time we say the Shema Yisrael:
Hear O Israel, The Lord our God, the Lord is One.
And thou will love the Lord thy God
with all thine heart (shlemut of the guf, body),
with all thy soul (shlemut of the neshama, soul),
and with all thy strengths (shlemut of mamon, money).

All the social laws of this parasha, described above, relate to the words: “with all thy heart” (shlemut of the guf, body) and “with all thy strengths” (shlemut of mamon, money); identify them in the list below:
--- work relations, employees and slaves,
--- assaults, murders, kidnappings, curses, laughter, wounds, rapes,
--- compensation for damages,
--- robberies, break-ins, negligent care of goods, interest loans, lost objects,
--- culinary prohibitions,
--- vulnerable people who are at risk in society or in the courts.

All the laws relating to shlemut of the neshama (soul) concern issues of respect of authority which imply honoring God, rejection of foreign gods and their rites (avoda zara), rejection for these reasons of peace treaties with the 7 nations who dwelt at that time in the land of Canaan, refusal to allow pagan cults in the land of Israel, and going on pilgrimages to the Temple three times a year.

“The aim of these injunctions (mishpatim),” said the Shla, “is to make complete these three forms of completeness which are in man:”
Hare hamishpatim vehaddinim hem lehashim shlosha min shemiyot hanimtzaot baadam.

An eye for an eye (Shemot 21, 14)

It is within this context that we find the expression “an eye for an eye.” The Shla explains the sources of this expression: his explanations are developed here for those do not have access to his commentary.
We will see clearly how our texts have been and still are being erroneously interpreted and translated into confused anti-Semitic notions, in which Judaism is represented, on the one hand, by the concept of “an eye for an eye,” and the new revelation, on the other hand, by the concept of “turning the other cheek and loving thy neighbor as thyself.”

In actual fact, the Jewish concept of “an eye for an eye” is a very precise and extremely moral law: re-read Shemot 21, 22-25 and you will see that, if one has caused harm to another person, he must be given financial compensation that corresponds strictly to the damaged caused :
in order to do this, the damage must be assessed by experts and losses at every level evaluated, not only in respect of the eye (sight) but also all other usages and benefits derived thereof.
Judaism does not allow anyone to do harm to another person and declare: “I love you and I turn the other cheek.” One must make amends and repay in material terms ; love is not only spiritual, it is also expressed physically and financially.
Thus, Tractate Baba Kama (84) sets out in detail how to accomplish the triple shlemut in cases of damages. The expert makes his evaluation which includes:

· The ahrayut : this is the responsibility that belongs to the person who is given charge of something in order to carry out a task (guarding, taking an animal to the sacrifice; Baba Kama 12 a, 14 b, 11 b, 118 a, etc. ). There are situations when, in the case of disappearance or theft, one must compensate for or replace the animal which disappeared (Baba Kama 8 and 9).

· The mamon : this is the monetary compensation and exact equivalent of the damage caused (Maimonides, Hilkhot Nezikei Mamon 2, 8), while the knas is the payment made above or below the exact compensation for the damage caused (Baba Kama 38 b, 43 a and 43 b). The knas can only be imposed if a deposition has been made by witnesses but, if a man confesses to the crime of his own will, he is absolved from the knas (Baba Kama 3).

· The kofer is the fine paid in lieu of a physical sentence (imprisonment for example, or beatings..). The most famous example is “an eye for an eye, tooth for tooth,” which consists in paying compensation equivalent to the value of the part of the body harmed and all the benefits that come from its use, not in receiving physical punishment such as gouging out of eyes. Certain punishments, such as those for murder, cannot be subsituted by a kofer.. See Numbers 35, 31. Baba Kama discusses the issue of the kofer for cattle that kill, according to Exodus 21, 29.

· The boshet is the financial compensation that must be made when someone humiliates another person. The subjective value here is relative and is linked to the social position of the two persons involved. This is one of the 5 financial compensations listed in Baba Kama 4 b (see Maimonides, Hilkhot Hovel Umezik 1 and 2).

· The nezek : this is the damage caused to the goods or the person by the injury; for example a part of the body that is crippled and loses its use and beauty. See Leviticus 24, 20.

· The tzaar : this is the suffering, which is evaluated according to the sum that the person who has been harmed is willing to pay in order to end his suffering (Baba Kama 5 a, 26 b, 83 b, 84 a). See Exodus 21, 25.

· The ripui is the financial value of the medical treatment and the time required, following injury, in order to recover one’s previous level of health, according to the testimony of the victim (Baba Kama 85 a). See Exodus 21, 18.

