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To Place Before Them
by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton

A story is told about a famous Conservative rabbi, Rabbi Dr. Louis Jacobs. He was an extremely intelligent man and wrote several scholarly and interesting books on the Torah. Once he was walking home after the Shabbat services with his Shabbat guest. His apartment was on the third or fourth floor and there was an elevator in his building.

“Is it permissible to use this on the Shabbat?” asked his guest innocently.

“No, according to Jewish law it is forbidden,” answered the rabbi.

The guest accordingly began to ascend the stairs, when suddenly he heard the door of the elevator close a distance behind him. He looked backward and to his dismay revealed that his host was not there… he had taken the elevator!

The amazed guest ran up the stairs just in time to greet the “rabbi” exiting from the elevator.

“But I asked you, Rabbi, and you told me that it is forbidden!” he said with wide, questioning eyes.

“It is,” Rabbi Jacobs calmly answered.

“But then… Why did you yourself ride in it!?”

“Very simple” he replied, “You asked, I didn’t ask.”

The Torah portion of this week begins, “These are the laws (Mishpatim) you shall place before them.”

The first Rebbe of Chabad, Rabbi Schneur Zalman, the author of Tanya, explains this sentence to mean, “These are the laws you should put inside of them.” It is possible to learn the Torah and keep it outside oneself, without internalizing it. A person may know the laws of the Torah intellectually, and even be quite an expert in their details and interpretations. However, to know (and feel) that the Torah laws are expressions of the will of the Infinite King of the Universe, is a very different thing.

The difference between these two types of knowledge is like the difference between a live person and a puppet. Both of them move, and may appear quite animated. However, one is animated from the outside, and the other is alive and warm from the inside.

This is what Rabbi Schneur Zalman meant when he said that the laws should be placed
“inside of them”; the Torah should make us warm, inspired, and alive.

The Torah section of Mishpatim (Laws) begins with the commandment about the Jewish servant and how he must be treated. The “Jewish servant” refers to every Jew. G-d gives us the laws with the intent that we be Jewish servants, servants of Hashem. A servant owns nothing of his own; all he does is only for his master (although a faithful servant also enjoys his work). So, too, the laws of the Torah enable us to be servants of, and connected to, the Almighty. (In fact, the word for commandment, mitzvah, is similar to the word meaning connection, tzavta.)

Moshiach will be the one to activate this idea in the Jewish people. This is hinted by the second sentence of our Torah section: “When you (singular) take possession of a Jewish servant.” Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains (Torah Or p.148) that this refers to the Moses, the leader of every generation. It especially refers to Moshiach, who will gather all the Jews of all the generations. He will make the Torah warm and alive; he will put the Torah inside of us, and transform all of the Jewish people into servants of the King of the Universe.


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