Parshas Mishpatim: A Fake World

By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz:

Every day, it becomes clearer to us that we live in a fake world. That doesn’t mean that we are fake, that our families and possessions are not real, and that everything that makes up the world is fake. It means that the underpinning of the world, the currency that keeps it going, is fake.

The leaders of governments are fake. They are fictitious and hypocritical. They project a certain image, while, in reality, they are far removed from the picture they create of themselves. They promise one thing and deliver another. They pretend to be one political persuasion to get into power, and then, when they do, it becomes obvious that their beliefs are the diametric opposite of what they promised they were.

They profess to be motivated by a pursuit of justice and fairness, but their actions prove that what they care about is amassing money and power. Innocent little guys stand no chance, as all the appointments and contracts go to those who pay their way in, and the corrupt.

They adopt positions of strength that are dutifully promulgated by their spokespeople, but when they speak without their teleprompter, they are shown to be weak and ill informed. They mandate a course of action for the citizens, which they don’t follow in their own lives when they think nobody is watching. They create regular-Joe images of themselves, portraying themselves as regular hardworking people who can empathize and identify with the concerns of the citizenry, while, in truth, they have greatly enriched themselves and live lives far removed from those of the people they seek to govern.

We see elyonim lematah vetachtonim lemaalah. Unqualified people are promoted to high positions and we become disillusioned. We have a president who regularly demonstrates his lack of intelligence, ruining the country’s economy and bringing the nation close to war with Russia.

In Eretz Yisroel, we see people in power who have set their goals on destroying the Jewish character of the Jewish state. The only other motivation for them is power; nothing else is important. All their so-called Zionist beliefs are shunted aside to appease their Arab enablers. We wonder how it can be that such a group of frauds, hypocrites and liars can be permitted to lead the country.

It is not only politicians and leaders who are fake. Many people we encounter seem to be flippant with the truth. People create fictions about themselves and then try to lead their lives according to those fabrications. They project images of wealth, happiness and much else, while, in truth, they are broke and broken. Such is the way of the world. But that is about to be morphed to a new extreme. Today, we are told that society’s next frontier is the “metaverse.”

The way it was explained to me, thousands of developers and dozens of huge cutting-edge companies are busy at work creating the metaverse, a new world that exists on the internet and in people’s minds in which users live their lives through creating avatars, which are graphical images of themselves, or, as we would call them in pedestrian terms, mentchies.

In the really fake realm that is currently being developed, people, living through personas that they have created, go to stores and buy homes and property in the metaverse world. They meet other people there. For example, instead of traveling to the city to meet a lawyer, your mentchie meets the lawyer’s mentchie in a Starbucks store in the metaverse. You have your conversation and then go back home, all while lying on your couch.

You can be everything that you aren’t. Until now, people who couldn’t make it lived and succeeded through their sports heroes and teams, as well as through creating stories about themselves and living through them. That may no longer be necessary, as people will be able to create for themselves their own virtual life.

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While all this fiction sounds bizarre, it is essentially an extension of the sheker, the fiction, that is congruent with olam hazeh, this world in which we live.

Is there truth in this world? As we reported last week, two weeks ago, a man left Britain and landed in Texas, whereupon he went to a synagogue in a town most people never heard of and took four Jews hostage. He ranted about Jews and Israel, and thought that he would be able to free “Mrs. Al Qaeda” from an American jail. The hostages managed to escape and the Islamic terrorist was killed. To us, it was an obvious anti-Semitic incident. But not to the world. The FBI special agent in charge said, “It was not specifically connected to the Jewish community, but we are continuing to work to find a motive.” This from the once universally respected FBI of J. Edgar Hoover. As ridiculous as the statement was, it was picked up and propagated around the world by serious news organizations.

Imagine if that happened with any other group. The FBI and the media would be bending over backwards with the usual inane platitudes. But not when it comes to the Jews. And that is the way it has been since Har Sinai. It is a fact that ever since we became a nation, the world has hated us and wished to do away with us. Sometimes it is obvious, and other times it isn’t, and our time seems like it has a dangerous potential.

Eighty years ago, the Nazis held their Wannsee Conference and plotted to rid Europe of its Jewish population. Though they came awfully close, we have come back. We are stronger and there are more people learning Torah than ever before. For several years after the Holocaust, there was some overt sympathy for the Jewish people. By now, that has dissipated, and most nations of the world are lined up against Israel, as are the media. The incident in Texas was just one small example.

