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Productive Use of Time

The Talmud relates1 that the great Sage R. Yochanan ben Zakkai wept before his death, saying: “There are two paths stretching before me, one to Gan Eden [Heaven] and one to Gehinom. I know not on which I shall be led.”

It goes without saying that R. Yochanan ben Zakkai was concerned as to whether he had attained a sufficient level of holiness to enter Gan Eden. Why did he voice his apprehension only on his deathbed? His spiritual status should have been an ongoing concern.

Every Jew is entrusted with a unique Divine mission that he is to accomplish during his lifetime. He is allotted a specific time in which to accomplish that task — not one day more and not one day less.2

When a Jew fails to make use of a day, an hour, or even a moment, in pursuit of his mission, he not only fails to achieve his fullest spiritual potential, but more importantly, he has failed — during those moments — to accomplish his entrusted task.

R. Yochanan ben Zakkai spent every moment of his life totally immersed in his mission, so much so that he simply did not have time to pause and contemplate his own spiritual level. It was only at the conclusion of his mission — just prior to his demise — that he was able to ponder his own status.

The importance of absolute dedication to one’s mission is also alluded to in the Torah portion of Mishpatim , wherein Scripture states:3 “You will serve G-d… No woman will miscarry or remain childless in your land; I will make you live out full lives.”

In spiritual terms, the above verses mean that4 when performed with proper intent, Divine service leads to ever greater spiritual heights — it “bears children.” When, however, a person is self-satisfied in his service, it fails to produce the desired results — he “miscarries” and is spiritually “barren.”

One can guard against this by “living out a full life.” I.e., a person should realize that he is granted a specific number of years. Every moment wasted on something other than his appointed task constitutes an act of rebellion against G-d, who entrusted him with his sacred mission.

When a person realizes this, he will gladly sacrifice all sense of ego, and concentrate solely on completing his assignment. Eventually he will become so absorbed that he will even forget that it is he who is fulfilling it; the mission in general and the task at hand will fill his mind completely.

When someone else inquires about such a Jew’s spiritual state, he will respond: “How can I possibly think about myself when I have been granted only a limited number of days in which to fulfill my purpose in life? I must constantly be on guard to assure that not one precious moment is lost; I simply do not have time to think about my spiritual achievements!”

When a Jew attains this level of self-abnegation, G-d blesses him with “a full life”; even if there were days in which he did not fulfill his mission, or worse yet, acted in a counterproductive manner, G-d promises him that the missing days will be made up. Ultimately, all his days become whole.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVI pp. 271-274

A Tale of Two Portions

At the conclusion of Mishpatim — after almost an entire Torah portion that addresses matters not directly related to Mattan Torah , the giving of the Torah — Moshe is told: “Go up to G-d.”5 Rashi explains6 that this took place on the fourth of Sivan, prior to Mattan Torah.

Most of the preparations for Mattan Torah are described at length in the portion of Yisro. The fact that additional details are provided in Mishpatim indicates that a purpose must be served by describing Mattan Torah in two portions. What is that purpose?

Mattan Torah accomplished two things: a) G-d gave the Torah — its commandments and laws — to the Jewish people; b) G-d thereby entered into a “covenant of observance” with the Jews — “And you shall keep My covenant.”7 Jews thus became His servants, as the verse states:8 “You shall serve the L-rd upon this mountain,” and as Rashi notes,9 the Jewish people then became subjugated to G-d.

Herein lies the difference regarding the preparations for Mattan Torah as described in Yisro and the preparations described in Mishpatim :

Yisro deals mainly with G-d’s giving of the Ten Commandments. That is why the tale of the Jewish people’s preparation as related in Yisro deals with the commands that G-d gave them to prepare for Mattan Torah.

Mishpatim , however, deals with the covenant and servitude to G-d that resulted from Mattan Torah. This came about through the events described in this portion,10 namely, the Jewish people’s acceptance of the Torah by prefacing “We shall do” to “We shall hear” and writing the “Book of the Covenant.”

There is an even more profound reason for the details relating to Mattan Torah to be given in two separate portions:

The Midrash notes11 that at the time of Mattan Torah , two things were accomplished: “Those Above descended below” — “G-d descended on Mt. Sinai,”12 ; and “Those below ascended Above” — “And to Moshe He said: ‘Ascend to G-d.’ ”13 Man ascended to G-dliness.

The first portion speaks mainly about Mattan Torah from the perspective of those “Above”— “G-d descended,” “And G-d spoke.” Mishpatim, however, addresses the event from the perspective of those “below” — “Ascend to G-d,” “We shall do and we shall hear,” etc.

The difference between these two aspects of Mattan Torah is this: The tremendous degree of Divine revelation that descended from Above at the time of Mattan Torah was temporary; the ascent of the Jewish people, however, — becoming G-d’s servants and thereby becoming spiritually elevated — was permanent.

