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Welcome to Our Shabbos Table

Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Mishpatim
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Click here for last year's divrei torah on parshas Mishpatim

Welcome to our Shabbos Table!
We hope you enjoy this selection of short divrei Torah, presented to family and guests at our Shabbos table as a springboard for discussion. Each one is followed by a question. The responses shared at our table are enlightening, entertaining, and always thought-provoking.
Please share them at your own Shabbos table, and send us your most interesting responses. A selection of the best will be posted on the website, and eventually, included in a book. To respond, email us at responses@ourtable.org.

Parshas Mishpatim/ The Sin of Complacency

“If you purchase a Hebrew slave, he shall work six years, and in the seventh he shall go free.… But if the slave says, ‘…I will not go free,’ … his master shall bore his ear with an awl, and he shall serve him forever” (Shemos 21:2, 5–6).

Among the many laws in this week’s parshah is that of the Hebrew indentured servant, who is sold into slavery for six years. If at the end of that period he chooses to remain with his master, his ear is pierced and he remains in servitude “forever,” i.e., until the Jubilee year (Rashi ad loc.).

Our Sages explain the appropriateness of the slave’s punishment: “[One whose] ear heard at Sinai, ‘Bnei Yisrael are servants unto Me’ (Vayikra 25:55), and then acquired a master, that ear shall be pierced!” (Rashi).

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter notes that the piercing ritual was unpleasant for the master as well. So why was he also “punished” this way? After all, he was such a nice guy that his slave wanted to stay with him!

Stunted Growth

Rabbi Salanter answers that the master erred in fostering an environment that legitimizes servitude. Had this slaveowner not made his servant so comfortable, the latter would have learned that man is not to serve a human master, and he would not even have considered extending his stay.

No Jew should be happy as a slave, living with a maidservant, fathering children who are his master’s property, and subjugating himself to another person. Sure, the master provides the slave with room and board, but there’s no growth or elevation, only complacency. Therefore, the master who is guilty of creating such an environment is subjected to the trauma of piercing the ear. (Rabbi Yissocher Frand, Parshas Mishpatim, “The Sin of the Slave Owner”)

Of Cows and Lobsters

Rabbi Dr. Abraham Twerski recalls a commercial promoting “milk from contented cows,” i.e., cattle that go out to pasture in the morning, find plenty of grass, eat all day, then come home at night. Cows, writes Rabbi Twerski, are supposed to be content. People aren’t.

Human beings are supposed to struggle, grappling with questions like “Am I doing what I was created to do? Am I accomplishing anything?”

Rabbi Twerski points out that, as a lobster grows, its rigid shell becomes very confining. So it sheds its shell and produces a larger, more spacious one. But as the lobster keeps growing, this shell too becomes oppressive. So the lobster repeats the process. And so it goes, until the lobster reaches full size.

It’s the discomfort that causes the lobster to shed its shell,allowing itself to grow. Just think if this creature had access to a doctor! It would complain of discomfort and get a pill to relieve it. With the discomfort gone, the lobster would never grow!

Medical science has produced a variety of pain relievers. But should every discomfort be eliminated? Distress may signal a need to change and improve. Yes, some conditions require medication, but our culture has become intolerant of all discomfort, ignoring the signs that it’s time to grow.

Question for Discussion:

It is often tempting to take the easy way out of a difficult situation or wriggle out of a tough decision. When did you find yourself in such a predicament, and what did you do?

Responses:

The following story is about a courageous soldier who didn’t take the easy way out and single-handedly saved the lives of an estimated 200 Jewish soldiers:

Master Sgt. Roddie Edmonds shipped out of the United States in December 1944 with the 106th Infantry Division, arriving in Germany just in time to become a prisoner of war. Days earlier, Germany had launched the Battle of the Bulge. He and his men stood little chance.

On Christmas Day, they arrived at Stalag IX-B, a POW camp. Thirty days later, Edmonds and his fellow noncommissioned officers were moved to Stalag IX-A with 1,275 other soldiers. As a master sergeant, he was the senior officer.

On the prisoners’ first day at the camp, the German intercom system in the American barracks crackled to life. Only the Jewish POWs were to fall out after morning roll call.

“We’re not going to do that,” Edmonds told his men, as some of them still remember seventy years later. “The Geneva Convention affords only name, rank, and serial number, so that’s what we’re going to do. All of us are falling out.”

The next morning, all 1,275 soldiers stood at attention outside their barracks. The camp commander was furious, storming up to Edmonds and shouting, “All of you can’t be Jewish!”

“We are all Jews here,” Edmonds responded.

The commander pulled out his gun and pressed it into Edmonds’ forehead: “You will have your Jewish men step forward, or I will shoot you on the spot!”

Edmonds’ reply: “If you shoot, you’ll have to kill all of us, and you’ll have to stand trial for war crimes after we win this war.”

The major turned red, furious that a POW was challenging him, but he put his gun in his holster and walked away.

The men went back to their barracks and cheered Edmonds.

Story Never Told

Edmonds would never have called himself a hero, his son says, and he never shared the story with his family.

But in 2009, Chris Edmonds Googled his father, which led him to former soldier Lester Tanner, who told him about the incident.

Edmonds used his father’s war diary to find other men who corroborated the story. He then submitted a file to his congressman to see if his father was eligible for a posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor.

Unbeknownst to Edmonds, a friend submitted part of the file to Yad Vashem. The museum promptly added Roddie Edmonds to its list of Righteous Among the Nations, who saved Jews during the Holocaust. He was the first American soldier so honored.

To this day, Chris Edmonds isn’t sure why his father never shared the story.

“He was a humble man. He didn’t go around bragging. I think he thought it was part of his responsibility, his duty … to do the right thing for his fellow man.”

Josh writes:

During my first year of dental school, an exam was scheduled for the first day of Sukkot. Anyone who missed it could make it up, but the makeup test was known to be extremely difficult. The observant Jewish students asked the professor to make an exception for them, but he said he couldn’t. Nonetheless, he decided to let us take the exam orally, with a proctor recording our responses, so we wouldn’t have to write on Yom Tov.

My friends chose to take the exam on Sukkot, lest they fail the makeup test. I was tempted to join them. However, after giving it some thought, I decided to take my chances, even if it meant failing a critical exam.

Baruch Hashem, to my surprise, the makeup test was one of the easist exams I’ve ever taken.

Yedidyah:

When my grandma turned one hundred, I agreed to fly home from Israel for the party. I’d been in yeshivah four months, so I knew that certain topics were now off limits, as were hugging and kissing relatives, but I wasn’t sure what was permissible. I wanted to do the right thing, but I was torn between my family and my Judaism.

Then my father informed me that the party was to be on Shabbat and in a non-kosher restaurant!

I told him I couldn’t attend – as my rabbis advised – and if I did, I certainly couldn’t eat.

We got into a big fight. My dad and I didn’t speak for almost a month, and he ignored my e-mails. This on top of his having spent a fortune on my MBA, only to hear me tell him near graduation that instead of looking for work, I was going to yeshivah!”

A couple of days before the party, I phoned my mom and said I’d come home, and after Shabbat I’d stop by Grandma’s to wish her happy birthday and say hi to all the other relatives who’d flown in. My father agreed to this compromise.

During the visit I sorted everything out and made up with my dad, who was just glad to see me, as we’d never gone that long without speaking.