Food For the Soul
The 4 Guardians
Immediately after the great revelation at Sinai, the Torah proceeds to teach the civil laws that govern the interactions between people in day-to-day life. One of the topics discussed in this week’s Parsha (Mishpatim) is the laws of the guardian who agreed to watch another’s item. The Torah introduces four categories of guardians, who have different levels of liability if anything happens to the item. The degree of liability is determined by the division of benefit derived by the owner of the object and the guardian.
The first category is the “unpaid guardian.” Since he receives no benefit from watching the item, he is not liable if the object is lost or stolen (unless he was negligent).
The next two categories of guardians are the “paid guardian” and the “renter.” Both receive some benefit (either payment for guarding the object or the right to use the object) but give as well (either the guardianship of the object, or the money paid for the right to use it), and therefore they have some liability. They are obligated to pay in a case where the object was lost or stolen, yet not if the object was destroyed by an event that was completely out of their control.
The fourth guardian is the “borrower,” who receives all the benefit, as he uses the object without paying for it, and his liability is therefore the greatest. The borrower is liable to pay even if the object was destroyed by an event outside the borrower’s control.
The monetary laws of the Torah are more than just utilitarian laws that allow for a functioning society. Just as with all other parts of the Torah, the monetary laws contain deep psychological and spiritual truths. Thus, the laws of the four guardians also represent four states of mind in our relationship with G‑d, our soul and the purpose of creation.
From an article by Rabbi Menachem Feldman
Who do you serve?
Shabbat is a day of rest. A shallow interpretation of Shabbat suggests that its purpose is to reward its observer with a day of relaxation and rejuvenation. Yet the Mishnah teaches that we mustn’t serve G‑d for the purpose of reward; we must serve altruistically; because it is His wish. While it is certainly better to do the mitzvahs with reward in mind than not to do them at all, Jewish thinkers through the ages have labeled observance for the purpose of reward a form of idolatry. Not all idolatry implies that the deity of one’s worship is the only true G‑d. Worshiping anything other than G‑d constitutes idolatry even if the worshiper subscribes to a belief in G‑d.
From an article by Rabbi Lazer Gurkow
Mind Over Matter
We think of happiness as all the outer trappings of smiley faces and the “having-a-good-time” look. But what we saw on the Rebbe was an inner joy -the sort of joy you feel when a sudden, brilliant light bulb flashes inside -except continual and constant. Not a joy that dissipates and burns itself out, but a tightly contained joy of endless optimism, power and life, waiting the special moment when it would burst forth like an unexpected tsunami, sweeping up every soul in its path. The Rebbe once confided that he himself was by nature a somber and introspective person. With hard work, he said, he was able to affect his spirit to be full of joy.
From an article by Rabbi Tzvi Freeman
“Six years,” an allusion to the 6000 years of the world’s normative existence, “he shall work”. That is, during this period, in the present time of this existence, there is the opportunity of serving G‑d with Torah and mitzvot. By virtue of this service:
“In the seventh year,” i.e., in the seventh millenium, “he shall go free…”-we shall be released and be free of all the obstacles and hindrances that presently are dominant in the world, and we shall merit the sublime manifestations of the Messianic future.
By Rabbi J. Immanuel Schochet
Have I Got A Story
Rabbi Israel Baal Shem Tov (1698-1760) lived in a time of conflict between body and soul. The “boors” were actually intelligent and sensitive folk, but largely uneducated. Poverty and persecution conspired to cut their schooling short and consign them to the workroom or field from dawn to dark. They were a dejected lot, for it was commonly accepted that a life preoccupied with material concerns was not a life worth living.
The ascetics were the community elite: men who spent their days and nights studying the Talmud and poring over kabbalistic texts. They fasted frequently, shunned bodily pleasures and forswore all involvement in worldly matters, for it was commonly perceived that the body was the enemy of the soul.
The soul would gladly have rid itself of the unsavory animal with which it had been forcefully joined. But it had a problem. To serve G‑d properly, the soul needed to perform “mitzvot” — divine commandments. And it needed the body to perform the mitzvot. The body, however, was a coarse and obstinate beast, and preferred munching cake and pickles to carrying the soul’s load.
So body and soul remained trapped in a marriage of mutual dependence, animosity and disdain. The ascetics tried starving and beating their body into submission, and increasing its load in the hope that it would finally get the message. The simple folk just plodded along. The soul’s load was too much for a body to bear on its own, and many a body collapsed at the roadside.
Then came the Baal Shem Tov and said: “Don’t beat your animal. Don’t overload him and don’t abandon him. Help him.”
“Help him?” asked the dejected masses.
“Help the beast?” asked the holy ascetics.
“Help the beast,” taught the chassidic master. “The problem is that the body is carrying the soul’s load. But G‑d’s mitzvot are for the body as well as the soul; it is the body’s merchandise as much as it is the soul’s! The mitzvot refine the body, uplift it, give meaning to its existence. A mitvah is a bilateral deed, performed by the person — by a soul and body joined together and acting in unison. The soul climbs its spiritual heights — and connects with G‑d; the body bores down to the essence of its being — and connects with G‑d. “When the soul regards the body as an ally rather than an enemy; when the soul nourishes and inspires the body rather than beats on it; when the body senses that the mitzvot are its own load and not just the soul’s — its animal strength will cease to resist the load and will harness its power to carry it.”
The Baal Shem Tov would cite the following passage from the Torah:
When you see the donkey of your enemy collapsing under its load, and are inclined to desist from helping him, you shall surely help along with him (Exodus 23:5). This passage is from the Torah reading of Mishpatim, which set down many of the laws that govern the proper civil and charitable behavior between individuals. The basic meaning of the verse pertains to a person who sees an overloaded donkey collapsing by the roadside and thinks of ignoring the scene since he never liked the donkey’s owner anyway. To him the Torah says: though it is the donkey of your enemy, you must help him. But like everything in Torah, there is a deeper meaning as well — a meaning pertaining to our inner life. And this is how the Baal Shem Tov interpreted the verse:
“When you see the donkey…” — When you look at your body [the Hebrew word for donkey, chamor, also means “clay” (chaimor) and “materiality” (chomer)] and you perceive it as, “your enemy” — since your soul longs for G‑dliness and spirituality, and you body hinders and obstructs its strivings, “collapsing under its load” — the Torah and the mitzvot, which, in truth are its — the body’s own — load as well, given to it by G‑d to refine and elevate it; but the body does not recognize this, and balks at the burden. When you see all this, it may occur to you, “to desist from helping him” — you may think to choose the path of mortification of the flesh to break down the body’s crass materiality. However, not in this approach will the light of Torah reside. Rather, “you shall surely help along with him” — nourish the body, inspire it, refine it and elevate it, so that body and soul complement, fulfill and aid each other to carry their merchandise to the marketplace.
By Rabbi Yanki Tauber based on the teachings of The Rebbe.