I sure wouldn't want to be in the shoes of anyone even loosely responsible for the Enron debacle who has to go to shul and hear the words of parashat Mishpatim read aloud. It's directives are, for the most part, clear. And some of them perhaps seem only tangentially related-ah, but the joy of Torah is that it is not in heaven so that we might interpret it.
(21:33) First, there's that infamous uncovered pit that an ox or ass falls into. The good folks at Enron and their auditors certainly failed to cover their pit, didn't they? They must make restitution, but they get to keep the "dead animal."
(21:37) Did the folks at Enron metaphorically steal an ox or sheep? Well, that's gonna cost them - five times the value of the ox or four times the value of the sheep. (Were Enron's investor's mislead sheep?) Of course, if they're found with the sheep or ox alive, they only have to pay double.
(22:6) Uh oh, better watch out for this one, Enron execs. "When a person gives money or good to another for safekeeping, and they are stolen from the person's house-if the thief is caught the person shall pay double (restitution.)" That could get expensive. And it certainly seems from all the "refusals to self-incriminate" that there's a few thieves to be discovered.
Now, if the thief isn't caught. . . then the holding party must come depose before Gd that they didn't take it. And then it is up to Gd to decide-and the guilty party pays double to the other. Ouch! (But that's also a caution against false accusations, isn't it?)
(22:21) Mistreatment of widows and orphans - here's a great case of the talionis - Gd will kill those who mistreat widows and orphans and make widows and orphans of their own families. In one sad case that seems to have happened already.
(22:25) Taking a neighbor's garment in pledge, it must be returned to them before the sun sets. As the Torah asks "Bameh yishkav?" In what shall he sleep? How many have been striped naked by Enron?
But let's be careful what we're saying. As we read-
(23:1) "Don't carry false rumors and don't join hands with the guilty to act as a malicious witness."
Yet a caution for our friends on Capitol Hill and the Executive Branch:
(23:2) "Neither shall you side with the mighty to do wrong - nor give perverse testimony in a dispute so as to pervert it in favor of the mighty."
However yet again a little balance:
(23:3) "Nor shall you show deference to the poor man in his dispute." (I'm not so sure how many real "poor" were affected by the Enron debacle.)
And balanced yet again later:
(23:6) "You shall not subvert the rights of the needy in their disputes"
(23:7) "Keep far from false charges - do not bring death on the innocent and the righteous." (Now there's a good start for an argument with those who turn to parashat Mishpatim and it's clear support for capital punishment. Gd does provide my friends, and perhaps this is why we now have DNA testing the exonerates those falsely imprisoned? A gift of Gd's justice, perhaps?)
(23:8) "Do not take bribes, for bribes blind the clear-sighted and upset the plea of the just." Well, we've yet to see the fallout here. But one wonders if PAC or campaign contributions might, from the Torah's viewpoint, be considered as bribes.
The infamous "lex talionis", the oft quoted "eye for eye" principle is found throughout the laws in parashat Mishpatim. What punishment would the Torah mandate for those amongst the greedy at Enron and it's accounting partners, and brokerages everywhere, in fair retribution for the crimes they have committed? How does one measure the impact of what they did? Is it any easier than trying to find a fair way to "compensate" the families of the victims of the terror of 9/11/01? Doubtful. But surely, amongst all that the Torah has to teach us can be found the wisdom to be sure that proper justice is meted out.
I think, however, the ultimate lesson to be learned from the whole Enron story is best summed up by the words of Exodus 22:19
Zoveiach la-elohim yakharam bil'ti la'Adnai l'vado.
"Those who sacrifice to gods other than Adnai will be proscribed"
The god of money, power and greed is but a chimera. Let's place our faith, trust and obedience in the One true Gd, Adnai.
©2002 by Adrian A. Durlester
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