Halacha for Friday 26 Shevat 5782 January 28 2022

Parashat Mishpatim - Reward and Punishment Isn’t Based Simply on the Act Itself but the Way the Act is Done Too. We Should Always Try to Prevail Upon Difficult Circumstances and Perform Mitzvot With Joy

From HaGaon Rav Zevadia HaCohen Shlit”a, The Head of the Batei Din in Tel Aviv
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

This Shabbat we shall read the laws between man and his fellow. These include the Hebrew slave and maidservant, damage between two oxen and between oxen and people, and the laws of custodians and theft. In the laws of theft we see a discrepancy in the laws of payment. Whereas with general cases of theft a double payment is imposed, in contrast to this, when stealing animals, there are cases where 4 or even 5 times the value are paid. And so it states, “If a person steals an ox or sheep and then slaughters or sells it, he must repay 5 oxen for each ox, and 4 sheep for each sheep” (Shemot 21:37). In a case of the theft of oxen, where it was then sold or slaughtered, 5 times the value of the stolen item is paid, and if it was a sheep that he stole and sold or slaughtered it, then he is required to pay 4 times. What is the reason for this distinction and what is the difference between them?

Rashi z”l quotes Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai who explains the distinction and difference between them. Hashem took pity on people’s dignity. An ox walks on its own feet and as such, the thief doesn’t have to carry the animal on his shoulders, therefore he pays 5 times. However, a sheep, which he does carry on his shoulders he pays 4 times, because he endured a level of indignity in doing so. Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai’s words reveal a stunning principle, that the severity of the punishment is commensurate not just in relation to its transgression but also to the manner in which it was transgressed. Meaning that a sin that was easily committed with little effort and no indignity has a harsher punishment than a sin that required effort and endured indignity. Therefore when stealing an ox that walks on its own accord, when he doesn’t experience any indignity, he pays 5 times, but a sheep that he has to lift onto his shoulders and he has some indignity and effort, his payment is reduced to 4 times.

We see this principle also in the Chag of Purim. The Talmud Megillah [12a] asks why were the Jewish people punished so severely, “…to destroy, to slay and to exterminate all the Jews from young to old, children and women, in one day” [Esther 3:13]? The Talmud answers that because they benefited from Achashveirosh’s seudah. It is astonishing that because they ate Gentile [cooked] food they should be killed? However, if we carefully analyse this we see that it doesn’t say that “they ate” from Achashveirosh’s seudah but rather that “they benefited”. The punishment for this isn’t measured based on the act alone but it also considers the way in which it was performed. Therefore, since they didn’t just eat treif meat and Gentile [cooked] food but that they also “benefited” from this meal, then the weight of the sin’s severity is unquantifiable. Therefore the barometer for the retribution is much higher and therefore they were punished with the decree “to destroy, to slay and to exterminate”.

If this is so with a sin, then all the more so with a mitzvah that a person performs. There is a great distinction between a mitzvah that a person does easily, when he is experiencing tranquillity with no difficulty or indignity, or without effort, in contrast to a mitzvah that he persons with simchah even though it is difficult for him to do it so. Or if his environment is hostile to people who perform mitzvot, and despite this, he prevails against this and performs the mitzvah. Then the level of his reward is incomparably greater and he will merit to unique Divine assistance in all his actions, and about him it states, “His heart was elevated in the ways of Hashem (Divrei HaYamim 2, 17:6).

We should fulfil the Torah’s mitzvot with joy and enthusiasm in all circumstances and at all times to give pleasure to our Designer and to perform the will of our Creator, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom

Ask the Rabbi


8 Halachot Most Popular

The Prohibition of Threshing and Squeezing on Shabbat

We have explained several times that there are thirty-nine “primary works” that are prohibited on Shabbat. Every “primary work” is composed of “subdivisions” which are works similar to the “primary work”; these “subdivisions” also carry a T......

Read Halacha

Preparing Tea on Shabbat

In the previous Halacha, we have explained that one may squeeze a lemon Shabbat by hand, as opposed to using a utensil, for squeezing lemons does not share the same Halacha as squeezing other fruits on Shabbat. We have also mentioned that Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l writes that even thoug......

Read Halacha

Squeezing Lemons on Shabbat

In previous Halachot, we have explained that one may not squeeze a fruit on Shabbat if there are those who usually squeeze this kind of fruit for its juice. We also explained that one may indeed squeeze fruits by hand (as opposed to using a utensil to squeeze it, which is prohibited) onto a food, fo......

Read Halacha

Squeezing Oranges onto Fruit Salad on Shabbat

In the previous Halacha, we have explained that the Torah prohibits squeezing olives for their oil or grapes for wine on Shabbat. The squeezing of other fruits is not a Torah prohibition; rather our Sages enacted that one may not squeeze other fruits such as berries and pomegranates on Shabbat. We h......

Read Halacha


Reciting Birkat Hamazon While Walking on One’s Way

Question: If one is eating while walking outdoors, may one recite Birkat Hamazon while continuing to walk? Answer: In the previous Halacha we have discussed that our Sages have enacted that one must recite Birkat Hamazon while sitting in order for the individual to have maximum concentration. ......

Read Halacha

The Significance of Tu Bishvat

The Fifteenth of Shevat or Tu Bishvat is the Rosh Hashanah for trees (Rosh Hashanah 2a). Most people commonly think that just as on the First of Tishrei, which is the day of Rosh Hashanah, all creations are judged for life or death, for wealth or poverty, and the like, so too, on Tu Bishvat, trees a......

Read Halacha

Reciting Birkat Hamazon While Seated

Question: Is one obligated to sit while reciting Birkat Hamazon or is it permissible to recite it while walking as well? Answer: The Gemara in Masechet Berachot (51b) states that one must recite Birkat Hamazon while seated. The Poskim as well as Maran Ha’Shulchan Aruch (Chapter 183) rule li......

Read Halacha

A Dish Comprised of Several Kinds of Food

Question: What is the correct blessing on stuffed peppers? Similarly, what is the correct blessing on a cake which has just a little flour but the primary ingredients of the cake are fruits and nuts? Answer: In the previous Halacha we have explained that when one eats two different foods requirin......

Read Halacha