Parshas Mishpatim - Shout It Out

By Rabbi Zvi Teichman

Posted on 01/31/19

Parshas HaShavua Divrei Torah sponsored by
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If you take your fellow’s garment as security, until sunset shall you return it to him. For it alone is his clothing, it is his garment for his skin - in what should he lie down? - so it will be that if he cries out to me, I shall listen, for I am compassionate. (Shemos 22, 25-26)

The Torah here is dealing with a debtor who couldn’t pay what he owed by the due date, thus compelling the creditor to take action by confiscating an item as collateral in order to secure his loan.

If the article is clothing the debtor needs during the day, or a blanket he utilizes at night, not possessing another, though the creditor may generally hold on to it, he must return it to the debtor during those times of the day the debtor needs them.

The last part of the verse describing the cries of the debtor, seems to be referring to a situation where the creditor refuses to return it temporarily to the needy debtor, causing the debtor to call out in anguish to G-d to save him from the hands of the insensitive creditor, with G-d assuring him that he hears his plaint and will respond in kind to exact punishment against the cruel creditor.

Is it G-d’s compassion that prods His response? Isn’t it rather G-d’s attribute of justice that demands a reaction?

Additionally, the verse merely appeals to the creditor to note the plight of the debtor who possesses merely one garment to cover his ‘skin’, encouraging the creditor to exhibit kindness in allowing the debtor to make use of it in his time of need. There is no evidence that he didn’t take the advice. Why are there cries?

The Baal HaTurim (as well as the Daas Zekeinim) offers a remarkable interpretation of this verse.

The cry here is not in complaint against the callous and indifferent creditor, but rather in response to the noble action of a compliant creditor who kindly and with sensitivity absorbs G-d’s entreaty to him, returning dutifully, day in and day out, the collateral the creditor needs, until such time as he is able to make full restitution. The debtor ‘cries’ out to G-d in prayer on behalf of his generous creditor asking of G-d to bestow blessing upon him.

The most startling discovery in this interpretation is that when one senses gratitude towards another it is insufficient to merely thank the person but one must pray on his behalf as well. Furthermore, in an unusual departure from the norm, the Torah attests that G-d guarantees He will hear his request.

What is so powerful in this prayer of the debtor that warrants so mighty of an assurance from G-d?

Even more perplexing is the strangeness in the use of verb צעק, crying, והיה כי יצעק אלי ושמעתי... (שמות כב כו) so it will be that if he cries out to Me, I shall listen..., in reference to this mode of prayer in gratitude of his benefactor. One generally doesn’t cry out when petitioning G-d to reward someone’s kindness. One cries out when in stress and anguish over situations that seem helpless, without any solution in sight. Why the צעקה, the cries, the shouting?

Let us analyze more carefully the circumstances of this law.

The debtor borrowed money and couldn’t keep his obligation to repay. The creditor fears that unless he somehow secures his money the debtor may be recalcitrant in ever paying up. The Talmud teaches that even if the sole garment the debtor owns is worth much more than what he owes, and he could verily sell it and pay back his due and still purchase a cheaper, though adequate, replacement, he doesn’t have to sell it. The creditor, for all we know, may be poor as well and in great need too, but he must nevertheless relent and accept the reality of this seeming imbalance and injustice.

There exists a tremendous tension between the ‘rights’ of the creditor and the ‘needs’ of the debtor. The debtor feels the world is unfair, here he is impoverished and desperate, and in stark contrast his creditor is blessed with plenty. The creditor too questions the equity of the situation, why should he lose out and permit his debtor to keep his goose down jacket or fur coat while waiting for his rightful due?

The Torah though instructs us that although the world may seem at times unfair, it is nevertheless always just. The creditor must view his stance here as an opportunity to utilize his gain to create world of compassion, accepting his fate dutifully as a fulfillment of the playing out of a divine providence.

The debtor still cries out  to G-d to improve his lot, as he still desires to climb out of his poverty and repay his loan, but at the same time appreciates the hand of G-d that placed him in the gracious embrace of a benevolent creditor who happily and with full understanding and sensitivity returns with a smile each day as he hands him the items he needs, without a taint of resentment.  

So the debtor cries out in need even as he acknowledges the magnificence of his creditor pleading to G-d to bless him.

When man displays this greater consciousness of the hand of G-d in every encounter of life, accepting his reality even while he still cries out to improve his lot, that is when one senses the presence of the Shechinah in life.

No wonder G-d promises in this exquisite moment of clarity and acceptance of G-d’s compassion even while experiencing difficulties, to answer the prayers on behalf of the creditor, as the earlier quoted verse so beautifully concludes, כי חנון אני (שם), for I am compassionate.

It is recorded in the name of the Rokeach, the Twelfth century illustrious rabbinic leader. Talmudist and Kabbalist, points out that in Chumash there are eighteen references to the verb שמע, hearing, in the context of G-d hearing the pleas of those who call out to Him, which correspond to the eighteen blessings of the Amidah, the Shemoneh Esrei.

Our verse, והיה כי יצעק אלי ושמעתי... (שמות כב כו) so it will be that if he cries out to Me, I shall listen..., is the thirteenth reference which corresponds to the thirteenth blessing of ולירושלים עירך ברחמים תשוב ותשכון בתוכה..., And to Yerushalayim, Your city, may You return in compassion, and may You rest within it...

When we accept with equanimity the circumstances of our life; perceiving the blessings of good fortune we merit as tools to be utilized towards improving the lot of our fellow man; viewing the difficulties we face, that at times require us to be on the receiving end of others, as the hand of justness and providence, that summons us to be appreciative of, and pray on behalf, of those who generously assist us, that is when we experience the presence of G-d, the Shechinah.

In the merit of seeing and sensing the just amidst the ‘unfair’, will we merit to see the Divine Presence in its full manifestation, with its return to the holy city of Yerushalayim.


צבי יהודה טייכמאן