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לימוד תורה

The Third Being and human social existence

The Parasha in our everyday life – Parashat Mishpatim 5783

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Head of the Hesder Yeshiva 'Meir Harel' Modiin

The political and business public discourse in the postmodern era has become a purposeful and narrative discourse, and sometimes also cynical and uninhibited. The various bodies often use powerful public relations and opinion shaping tools, as well as lobbyists who try to influence decision makers to promote their interests and agenda. A lot of money is invested also. Sometimes they are direct and open in their advertising campaign, on billboards and in the media. And sometimes in a sophisticated and hidden way. Sometimes they use means to influence public opinion: with 'commissioned studies' and financed on their behalf by 'professionals' - 'experts in the field' (for which they themselves sometimes receive bonuses) to support their position, 'surveys' and 'petitions' to show that the public supports their position, or celebrities and network influencers who support them. Spreading news, which are spins designed to generate discourse and test reactions, (fake news), to promote their agenda and interests.

The problem is, we have come to accept the situation, that too many times, the speakers, the campaigns and all the other means are not telling the truth! The narrative goal sanctifies the means, the achievement of the goal justifies the dissemination of half-truths and even outright lies. It is enough for the 'spokesman' who represents whoever pays his salary, to speak eloquently and with self-confidence, to demonstrate that his words are true and right. Even if he is not sure that he is telling the truth, and certainly when he knows that he is spreading lies with determination, everything is to achieve the goal.

A large part of the public, aware of the situation, lost trust and became suspicious. Suspiciously examining every 'news' and every 'research' being published, who was the interested party, who financed it, cross-checking information, as if they were trained intelligence officers. But there are some who don't. Those who accept the information innocently, that these measures will affect them. There are still enough of them, otherwise so much money wouldn't have been invested in them. At one point or another they will probably become wise too.

Beyond the moral destruction involved in this, the social damage caused to humanity from it is enormous. One of the foundations of social human existence is the 'trust' between a person and his fellow man. The 'trust' creates the power of collective 'togetherness'. Human society weakens if there is no 'trust' and everyone suspects his friend is lying, or only his own interests matter and tries to 'take' for himself what he can.

The Torah teaches us that within the social component there must also be a religious component, which will give effect to the mutual moral obligation.

In the previous Parasha we read the Ten Commandments. Some are Mitzvot that are "Bein Adam la-Makom" (Commandments dealing with one’s relationship with G-d), some are "Bein Adam Le-Chavero" (Ethics of Interpersonal Conduct) and some are both. But in reality, all of them are both! Without the dimension of Bein Adam la-Makom in the interpersonal Mitzvot, there might be distortions, and there may be challenges that they will not be able to meet. Especially when others cannot tell if they are true or false. If there is no 'fear of G-d' in the interpersonal relationships, sometimes the moral barrier against not telling the truth is not enough. Especially when the lie serves an important personal interest or great financial gain.

Parashat Mishpatim is an extension of the interpersonal Mitzvot, such as "You shall not covet” (Ramban Shemot 21:1) or this other example

עַֽל־כׇּל־דְּבַר־פֶּ֡שַׁע עַל־שׁ֡וֹר עַל־חֲ֠מ֠וֹר עַל־שֶׂ֨ה עַל־שַׂלְמָ֜ה עַל־כׇּל־אֲבֵדָ֗ה אֲשֶׁ֤ר יֹאמַר֙ כִּי־ה֣וּא זֶ֔ה…

In all charges of misappropriation—pertaining to an ox, an ass, a sheep, a garment, or any other loss, whereof one party alleges, “This is it…” (Shemot 22:8)

ישלם שנים לרעהו. לִמֶּדְךָ הַכָּתוּב, שֶׁהַטּוֹעֵן בְּפִקָּדוֹן לוֹמַר נִגְנַב הֵימֶנּוּ, וְנִמְצָא שֶׁהוּא עַצְמוֹ גְּנָבוֹ, מְשַׁלֵּם תַּשְׁלוּמֵי כֶּפֶל

Scripture teaches you that in a case of a bailment where one pleads that it has been stolen from him and it is proved that he himself has stolen it he is liable to pay “kefel” (twice the value of the article) to the owner”. (Rashi ibid).

In the parallel in Vayikra, it is said that a guard who lies and denies the deposit he received is considered to be trespassing against Hashem:

נֶ֚פֶשׁ כִּ֣י תֶחֱטָ֔א וּמָעֲלָ֥ה מַ֖עַל בַּה' וְכִחֵ֨שׁ בַּעֲמִית֜וֹ...

“When a person sins and commits a trespass against Hashem—by dealing deceitfully with another in the matter of a deposit or a pledge, or through robbery, or by defrauding another” (Vayikra 5:21)

מַה תַּ"ל וּמָעֲלָה מַעַל בַּה'? לְפִי שֶׁכָּל הַמַּלְוֶה וְהַלֹּוֶה וְהַנּוֹשֵֹׁא וְהַנּוֹתֵן אֵינוֹ עוֹשֶׂה אֶלָּא בְּעֵדִים וּבִשְׁטָר, לְפִיכָךְ בִּזְמַן שֶׁהוּא מְכַחֵשׁ, מְכַחֵשׁ בָּעֵדִים וּבַשְּׁטָר, אֲבָל הַמַּפְקִיד אֵצֶל חֲבֵרוֹ אֵינוֹ רוֹצֶה שֶׁתֵּדַע בּוֹ נְשָׁמָה אֶלָּא שְׁלִישִׁי שֶׁבֵּינֵיהֶם, לְפִיכָךְ כְּשֶׁהוּא מְכַחֵשׁ מְכַחֵשׁ בַּשְּׁלִישִׁי שֶׁבֵּינֵיהֶם

“If a soul sin -and commit faithlessness against Hashem— R. Akiva said, What is the force of ‎‎‎מעל בה׳‎‎ ומעלה here, where it does not speak of betraying “holy things of Hashem” but of betraying one’s neighbor? Because whoever lends or borrows money or does business with another, does it as a rule only in the presence of witnesses or by a document, therefore when he repudiates the matter, he repudiates the witnesses or the document; but he who deposits something with his neighbor does not wish any living soul to know about it except the Third Being (G-d) who is between them; therefore when he repudiates the deposit, he is repudiating the Third Being who is between them” (Rashi ibid)

שלישי שביניהם. פירוש הקב"ה שהוא השלישי שביניהם

The Third between them. Meaning: Hashem, who is the Third between them”. (Siftei Chachamim ibid)

The awareness of the 'Third Being', G-d who sees and examines, is a guarantee of loyalty to the truth, of the individual and of the public, and is the guarantee for the continuation of human social existence.

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