The first mishpat that the Torah talks about after Matan Torah is that of עבד עברי. Wouldn’t you say that it is quite amazing that עבד עברי is gematriah משיח . But what does this cryptic revelation mean and what impact should it have on our lives? Let us try to make sense of the message it is sending to us.
Another fascinating thought is found in the Chidah. On the mitzvah of עבד עבדי, he writes that the word כי תקנה עבד עברי also contains a cryptic message which is in the תקנה that by adding the first two letters תק it equals 500 equivalent to the value of the final letter ך. For even though the ת which is the last letter of the Aleph Beis equaling 400, the five final letters of מ נ צ פ ך continue to represent higher numbers where the ת left off. Therefore we have ך equaling 500,ם 600,ן 700 ף 800 and ץ 900. With this understanding, the word תקנה in the second passuk comes out in substitute form to the letter ך.
These three letters הנך originally in תקנה send us a code which is unique only to these three letters of the Aleph Beis. That Medrashic code is that these three letters are not paired with any other letter. In the ones, 1-10, each letter is paired with another in order to attain 10 which is the number of shelaimus of the single digits, since 10 makes a closure in this unit as it returns to number 1 with an added 0. The paired digits look like this:אט בח גז וד however the letter ה remains by itself together with itself to arrive at the sum of 10. So too in the units of tens from 10-100 the letters are paired off as follows יצ כפ לע מס and נ stands with itself to add up to 100. Now the last section is from 100-1000. The pairs are as follows קץ רף שן תם but the letter ך remains with itself 500×2=1000. Hence we have three letters that are unique with the characteristic of staying within itself and do not have to come on to outside numbers which give it its shlaimus.
Very nice, but what does this have to do with עבד עברי the first example of mishpat? The truth is that the mishpatim of the Torah are incomparable to the secular laws that are set up and formulated by the nations. The purpose of their laws is to protect society from becoming the Wild West which was void of Law and Order. This parallels the Medrash that says after creating Man Hashem took him on a tour in Gan Eden and said to him “Look at my beautiful and symmetrical world. Make sure you don’t ruin its harmony”. This is the purpose of the Seven Mitzvos Bnei Noach, seven refers to the seven days in which Hashem created the nature of the world. All that Hashem wants from all the gentile nations is just to keep the status quo and not to ruin the balance of nature through selfishness, lust, greed, jealousy, and transgression. This purpose is in contrast to the Torah which by the fulfillment of each mitzvah it transforms one into a greater spiritual being bringing one closer to Hashem by sanctifying your 248 limbs and 365 sinews.
Another way in which the mishpatim bring one nearer to Hashem is by the realization of Hashem’s Hashgacha in the mishpatim. For example, עין תחת עין an eye for an eye, etc. Even though in actuality one doesn’t receive the punishment of losing his eye, but the statement declares that the punishment for blinding someone should have been reciprocated מדה כנגד מדה. It is by this procedure of midah keneged midah one can see the hand of Hashem in his tikkun and not merely think that what befalls him is just a coincidence but rather a קהincidence. It is this midah keneged midah against Mitzrayim that inspired Yisro to come to the desert and to be megayair as the Sforno elaborates (Shmos 18,11)
כי בדבר אשר זדו עליהם. כי הציל את העם באותו הדבר עצמו אשר זדו המצרים עליהם של ישראל, כמו כי יזיד איש על רעהו. וזה היה שהרג בכוריהם כמו שהרגו המצרים כל הבן הילוד לישראל, והטביעם בים כדרך שהטביעו הם הבנים ביאור, והרג את הבכורות כנגד בני בכורי ישראל ותמאן לשלחו והקשה את לבם אחרי שלא שמעו ברצונם. ובזה הורה גדולתו על כל האלהים כי לא חשבה שום אומה שיוכל שום אל מאלהיהם שרי מעלה לשלם מדה כנגד מדה בכל דבר, אבל חשבו שיוכל בדבר אחד מיוחד לו בלבד:
Only Hashem can constantly punish midah keneged midah down to so many details.
Hashem’s intervention in the mishpatim can be seen also from the passuk (Shmos 21,13) והאלקים אנה לידו as Rashi explains that Hashem made it happen that a person accidentally fell off a roof and killed a person with his fall. Without our knowing, the person who just killed accidentally had a past history of killing before accidentally but there were no witnesses to have been sent to a refuge city and remain there until the death of a Kohen Gadol. The person he fell upon and killed also had a past as a murderer without witnesses and therefore he was never put to death. Hashem convenes them both together and causes the person on top of the roof to fall and kill the one on the ground as witnesses were watching. Each one got exactly the punishment they deserved. Without Torah and the realization of Hashem’s intervention to fulfill the judgments, one would look at the above scene as an unfortunate coincidence. However, when the laws and mishpatim come from Hashem, then it is called a קהincidence, whereupon Hashem intervenes to assure each one receives his exact tikkun.