This past weekend, a large group of rabbonim gedolim attending the Dirshu Siyum and Masa Tefillah in Vilna detoured to the historic Šnipiškės Snipichock Cemetery in that city. In the freezing cold, as snow fell, dozens sat at the site of the huge centuries-old Jewish burial site that was defiled by Lithuania. It was not enough that the Lithuanians worked with the Nazis to murder 95% of the country’s Jewish population, but they built a stadium in middle of the cemetery in 1971, and office and apartment buildings in 2005. After much lobbying by Jewish groups and members of the US Congress, they have promised not to disturb remains anymore, but many doubt their sincerity. By being there, they made a powerful statement that world Jewry is concerned about that site and will remain vigilant about protecting that which is there.

Last week, we lained Parshas Yisro and the parsha of Kabbolas HaTorah at Har Sinai. This week, we follow with Parshas Mishpotim, which deals with financial laws. Chazal (cited by Rashi, Shemos 21:1, “mah harishonim m’Sinai af eilu m’Sinai,”) explain that the connection between the two parshiyos is to demonstrate that even the laws that we think are rational and could have been devised by man were also handed to us at Sinai, and it is for that reason that we follow and are guided by them.

Laws developed by man are dependent upon the zeitgeist, culture and values of the time, and are therefore subject to constant change. The laws that govern decency and honesty and inter-person business activities are as immutable as those that pertain to Shabbos.

While previously that may have sounded far-fetched, witness the changes that have overtaken the criminal justice system in this country and you will realize that nothing can ever be taken for granted. There is no guarantee that simple common sense and notions of self-preservation and communal good will always guide the laws of even a cultured and educated land.

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But deeper than that is that in the almah d’shikrah, in the world of fiction in which we live, the only truth is Torah. Thus, when Chazal taught, “Mah harishonim m’Sinai af eilu m’Sinai,” they were saying that when truth was brought to this world when the Aseres Hadibros were given to the Jewish people on Har Sinai, it gave them the ability to also faithfully fulfill the laws given to them in Parshas Mishpotim.

This is the explanation of what Chazal say (Mechilta, cited by Rashi in Parshas Yisro 18:13), “Kol dayan shedon din l’amito… k’ilu naasah shutaf l’Hakadosh Boruch Hu b’maaseh bereishis – Whoever judges truthfully becomes a partner with Hashem in creation.” Because the world is an olam hasheker, someone who brings truth into the world has partnered with creation. This is accomplished with the koach haTorah.

Thus, Mishpotim comes after Yisro, because after emes was given to the Yidden at Har Sinai, they were able to accept the dinim and are able to properly adjudicate disputes (Sefas Emes, Mishpotim 658).

This is also the reason why when Yisro advised Moshe to appoint sarim for the Jewish people to teach and administer justice, he set as two of the qualifications that they should be anshei emes, men of truth, who are sonei betza, they despise money. The position of power is only given to people who have demonstrated through their mastery of Torah that they can be depended on to be honest and truthful in all they do. A person whose value system is not based upon Torah cannot be trusted to judge fairly. It is not necessarily because we fear that he will be corrupted. It is because his thought process is suspect.

In this world of sheker, we often find reason to become depressed. But knowing that although the world is addicted to things fictitious, and things are frequently not what they appear to be or what we think they should be, it is comforting to know that the Torah provides refuge for us.

If we study and dedicate ourselves to the chukim and mishpotim of this week’s parsha and the other parshiyos of the Torah, we can create an oasis for ourselves. Studying the holy seforim, such as Chovos HalevavosMesilas Yeshorim, and Sefas Emes, among so many others, restores our faith in ourselves and trains us to think and act like Torah Yidden. The anshei emes and sonei betza in our midst are examples for us to follow and people for us to learn from.

This week, we bentch Rosh Chodesh Adar, the month that ushers in the special season of simchaChazal say, “Mishenichnas Adar marbin b’simcha – When Adar comes, we increase our happiness.” A Jew must always be joyous, yet there is something about Adar that prompts us to be happier than usual. The month of Purim reminds us that all is transitory, the wicked ones do not rule forever, and, in the end, the good people win when they call out to Hashem.

Let us look towards the good, recognizing that light will soon replace the darkness and evil will be defeated by righteousness. If you have patience and faith, there is no reason for anguish, gloom or depression, and there is never cause for dejection and for giving up.

It’s Adar! Cheer up!

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