Torah thought forFriday 26 Shevat 5783 February 17 2023

Parashat Mishpatim

(From the teachings of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef ztvk”l)
(translated by our dear friend Rav Daniel Levy Shlit”a, Leeds UK)

The Tradesman Who Was Reincarnated

It states in the Parashah, “These are the laws that you must set before them [Am Yisrael]” (Shemot 21:1). Our chachamim explained (Gittin 88b) “before them - and not before hedyotot”, meaning, men who don’t act according to the Torah, it is forbidden to adjudicate before them. Even a person who has a claim against their fellow, is obligated to sue their fellow in a Jewish court, and it is forbidden to attend the court of those who have freed themselves from the Torah laws where they judge according to the Gentile laws. For a court that doesn’t arbitrate according to Torah law is called “hedyotot” and it is forbidden to adjudicate before them. Therefore, someone who has a claim against their fellow must sue them in a Bet Din. The Bet Din shall send a summons to the defendant, and should they refuse to attend because they are liable, then the Bet Din may grant the claimant permission to sue them in a secular court. With the proviso that the claimant first approaches a talmid chacham to ascertain that they are indeed correct. Only then may they sue them in a secular court.

There are Torah laws that we do not budge from neither to the right nor to the left. Even though in a person’s mind they consider that it shouldn’t really be so, nevertheless, they must rule according to Torah law.

It happened in the city of Berditchev where the Gaon Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev z”l (1740-1809) lived; he was a great advocate for Am Yisrael. He was the Av Bet Din in his city. On the day that he was appointed an extremely complex case came before him, and this is what transpired:

In those days all the traders would come to the city of Leipzig for a week to attend the huge trade fair. Anyone who had wares would come there to sell them. Likewise, anyone with investment funds would attend the trade fair to purchase goods. This is what is called in some languages a “market-day”, but this was called a “trade fair”, which is a common expression today to.

One of the Jewish traders who travelled to the trade fair, brought all his money to trade. On his way to the fair, he found a shop where a Jew was sitting and selling wine. The tradesman entered the shop and he saw 400 barrels of wine for sale. He asked the shop owner, “Do you have a hechsher?” He replied, “Of course”. And he produced a license from well-known rabbanim who attested that the wine is kasher. The tradesman asked, “How much is the wine worth?” The shop owner replied with a low amount, a low price. The tradesman decided to purchase all the 400 barrels of wine and paid until the last penny.

However, he was then struck with a problem. He had other business at the fair, but now had 400 barrels of wine to take with him. Where would he put them? He doesn’t live here! However, he had a friend who lived there, and this friend had a large courtyard. The tradesman approached his friend and said to him, “My friend, I purchased 400 barrels of wine, may I store them in your courtyard for a few days?” His friend replied, “Sure, it’s fine, you may leave them here”. So the tradesman left all the barrels in his courtyard.

However, the friend who owned the courtyard, was extremely sick. After a few days he suddenly passed away, leaving young orphans. The Bet Din appointed a guardian who would be responsible for all of the orphans’ assets and their welfare. After a few days, the tradesman arrived at his friend’s house and asked to take the barrels of wine. The guardian said, “Your friend the owner of the courtyard has passed away. Therefore, if you have such a claim go to the cemetery so that he may hear your claim! The barrels are the orphans! Who says that you entrusted them in their father’s hands? It may be that you sold them to him and that they are his!” The tradesman replied, “I can bring witnesses that will testify that I personally purchased those barrels on such and such a date.” The guardian responded, “Fine, you bought them, but you immediately sold them to the orphans’ father!” This was the guardian’s retort.

They went to the Bet Din of Rav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. The tradesman was G-d-fearing and came with the claim, “My master the rav, this is what happened, and they refuse to return to me my barrels!” Rav Levi Yitzchak scrutinised and examined this deeply. In his heart he believed that the tradesman was telling the truth, however, according to Torah law testimony may not be accepted unless it is presented in front of the defendant and in this case the defendant was the orphan’s father who had passed away. So there was no way to rely on the tradesman’s own words and to return to him the barrels. Rav Levi Yitzchak said to the tradesman, “Look, what can I do for you? I am forbidden from doing anything!” The tradesman began crying, “The money I invested in the wine was all my savings! Please help me!” But  Rav Levi Yitzchak couldn’t do anything.

Rav Levi Yitzchak decided that he would fast for one day and supplicate before Hashem that He help him. He fasted and supplicated, “Ribono shel Olam, enlighten my eyes! This is the first day that I am sat in the Bet Din and already such a case has come before me, and I am forced to rule against my conscience! I feel that he is right, how may I rule against him?” Rav Levi Yitzchak opened the Aron HaKodesh and cried before Hashem that Heaven enlightens his eyes.

That night, Rav Levi Yitzchak had a dream, they came and told him, “Rav Levi Yitzchak! Don’t allow this matter to annoy you! You must rule precisely as it is written in Shulchan Aruch Chosen Mishpat, do not accept testimony when not in front of the defendant! We will explain to you what occurred. You believe that the tradesman is just, but in truth you should know that the tradesman and the owner of the courtyard have come as reincarnations. In their previous incarnations, the courtyard owner was the shopkeeper and the tradesman used to purchase from him but didn’t pay him. Eventually the shopkeeper was forced into bankruptcy due to the tradesman not paying him. Due to his tremendous grief that he couldn’t feed his children, he died. Now these two returned to this world. The tradesman who never paid, owed money to the same sum of the 400 barrels of wine, will now return these barrels and from them his friend’s orphans will be sustained, having suffered so dreadfully in the past.

Therefore, they told Rav Levi Yitzchak that the orphans are appropriately entitled to the barrels according to the halachah!

“Hashem stands in the Divine assembly” (Tehillim 82:1), the Shechinah (Divine Presence) rests with the Dayanim that they rule a truly correct judgement! Praiseworthy are those who maintain justice [ibid 106:3]. A person who follows the Shulchan Aruch, HaKadosh Baruch Hu assists them to give a truly correct judgement.

Shabbat Shalom!