Parshas Mishpatim is a compendium of laws and rules, mostly consisting of mitzvos that are bein odom lachaveiro. We know that the mitzvos of the Torah are generally categorized under various groupings:

  • עשה ,לא תעשה
  • זמן גרמא, לא הזמן גרמא
  • מצוות התלויות בארץ, מצוות שאינן תלויות בארץ

But besides assei and lo sa’aseh, the classification of bein odom lachaveiro and bein odom laMakom is the most all-encompassing and basic. And indeed, a counting and studying of the mitzvos (a most worthwhile pursuit, by the way- – my father, alav hashalom, insisted I learn them and memorize them for my bar mitzvah; this was a logical thing to do, he said, and thus I inflicted this logic upon my children as well) would probably surprise us with its emphasis on bein odom lachaveiro. Certainly Parshas Mishpatim does, or at least should.

Do we ever stop to wonder, though, about the very category? What does it mean to say bein odom lachaveiro? Aren’t all mitzvos ultimately bein odom laMakom? Surely we should not follow these mitzvos because they are ethical and logical! (If you are surprised by that last sentence, please don’t be. An axiomatic truth of Yiddishkeit and Torah is that we do things because it is the ratzon HaShem, and only because it is the ratzon HaShem (this is discussed at length and elaborated on in Sha’ar Yichud Hama’aseh of the Chovos Halevavohs.)

And so why are they categorized as being bein odom lachaveiro? On Sukkos,do we perform a mitzvah bein odom lelulav,or bein odom lasukkah? Every day,do men perform bein odom latefillin, latzitzis? Do women perform bein odom lechallah? Apparently, calling something bein odom lachaveiro is no mere pointing out with whom the mitzvah is performed. It seems to be in counterpoint to bein odom laMakom….can that be so? And what does that teach us?

The Rambam in Shemonah Perakim (the RamBam’s hakdamah to Pirkei Avos) asks about an apparent philosophical contradiction. Sometimes Chazal express the idea that aveiros should not be naturally repugnant to us. They should be desirable, yes, but we should feel that we are servants of HaShem,and we bow to His will in refusing to succumb to our desires. Yet sometimes we are told that a person’s heart and soul should be in consonance with the values of the Torah.

The Rambam goes on to explain that when there are so-called “logical” mitzvos (and here the Rambam enumerates bein odom lachaveiro mitzvos), HaShem wants us to mold our mind to reflect Torah values. We should feel sorry for the poor person, we should detest lying, cheating, stealing, we should feel it impossible to murder. For the more ritualistic mitzvos, it is a higher form of avodas HaShem to bend and submit our will to HaShem’s will.

This means that bein odom lachaveiro mitzvos should become our inherent values! We should, the mitzvah teaches us, be sympathetic to a poor person; we should care about our fellow-man’s issues; we should empathize with someone going through rough times; we should be eager to lend a helping hand; we should be repelled by the thought of cheating someone; it should be distateful to harm someone’s property, loathsome to fool someone, and revolting to talk loshon hora. That is the Torah’s goal, indeed, the raison d’être of these mitzvos – to transform our naturally selfish natures into selfless ones.

And that is the true meaning of something being bein odom lachaveiro –  HaShem wants us to actually care about our fellow man! To feel for him, to be a concerned and caring individual. A fellow-Jew is not your lulav! A person in trouble, who needs help, is not your mezuzah! The mitzvos are actually, really, bein odom lachaveiro – literally, to worry, to care, to accomodate, and to look after, your fellow-Jew. To take his losses to heart, to want to spare him embarrassment, and to enjoy and “fargin” his successes.

Indeed, they are, in the most basic and fundamental sense, bein odom lachaveiro. As surely as bein odom laMakom is bein odom laMakom.

Think about that, the next time you are tempted to take advantage of someone. The next time you consider lending someone money. The next time someone needs a favor.

Gut Shabbos.