The First Day of Class: Where do בני ישראל start after receiving the Torah? – Rabbi Reuven Berman (Mishpatim)
As we come off the great revelation at Har Sinai in Parshas Yisro, we wait with anticipation about where things will go next. Chazal teach us that the 40 years in the desert were spent studying and reviewing the mitzvos of the Torah, and so we would expect an exciting beginning. However, many are disappointed when they open Parshas Misphatim. Is this really what the Jewish people want to hear on the first day of class?
The Ramban at the beginning of the parsha gives some context to the teaching of monetary laws, among others, here. The last of the Ten Commandments is “Do not Covet,” and the Ibn Ezra famously asks how it could be that we are expected to control our feelings? The Ibn Ezra answers with the analogy to the simple farmer who would never covet marrying the princess, as she is completely out of his realm. So too, the possessions of other are completely out of our realm and thus there is no room for jealousy. In following this understanding, the Ramban explains that this is why the monetary laws appear here, as through studying the monetary laws one becomes sensitized to the fact that he has no right to even one cent that belongs to his fellow.
The great 20 th century Rabbi of America, Rav Moshe Feinstein, explained that this is why most children begin learning Gemara with Eilu Metzios, which is all about the possessions of others and when you do or do not have rights to them, as it instills in the young child the lesson that they must be so careful not take something that does not belong to them. Chazal teach us that one of the first questions we will be asked when we pass to the next world is whether we were honest in business. Clearly, honesty in financial matters is of top priority to Hashem. Let us be reminded of the lesson of the Ibn Ezra of the Ramban as we read these laws, so that we will be merit to the reward of the World to Come.