· The shevet is the financial compensation for the period during which a victim is unable to go to work or to carry out his customary work, following the injury, according to the testimony of the victim. See Deuteronomy 22, 29.

Understanding Judaism
The above example helps us to understand the meaning of the Shla’s commentary: the precise details of every mitzva are absolutely essential and they represent the true character of the mitzva. It is because of this integral link between the spiritual and the concrete that it is important for us to learn these details, which annoy those who do not understand them (out of ignorance)
--- the dimension of the unity of all levels,
--- the dimension of dignity of all levels,
--- the dimension of concrete and complete love,
--- the dimension of “real,” not “spiritual” love.
This unity of levels is expressed in Judaism by numerous expressions such as “the essence of divinity is here below” (batahtonim), or in the use of the word elokim for God and for judges.

In order to be achieve unity in his life, a Jew must therefore study in detail every element of this concrete love, and a considerable part of the books of Talmud is devoted to the study of damages and compensation. This is the reason why the majority of examples in my book Lev Gompers is taken from these sections of the Talmud.

Source versus source
We can now understand the basis for the expression “an eye for an eye.” Hebrew did not choose this example by chance but because the word ayin represents both “eye” and “source.”

Indeed what we perceive with our eyes is a reflection of what is within us, our source, for, the Sages say, perception cannot be blocked: he who looks at a distressing, ugly or evil image is affected ipso facto within his inner being. There is a direct conduit between the surface of the eye and the deepest part of ourselves, the source.

Control of perception
This explains why, in Jewish morals, so much importance is place on control of perception in order to separate it from sexuality which does not belong to us as individuals or as married couples, and which is constantly being projected in the modern media without our permission and without any prior warning (articles, posters, television programs). This also pertains to the repeated projection of images of disaster and horror which are degrading and harmful. Control of perception is neither something prudish or obsessive: it represents an acknowledgment of the link between the sources in us, of the link between our inner being and the person we are linked to in marriage, and of the union between the invisible, deepest and highest levels of existence.

Perceiving the completeness of the “other”
This morality and awareness helps us to perceive the “other” in the same way, possessing the same unity of higher and lower dimensions in one being and having the same sexual commitments, which we must not perceive negatively.

Projection
The Jewish concept of perception-source also allows us to control what we call in modern psychology “projection” which involves the unconscious projection onto others of the negative feelings which are within us, in our deepest “source.” It is a question of perception. We convince ourselves that the other person is evil and find confirmation of this in the way we perceive things in reality. Even if this reality is true, we are projecting onto that person the bad feelings that are our own and which we are unconscious of; this is what tradition calls the yetzer hara, the evil instinct.

Projection helps us to practice the scapegoat rite on others: it allows us to assign to
another person the faults in us which we do not want to admit, and so we say that he is not good or at fault. Indeed, each time we say we do not like a particular trait in someone else, we should ask ourselves the question: is this not a trait that I have too?
The aim of projecting our own faults onto others is to make us feel better; but, in reality, these bad feelings remain within us and we simply end up with a more complicated relationship.
Tradition expressed all this hundreds of years ago in this phrase from Kiddushin 70 a:
kol hapossel bemuno possel
every person who disqualifies another does so because of his own bad feelings. This is such a powerful phenomenon that it is attributed the term “every person.”

Mishpatim, the conditions for happiness
Judaism, thus, offers, in the name of Hashem, complete happiness, shlemut, at every level, on condition that
--- we maintain harmony and unity between the spiritual and concrete levels,
--- we live this harmony and unity at the different levels of spiritual, existential and material life,
--- we live this harmony and unity in all our actions, studies and prayers,
--- we study our texts in order to understand the meaning of this unity and this shlemut in every feeling and action,
--- we use the teachings and experiences of the generations who transmitted to us this moral, psychological, philosophical, religious, legal, and social science which constitutes a single entity.

The development of new sciences has certainly provided man with new tools, however these cannot annul the enormous knowledge that is offered by Judaism.

And, in Tractate Shabbat 75 a, our Sages strongly reproach all those who are not capable of using these practical sciences in order to come closer to the divinity which rules the world and which is transmitted by the Torah : “R. Shimon ben Pazi, in the name of R. Yehoshua ben Levi in the name of bar Kappara, said: ‘he who has learnt astronomy and does not practice this science is named by this verse ‘they regard not the work of the Lord, neither consider the operation of His hands’ (Isaiah 5, 12).”

