Selected Sermon/Article
2010-02-12 Beyond Twelve Gates (BTG) by Rabbi Zeev Smason
Parshas Mishpatim
Beyond Twelve Gates - Rabbi Ze'ev Smason

Beyond Twelve Gates -  Rabbi Ze'ev Smason

Parshas Mishpatim

February 12, 2010



Welcome to Beyond Twelve Gates.


The poet Robert Browning once said, "My business is not to remake myself, but to make the absolute best of what G-d made."  How?  It has been said that the largest room in the world is the room for improvement.  Improvement is possible when self-imposed limitations are destroyed.  Fleas can be trained by placing them in a shoe box with a lid on it.  Fleas jump, so they hit the lid over and over again until Excedrin Headache 49 occurs.  The fleas will continue to jump, but they no longer jump high enough to hit the lid.  Now, it has been shown that you can then take the lid off and the fleas won't jump out of the box.  They can't.  The fleas have conditioned themselves to jump a little lower.  


Fleas, and of course humans, are capable of jumping higher by transcending their old limitations.  We each have the capacity to develop a closer relationship with G-d, and to act with more kindness and chesed to others.  If not now, when?



Parshas Mishpatim  Exodus 21:1 -- 24:18


Following on the heels of the Ten commandments, this week's Torah portion deals primarily with civil law.  Like the realm of the ceremonial, our worldly and common activities must be infused with holiness and observed carefully.  Included amongst the civil laws discussed in the portion are; penalties for causing bodily injury to another person and damaging his property; laws regarding borrowers; the mitzvah to show sensitivity to the poor and to offer them free loans; and laws relating to the honest dispensation of justice.  After mentioning the mitzvos of Shabbos and Shemittah (the Sabbatical year), the portion continues with a brief discussion of the three pilgrimage festivals -- Pesach, Shevous and Sukkos.


The Torah then returns to the revelation at Mt. Sinai.  The Jewish people declare their commitment to do whatever G-d commands with the famous phrase "Everything G-d has said, we will do and we will listen."  The portion concludes with Moses' ascending the mountain, where he will remain for forty days and forty nights to receive the rest of the Torah


Rabbinic Ruminations


What can we learn from an animal?  Plenty!


I recently read of a man who was going on a vacation to one of the countries in the Caribbean.  He wanted a room for himself and his pet dog, and asked if the establishment, a hotel in Kingston, Jamaica, would allow an animal.  Shortly thereafter he received this reply:


Dear Sir,

I've been in the hotel business for forty years and never had to eject a disorderly dog.  Never has a dog set a mattress on fire while smoking in bed.  Never has a dog stolen a towel or sneaked an unpaid guest into his room.  Never has a dog acted disorderly, drunk or otherwise.  Your dog is welcome. If he can vouch for you, you can come along as well. 

Thank You. 


I'm not certain that our family dog, Zander, would be prepared to vouch for me.  However, I do know that this week's portion speaks about dogs.  The Torah (Exodus 22:30) states that we should not eat the meat of an animal that was found dead in a field.  Rather we should throw its meat to the dogs.  The next verse states that we should not speak loshon hara (gossip) against another person.  From the juxtaposition of these two verses, the Talmud derives a tremendous lesson.  It states that anyone who speaks or accepts words of loshon hara is fit to be thrown to the dogs.


One of the signs of a truly 'Serious Jew' is that he or she does his utmost to refrain from derogatory speech.  To learn more about the laws and guidelines of proper speech, I highly recommend the book 'Guard Your Tongue' by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin.  If we read and study the laws of loshon hara and focus our attention upon using our words constructively, perhaps our family pet would vouch for us!



Quote of the Week


"I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I'm not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant." - Anonymous


Joke of the Week


In a Jewish College, the sports department decided to start a rowing team.  However as luck would have it they lost every contest. After suffering defeat after defeat, the coach decided to try a different approach. He called upon one of his crew members and gave him the assignment to check out the best teams, to see what is their secret of success.

      After checking out the Yale and Harvard rowing  teams, the Jewish crew member returned to his coach.

      "Well, did you see anything that they do that is different then what we do?"

      "Yes," was the reply, "They do the opposite of us. They only have one guy yelling and eight guys rowing!!"


Thanks for reading 'Beyond Twelve Gates'.


Comments, questions, requests to be added to our email list or better jokes can be sent to or   Care to know more about Nusach Hari Bnai Zion Congregation?  Check us out at  If you enjoyed Beyond Twelve Gates, please share with a friend. Thanks to Alan Haber for his assistance in distributing BTG