Sometimes, people mix their priorities and thought process of what is important and what is not – or what is secondary. In the beginning of today’s parsha, we read that Ya’akov dreamed about angels climbing up and down a ladder. The Torah tells us that the ladder was, “resting on the ground and its top reached to the heaven.” The Rabbis teach us that – in his dream – Ya’akov saw the bottom of the ladder in Be’er Sheva, the top of the ladder was in Beis Eil and the middle of the ladder was over the future site of the Bais Hamikdash.
The Chasam Sofer – Rabbi Moshe Sofer from Frankfort-A-Main, Germany, chief rabbi of the Austro-Hungarian Empire during the first half of the 19th century and major Halachik authority – comments that through its wording, the Torah is teaching us a lesson. The base of the ladder was on the ground and its top in heaven – the ladder must first be based upon the earth before one’s head can be in heaven – Derech Eretz – proper behavior - precedes Torah study. A person must be grounded here on earth – he must behave properly and get along with others and show that he can live among people – only then can his head be in heaven – then he can properly study Torah and his Torah study will have value.
Unfortunately, there are people – not a lot, but some - who do the opposite. They read Hebrew left to write. They are religiously dyslexic. They read the words of the Rabbis as “Torah precedes Derech Eretz.” They are fantastic at davening, studying Torah and extremely careful about the kashrus of their food. Unfortunately, some of them are not so careful about the kashrus of their interactions with other people – the kashrus of their mouths and actions. They will insult others, speak negatively about others, cheat others, cheat the government, abuse their wives, constantly yell at their kids and do other “upstanding behaviors” which makes the Jewish community so proud of them.
There are four sections to the Shulchan Aruch: Orach Chaim – deals with daily life from when we get up until we go to bed, plus all the special days such as Shabbos and Chanuka. Yoreh De’ah dalas with daily life that is 24/7 – kashrus, laws of mourning, sha’atnez, mezuza, etc. Even Ha’ezer deals with laws of men-women relationships. Choshen Mishpat deals with civil law – property, courts, possession, etc. – how to get along with the next person. Choshen Mishpat is just as much a part of the Shulchan Aruch as the other three sections. We teach and learn quite a bit of Orach Chiam and Yoreh De’ah but unfortunately not enough of the former. Choshen Mishpat gives substance to the Orach Chiam and Yoreh De’ah. Without it, we are missing more than 25% of our laws.
Derech Eretz Kadman L’Torah – proper behavior precedes the study of Torah - the derech eretz lays a strong foundation to give one’s Torah balance and strength to stand.