Our Sages even demonstrate to us to what degree and in what way the detailed actions required by the mishpatim represent divine dimensions and divine names; this level, however, clearly cannot be taught on the Net. It is only taught after a student has acquired a level of knowledge which he has integrated into his actions and in the relationship of master and student, and not at a collective or anonymous level.

Levels for the application of the mitzvot
Judaism possesses a very advanced pedagogy of knowledge, practice, morality and relationships.
It has formulated different levels for carrying out these concrete mishpatim, the mitzvot which we call maasim tovim, good acts. The Shla sets out these levels:

· haddur mitzva
The first, basic, level is already remarkable in what it achieves even though our texts call this the basic level ; this is the haddur mitzva. This is the embellishment of a mitzva, by not only carrying out the act but by dedicating to it all of one’s resources with no profit in mind except to transmit the Torah and to help those in need, as Miriam and the midwives did when they financed the rescue of the Hebrew children at their own expense (Shemot 1, 18). Of this, Hashem says: bikrovai akkadesh, “I will be sanctified in them that come nigh me” (Vayikra 10 2-3).

· zeruz mitzva
The second level is enthusiasm and zeal in the execution of a mitzva : zeruz mitzva. This is a wonderful injunction : it means to hasten to carry out the mitzva, to go towards it and seek it out, and especially to do with joy whatever small part we are capable of, even if we are not capable of doing it completely. Moshe taught us this when he established cities of refuge for involuntary murderers (Badmidbar 35, 14-15 ; Devarim 4, 41), but he also instructed them to continue to carry out the small part they were capable of. This represents tolerance towards oneself and towards others; demanding and setting standards, but without criticism. The verse that explains this approach from the point of view of God is asher yaase otam haadam vehaibahem (which man shall do and live by. Vayikra 18, 5).

· ose hessed
The third level involves giving one’s deepest self, one’s being, mesirat nefesh. He who gives his being to someone loves that person as Hashem loves us, ose hessed (Shemot 20, 6). The preceding levels can be seen as a duty and as a way of learning, or an injunction, a performance, or out of fear, etc. This level involves solely love of Hashem and of others in a single love which involves all one’s being. The supreme example of this is the relationship of Avraham and Yitzhak in the akeda, in contrast to Yishmael (See Rashi on Bereshit 22, 1). Avraham and Yitzhak give of their whole being, out of love.

· leshem shamayim
The fourth level involves carrying out a mitzva with complete selflessness, leshem shamayim, with no consideration of gain, even that of experiencing love. Avraham demonstrates this when he refuses to take even a shoelace (Bereshit 14, 23).

· harhakut ahavat haolam haze
The fifth level is to distance oneself from the values that are sought and cherished in this world harhakut ahavat haolam haze ; this means knowing how to distinguish between true values and false ones that are loved by the masses or are in fashion, “knowing how to distinguish and separate” between the wheat and the chaff, between what is essential and what is secondary or superfluous, as did Yaakov (Bereshit 28, 20).

*****

Exercises

1. Reflect on those concepts described above which have particular meaning for you, and re-read the parasha in detail in order to identify them.
2. Discuss what you find and the questions that arise therefrom for the individual and for mankind.
3. Test of knowledge. What is the meaning of these 24 expressions ?
aharayut
avoda zara
boshet
shevet
shlemut
guf
haddur mitzva
harhakut ahavat haolam haze
kofer
kol haposel, bemuno posel
leshem shamayim
massim tovim
magen
mamon
mishpatim
Mishpet Adonut emet, tzidku yahdav
neshama
nezek
ose hessed
ripui
tzaar
yetzer hara
reruz mitzva

 


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- Psychology and Repentance
   (in french)

Part 15
STUDY HEBREW

Part 16
JERUSALEM

- Jerusalem excavations
- Terror and counseling
- Peace and peoples
- Israel and Iran
- Visual study & song on snow
for, through our union with the song of nature, the plan of Creation will be fulfilled

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Poem: to be moon

In french

Avec Modia, vivez
vos vacances en Israël,
Texte et photos

- Par Modia, arrivez au Kotel
- La vie du Kotel
- Prières au Kotel
- Fête au Kotel
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Part 17
ISRAEL AND
THE NATIONS

- Love towards all people
- Light in war
- Before the hanukiah
- Land of Israel
- Jerusalem excavations 2007
  Proof of the lies propagated
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In french - Hope in Israel



Part 20
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Part 21
SONGS

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Dedication

Rav Professor
Yehoshua Rahamim Dufour
(Dipur, in hebrew)

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