The reason why the second aspect of Mattan Torah endured was because it came about as a result of man’s own service. It therefore became permanently embedded within the Jewish people’s psyche.

Accordingly, we are able to understand why the command of building the Tabernacle — mentioned in the next portion of Terumah — follows the second aspect of Mattan Torah. For the special quality of Divine revelation that resulted from the construction of the Mishkan mirrored the service of man:14

The revelation of G-dliness within the Mishkan came about through the accomplishment of the Jewish people — “You shall make for Me a Mishkan.”15 Just as the Jewish people’s service at Mattan Torah resulted in their permanent spiritual elevation, so did the Divine revelation that resulted from the making of the Mishkan permanently sanctify its physical structure.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XXVI, pp. 153-159.

The Jewish Indentured Servant

The Torah portion Mishpatim immediately follows Yisro , the section that describes G-d’s giving of the Torah, which took place shortly after the Exodus and the crossing of the Sea of Reeds. It follows that G-d would relate in Mishpatim the commands that were most germane to the Jewish people at that time.

In fulfillment of His promise to Avraham that the Jews would leave Egypt with great wealth,16 G-d saw to it that the former slaves left that country laden with gold and silver.17 Then, at the crossing of the sea, the Jews received even more booty;18 each and every Jew was rich.

Nevertheless, Mishpatim begins19 with the laws of an indentured servant — a Jew whose impoverished state obliges him to sell himself into servitude,20 or one who lacks the means to make restitution for a theft and is therefore sold into slavery by the court.21

Why does the portion begin with these laws when all Jews were then wealthy?

The indentured slave was to serve for only six years, or until the Sabbatical year, at which time he was to be freed. But “If the servant declares, ‘I love my master… I do not want to go free’… his master shall pierce his ear with an awl and the servant shall serve until the Jubilee Year.”22

Our Sages comment:23 “Why was the ear chosen for piercing rather than another organ? Because it was the ear that heard on Mt. Sinai, ‘For unto Me are the Children of Israel servants, they are My servants,’24 yet it threw off the heavenly yoke and replaced it with the yoke of man, so the verse says: ‘let the ear be pierced, for it did not comply with what it heard.’ ”

With other commandments, we do not find any stress put on the connection between the reward for observance and the manner of that observance. For example, honoring one’s parents is rewarded with longevity.25 There is no obvious connection between the reward and the fulfillment of that command.

The same is true with regard to the punishments for sin — lashes, excision and the like. The nature of the punishments has no obvious connection to the sins which beget them.

With regard to the indentured servant, however, our Sages clearly indicate how the punishment is in keeping with the crime — the ear heard from Mt. Sinai and did not comply, therefore it is pierced.

The reason why the portion which follows the giving of the Torah describes the law of the indentured servant is thus readily understandable, for the punishment of piercing the ear is directly connected to what the ear heard on Sinai.

The connection becomes even more apparent in light of the fact that the entire purpose of giving the Torah was to purify and elevate the physical world through the performance of mitzvos. Therefore, the first commandment in Mishpatim clearly demonstrates how Torah affects the physical world.

This is particularly true according to the Chassidic explanation of the phrase “Jewish indentured servant,” viz., one who transforms “servitude” to his animal soul and physical desires into “Jewish” spiritual service.

Such a transformation demonstrates the effect of Torah in this world — to so change one’s animalistic tendencies and the world at large that they are able to enter the domain of holiness.

Practiced by every Jew in every walk of life, such transformations will become so widespread that the individual and everything related to him will become a veritable dwelling for G-d.

Based on Likkutei Sichos Vol. XVI, pp. 251-257.

1. Berachos 28b.
2. See Zohar I 224a.
3. Shmos 23:25-26.
4. See discourses titled Lo Si’hyeh Mishakeilah in Torah Or, Toras Chayim and Or HaTorah.
5. Shmos 24:1.
6. Commentary of Rashi ibid.
7. Ibid. 19:3.
8. Ibid. 3:12.
9. Ibid. 20:2.
10. Ibid. 24:3ff.
11. Shmos Rabbah 12:3; Tanchuma, Va’eira 15.
12. Shmos 19:20.
13. Ibid. 24:1.
14. See Likkutei Sichos XXI p. 150ff.
15. Shmos 25:8.
16. Bereishis 15:14.
17. See Shmos 12:35-36.
18. See Rashi ibid. 15:22.
19. Shmos 21:2.
20. See Vayikra 25:39.
21. See Shmos 22:2.
22. Ibid. 21:5-6.
23. Tosefta, Bava Kama Ch. 6.
24. Vayikra 25:55.
25. Shmos 20:12.



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