Parashat Mishpatim- The Elixir of Life
One of the topics discussed in Parashat Mishpatim is liability for physical injury which one causes to another person. The Torah requires the person responsible for another’s physical injury to make several compensation payments, including "Ve’rapo Yerapeh" – paying for his medical expenses (21:19).
There is a deeper meaning of this phrase, "Ve’rapo Yerapeh," which is based on the teachings of the Arizal (Rav Yishak Luria of Safed, 1534-1572). In Kabbalistic thought, the letter "Yod" is associated with "Hochma," wisdom. The Arizal taught that when a person is attached to Torah wisdom, then he is attached to the source of life. As we say in our Arbit prayer service, "Ki Hem Hayenu Ve’orech Yamenu" – the words of Torah are our source of life and longevity. Likewise, the Sages interpret the verse, "Ve’zot Ha’Torah Asher Sam Moshe" ("This is the Torah which Moshe placed" – Debarim 4:44) as alluding to the fact that Torah is "Sam Hayim" – an "elixir of life." When we cling to Torah, which is associated with the letter "Yod," we sustain our lives and maintain our physical wellbeing. The Arizal explains on this basis the verse in Tehillim (41:4), "Hashem Yis’adenu Al Eres Davai" ("Gd shall support him on his bed of illness"). The word "Davai" has the same letters as "Yod," and the word "Eres" has the same letters as the word "Eser" – ten, the numerical value of the letter Yod. A person falls ill when he loses his connection to the wisdom of Torah, which is associated with the letter "Yod," which results in this letter, which should serve as the person’s source of life and strength, being transformed into "Eres Davai" – a condition of illness, Heaven forbid.
This concept sheds new light on the phrase, "Ve’rapo Yerapeh." The word "Yerapeh" is the word "Rapo" ("heal") with the letter "Yod" added to it. This alludes to the fact that a person is healed when he connects to the letter "Yod," to the wisdom of Torah, which is the source of life and wellbeing.
This notion is also expressed in the Misva of Mahasit Ha’shekel – the half-shekel donation which every member of Beneh Yisrael was required to make each year to the Bet Ha’mikdash. The annual collection of the Mahasit Ha’shekel began on Rosh Hodesh Adar, and we therefore commemorate this Misva by reading the Torah’s command of Mahasit Ha’shekel on the Shabbat before Rosh Hodesh Adar, a special Shabbat which we call "Shabbat Shekalim." The Torah (Shemot 30:13) writes that the "Shekel" consisted of twenty "Gera" (a certain unit of weight), and thus the half-shekel donation consisted of ten "Gera." The Talmud Yerushalmi, in Masechet Shekalim, explains that G-d commanded Beneh Yisrael to donate ten "Gera" to atone for the sin of the golden calf, which entailed a breach of all Ten Commandments. The ten "Gera" of the Mahasit Ha’shekel corresponds to the Ten Commandments, all of which were transgressed at the time of the golden calf, a sin for which the Mahasit Ha’shekel comes to atone.
The Ten Commandments, as Rav Saadia Gaon famously remarked, encapsulate the entire Torah. They are the blueprint, or the skeleton, of all 613 of the Torah’s commands. When Beneh Yisrael worshipped the golden calf, they violated the entire foundation of the Torah, and were thus considered in violation the entire Torah. In so doing, they broke their connection to "Yod," to the wisdom of Torah. And for this reason, as our Sages teach, they lost the gift of eternal life which they received at the time of Matan Torah. The Angel of Death became powerless when Beneh Yisrael received the Torah, and they were thus to have lived forever, but they became again susceptible to death when they worshipped the golden calf. As the wisdom of Torah is what sustains our lives – "Ki Hem Hayenu" – Beneh Yisrael lost their protection from death when they broke their connection to Torah by worshipping the calf.
This is why the Mahasit Ha’shekel donation consists of ten "Gera." This donation is intended to rebuild our connection to "Yod" – the letter associated with the number 10, and which represents the wisdom of Torah. By reinforcing this connection, we reverse the disastrous consequences of the golden calf, and become once again worthy of life, health and joy.
The Misva of Mahasit Ha’shekel, then, reminds us of the vital importance of staying connected to Torah. We must always remember that the wisdom of Torah is the "elixir of life," it is what sustains us both physically and spiritually, and thus the intensive study of Torah must be a priority for us each and every day.