This that Hashem is both the righteous judge and punisher behind the scenes is demonstrated in the famous story of the weasel the pit and the young couple, brought in Taanis 8, Rashi and Tosfos. A young girl got lost and at midday she was so thirsty that when she saw a well with a rope tied to it she lowered herself inside the well to quench her thirst. After drinking she could not get out and she began crying. A young man passed by and heard her crying and after speaking to her he gave his proposal that if he extricates her from the well that she would marry him. She agreed and he drew her up. They proposed to each other and agreed that there are two witnesses to their agreement, the well and a weasel that was walking past them at that time. They said their goodbyes and made up to remain loyal to each other until they meet again and get married. The girl did not forget, however, the young man got married and had a child. The child suddenly passed away in a freak accident by being bitten by a weasel. His wife bore a second child when another unnatural accident happened that he fell into a well and died. His wife demanded an explanation of these strange deaths and he put two and two together and told his wife the story of that day he saved the girl at the bottom of the well and of their commitments of marriage to each other in front of the two witnesses the well and the weasel. His wife said that he must return to his basherter for this is what Hashem is telling you to do. He went to his committed partner who all this time remained loyal to him and they got married, had children and were successful. Hashem behind the scenes brings out the mishpat if man fails to do so himself.
Now we can understand the cryptic messages that the Torah alludes to in Eved Ivri the first of the Mishpatim and which applies throughout the parsha. The Chidah on the word תקנה writes that the letters of כהן are letters that show exclusive uniqueness and singularity. We can interpret this to mean that the mishpatim of the Torah possess the exclusive character in that they come in the form of a tikkun to the person and not as a punishment, act of revenge or pay the loss of the damage. This concept is even hinted in the word תקנה which does only mean to buy but also to bring to its tikkun. That is why the parsha of Mishpatim is juxtaposed with the building of the mizbaiach in the previous parsha. For just as the mizbaich is an atonement and tikkun for one’s sin enabling one to come closer to Hashem, so too with all the mishpatim in the parsha – they are there for the purpose of tikkun adam and his elevation.
Being sold as an Eved Ivri is a tikkun that comes via the midah keneged midah a journey with which one can experience the Hashem Factor involved in his rectification. This is the fulfillment of the words הפושט יד לקבל תשובה. Hashem made this transgressor of Shemitta (Kiddushin 20) lose his money in order to be sold as a slave removing him from his own ownership just as he removed Hashem from His ownership of the land כי לי כל הארץ. This realization of Hashem’s intervention will help the sinner to do teshuvah and bring himself to his tikkun. And if the scenario of the Eved Ivri is that Bais Din sold him because he stole and did not have the money repay back, his rectification also comes through midah keneged midah which is that since he didn’t accept that one has ownership of what belongs to him, so he is punished that what he owns which is himself is taken away from him.
Being sold as an Eved Ivri demonstrates Hashem’s intervention in this mishpat. It is quite peculiar that the Torah uses the term עברי instead of Yisrael. Avraham was called Ivri (Bereishis 14,13) Yosef was called Ivri (ibid 39,17) and Yisrael were called Ivrim (Shmos 1,15) but after Matan Torah we are called ישראל? The Be’air Moshe explains that a person who becomes a slave to somebody else is on such a low level that his master can force him to have children from a שפחה כנענית a gentile whose children will be goyim! This Yid is called עבד as if he was in the low level of being a slave in Mitzrayim. Yet even at such a valley of spirituality, Hashem nevertheless commands (Vayikra 25,43) לא תרדה בו בפרך don’t work him too hard. As Chazal say if there is only one pillow the master must give it to the Eved. On one hand, he is the lowest of the low yet, on the other hand, Hashem intervenes in his predicament and lightens what would have been a very heavy load for him to bear.
When Moshiach will come we will then see and understand then that the Hashgacha of Hashem was together with us all the time and how He intervened in our lives to fulfill the mishpatim and bring tikkun in ways that we did not realize as it was happening. Eved Ivri is the first example of such a future revelation of the way Hashem intervenes in His mishpatim of the Torah. What we didn’t see now we will understand at the times of Moshiach that כי אתה עמדי.
The passuk says ואתם תהיו לי ממלכת כהנים and you will be for me a kingdom of Koahanim. A king represents judgment as it is written (Mishlei 29,4) מלך במשפט יעמיד ארץ . The meaning of ממלכת כהנים, therefore, is judgments that are like the letters of כהן, unique and one of a kind. Our passuk says that these Mishpatim of the Torah אשר תשים לפניהם. Every other set of laws were made up by Man. Only the Torah laws were composed even before Man was created as Chazal say אסתכל באורייתא וברא עלמא that the Torah was the blueprints of the world. The uniqueness of the Mishpatim of Torah is that they existed as truths before Man existed. That is why they also have the intervention of Hashem to help fulfill the mishpatim.
ומי גוי גדול אשר לו חקים ומשפטים צדיקם ככל התורה הזאת (דברים ד ח).
We can now interpret this to mean that Hashem gives us mishpatim to make us into tzadikkim by bringing us heavenly intervention so we can reach our tikkun.