Torah Fax

Friday, February 4, 2005 - 25 Shevat, 5765

Torah Reading: Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1 - 24:17)
Candle Lighting time: 4:59 PM
Shabbat ends: 6:01 PM
We Bless the New Month of Adar I
Angelic Oxen
Mishpatim, the name of this week's parsha, is mostly about civil and criminal law. But unlike other secular legal systems, Jewish law is not just about maintaining a civil society; it is also concerned with creating a holy atmosphere that helps us cement our relationship with G‑d.
When the Torah speaks of a thief who steals an ox or a lamb and then sells or slaughters it, the Torah states that the thief must pay four times the value for the theft of a lamb and five times the value for the theft of the ox. The Talmud discusses various reasons as to why the penalty for the theft of the ox is greater than for that of a lamb. The simple answer provided by the Talmud is that the ox was taken away from its work and for that the thief must pay an additional fine. A lamb, by contrast, is less productive and therefore the fine is not as heavy.
The Midrash, however - which focuses on the symbolic meaning of the Torah - seems to address this issue in the following cryptic fashion: ""Because we stole the ox and we made the golden calf, we must pay five times for the ox." The reference to our stealing of the ox is most likely a reference to the sale of Joseph by his brothers. Indeed, Jacob on his deathbed castigates his sons Shimon and Levi for having "uprooted the ox," a reference to Joseph who is Biblically likened to the ox. Indeed, our Sages tell us that it was this sin for which our ancestors were punished and had to be slaves in Egypt.
Since much of Jewish practice is intended, among other reasons, to remind us of the Exodus from Egypt, the Torah therefore highlights the role of the theft of the "ox," as a way to get us to reflect on one of the root causes of exile-our inability to get along with our brother, just as Joseph's brothers could not get along with Joseph.
In addition, the most serious example of backsliding after we had received the Torah was the making and worshipping of the Golden Calf (a young ox) just forty days after the revelation of G‑d Mount Sinai.
How does the making of the golden calf relate to the theft and sale of an ox?  The answer is based on the Midrash that tells us that when G‑d revealed Himself on Mount Sinai, He came with His "entourage" of angels. One of the angels is biblically described as having the "face of an ox." Some of the Jews then thought that a good way to connect to G‑d was to fashion a physical representation of its spiritual angelic counterpart. They thus "stole" the ox from its spiritual place and transformed (sold) it into a physical, idolatrous object.
These two lapses-that of the sale of Joseph and the making of the golden calf-is what the thief is reminded of when the Torah tells him to pay five times the value of the ox for its theft and sale. It is common among thieves and other petty criminals to trivialize their actions. "What harm can the theft of one ox possibly do to society?" The thief thus rationalizes away the significance of his one, perhaps, isolated act of theft. The thief -engaged in his own little private act of criminality-is thus told that his "minor" transgression is reminiscent of the larger sale of Joseph and the making of the golden calf. The thief is admonished not to minimize the severity of his crime. Just as the sale of Joseph and the construction of the golden calf had far-reaching consequences, so too does every act of theft, whether the thief sees it or not.
Crime is also a symptom of exile. When we live in a world that obscures G‑d's presence, it can lead to a situation in which we lose our feelings for our fellow and create substitute gods. The way to deal with this is by paying "five times the value of the ox." The number five expresses the number of levels we possess in our soul. In Kabbalah, the Moshiach is associated with the fifth and highest level of the soul.
It is this level of the soul that we come closest to sensing when we recite the fifth and final Neilah prayer at the conclusion of Yom Kippur. At that point we are able to rise above the constraints of exile and the way it dulls our senses and sensibilities towards others and towards G‑d. And when we will be in touch with all five levels of our soul, we will be able to experience true unity with our fellow, and sincere and exclusive devotion to G‑d. We will no longer "sell our brother," and we will also desist from constructing all the different types of golden calves. The integrity of G‑d's unity and ours will be become fully manifest.  
Moshiach Matters
"Moshiach will come in order to cause the righteous to return in repentance." (Zohar III, 153b) When Moshiach comes, such a sublime level of Divinity will be revealed that ... even a tzadik [a completely righteous person] will be aroused with feelings of teshuva (repentance). We are not speaking of teshuva of the ordinary kind: this is not relevant to a tzadik, for he has had no taste of sin. (Likutei Torah of Rabbi Shneur Zalman)
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