6 years of Points to Ponder on Parashas Shoftim
לז"נ הרב בנימין צבי יהודה בן הרב יעקב
שֹֽׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים Judges and police (16:18) - Why are the police mentioned together with the judges? Rav Leib Chasman ztl. explains that justice is not achieved merely by KNOWING what the right thing to do is, it is achieved when justice is carried out. What is true on a communal level is true within each and every human as well. It is not enough for a person to KNOW what the right thing to do is, each of us must also have the leaders inside ourselves to push ourselves to “just do it.”
שֹֽׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים Judges and police (16:18) – The Midrash comments that one should learn from the ant which has no judge or policeman watching over it and still does its work despite its 6 month average lifespan, it continues to store much more food than necessary since it hopes that Hashem might expand its life and it will then be ready for the life. Rav Altusky ztl. notes that even though this miracle never happened to any ant, this ant does not give up hope since Hashem has the ability to do anything at any moment. Laziness begets giving up and the Midrash encourages us not to do so and set up a society without worry about when it will be utilized properly.
שֹֽׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים You shall place judges and police in all your gates for each Shevet (16:18) – Ramban points out that you need to establish judges and a judiciary from each and every Shevet. Why does each Shevet needs its own Dayanim? Why is it not better than judges who are NOT from the same group? The Chasam Sofer explains that each Shevet has its own means of connecting and its own gifts from Shomayim. Having leaders who share the Shefa will help inspire and judge the people into being their best.
שֹֽׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים You shall appoint judges in all your gates (16:18) – The Talmud (Makos 6a) notes that there is a Mitzva to appoint judges in each and every city and locale in the land of Israel and their reach extends to Chutz LaAretz. Is the obligation on the people of the city to appoint judges or is it on the central Beis Din of Yirushalayim? Ramban seems to suggest that the obligation is on the citizens of the locality. Gevuros Ari asks why there is no Mitzva to appoint judges in Chutz LaAretz. After all, even Bnei Noach need a system of government – why not have the same Mitzva apply in Chu”l as in the land of Israel? Rav Shteinman Shlita suggests that the Bnei Noach can appoint a single judge and fulfill the requirement. The governing rule of the judge comes from the local king. The Mitzva of a court in each city is for a Beth Din of 23 – whose power comes from the central Sanhedrin. THAT requires a connection to the Shechina and that only happens in Eretz Yisrael.
שֹֽׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים Shoftim V’Shotrim Teeten – Lo Teeta Lecha Ashaira Eitzel Mizbach (16:18) – Why is the Mitzva of Shoftim next to the Mitzva of the Mizbeiach? Rav Meir Shapiro ztl. explains that this teaches us that a Dayan needs to be like the Mizbeiach – at his core he needs to be an Anav like the ground but tough like copper on the outside to defend the office he upholds.
וְלֹֽא־תִקַּ֣ח שֹׁ֔חַד And do not take bribery (16:19) - Rashi explains that even if one only takes the bribe to be honest, the bribe will sway him from truth. Rav Meir Chodosh ztl. commented that it is impossible for a person not to surrender himself and his well placed logic when swayed by taking bribes. In fact the word for bribe -- Shochad -- is a contraction of the words “they are one”. Those taking bribes are indeed combined into one with the one who bribes and surrender their own minds and senses of self in the process.
צדק צדק תרדוףPursue justice (16:20) — Rashi adds that one has the obligation to run after the best Beis Din. The Sifrei adds that one needs to select a Beis Din like that of Rav Yochanan Ben Zakai or Rabbi Eliezer. From the Sifrei’s comment it sounds like one does not need to trust the local Beis Din and in fact should spend money to get to the best one. At the same time, later (17:9) it sounds like one needs to rely on the local authorities and to place one’s trust in the leaders of his own time and place. How to reconcile these opposing ideas? Rav Henoch Leibowitz ztl. explained that there is no contradiction and in fact one needs both talents. On the one hand, one needs to always be challenging his own thinking lest he get too haughty and seek out the best opinions out there. At the same time, one needs to know that there is a limit on how much checking one can do, and one needs to learn to accept the opinions of the great minds of his day once those people are identified.
צדק צדק תרדוף Pursue justice (16:20) – One who does not feel the weight of responsibility of being a judge is identified in the Mishna as a Shoteh, a Rasha and a Gaas Ruach. Rav Nissim Karelitz Shlita asked what was gained by the three titles. He explained: At times some think they are smarter than everyone else. This line of thinking is foolish and leads to errors in judgement. Sometimes one does not realize his foolishness but his Yiras Shomayim will make him think twice. That will help him – hence one who doesn’t is a Rasha. But what leads one to run after the opportunity to display foolishness and Rishus? It is the Gaavah.
לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָֽרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ So that you live and inherit the land (16:20) – The Talmud (shabbos) explains that Judges must be careful in judgement or risk losing their rights to the land of Israel. This is part of the prophesy of Tzion B’Mishpat Tipadeh. Rav Schachter Shlita mentioned a Pischei Teshuva which told of a certain Dayan who covered his eyes in front of the Baalei Din in order not to look at the faces of guilty people in the process. Rav Schachter noted the challenge in doing this in that Dayanim need to look at the eyes of the people in order to see if they are telling the truth. He recommended Atifa with a hat instead.
ולא תקים לך מצבה Do not establish a Matzeiva which Hashem finds abhorrent (16:22) - Rashi reminds us that although establishing a Matzeivah was ok and even desired in the time of the Avos, today Hashem does not want the Matzeivos since they became symbols to Avoda Zara. Why are Matzeivos different from a mizbeiach which the Umos use for Avodah Zara. Why are we allowed to build Mizbachos? Rav Moshe Feinstein ztl. explained that a Mizbeiach is made from many stones and a Matzeiva from one. Before Matan Torah Hashem was ok with those who did one significant action even if not followed up upon. But after Matan Torah Hashem is not satisfied with single stoic gestures but rather ones that keep growing in quantity and quality.
דָּ֨ם | לְדָ֜ם בֵּֽין־דִּ֣ין לְדִ֗ין וּבֵ֥ין נֶ֨גַע֙ לָנֶ֔גַע Between Blood and blood, justice and justice (17:8) - Rav Schachter Shlita would often remind us of the comment of the Vilna Gaon that this possuk highlights the three subsections of the Torah that one does not derive rules from one to the other. They are -- Issur V’Heter, Tumah V’Tahara and Choshen Mishpat. Sometimes, these issues seem to align (Kohein becoming Tamai -- is that based on Issur or on Tumah; Issues concerning Niddah -- is that Tumah or Issur) but indeed the rules are different based on the classification of the question which can have major ramifications as to what one would do in the cases of Safeik.
וּבִֽעַרְתָּ֥ הָרָ֖ע מִיִּשְׂרָאֵֽל And you will destroy the evil from Yisrael (17:12) - In 5 locations in the Torah, the Torah refers to the capital punishment as destroying the evil. Rav Yerucham Levovitz ztl. explains that this is done to highlight that the punishment is not vindictive -- it is a means of cleansing. This also highlights the message of Biur Hara one needs to have inside himself and the cleansing power of Teshuva.
שׂ֣וֹם תָּשִׂ֤ים עָלֶ֨יךָ֙ מֶ֔לֶךְ You shall place a king upon you (17:15) – The Gemara (San. 20b) discusses a Machlokes as to whether appointing a king is a Mitzva or not. According to those who hold it is a Mitzva, why did the Jews wait? Rav Schachter Shlita explained that the request of the people was a precondition to the Chalos HaMitzva. Prior to the point of Shaul the people did not feel the need to ask. If that is the case, we can understand that the obligation had not started as yet.
וְלֹֽא־יָשִׁ֤יב אֶת־הָעָם֙ מִצְרַ֔יְמָה לְמַ֖עַן הַרְבּ֣וֹת ס֑וּס And he should not lead the nation back to Mitzrayim in order to garner horses (17:16) – Why does the prohibition add the words “BaDerech Hazeh” ? What does ‘Od” mean? When else did they return? Moreover, for business one MAY buy Egyptian stallions (See Ramban)? And where does Hashem say that one may not return to Egypt elsewhere? Rav Mordechai Greenberg Shlita explains that the return was stylistic (BaDerech Hazeh =in this manner). We are commanded never to be indebted to Mitzrayim – or any land whose sign of success is the emergence of wealth and excesses. The horses of Egypt were a sign of extravagance. In a life of Torah the life of excess takes one away from the spiritual life.
ולא ירבה לו נשים He should not have too many wives (17:17) - The midrash notes that when Shlomo decided to show that he could withstand the command not to have too many wives and took additional ones, the letter Yud came to complain in front of Hashem. The midrash explains that the yud from Yarbeh asked why Shlomo was allowed to violate it. Why did the letter Yud come and not the other letters in the word? Rav Hunter ztl. explained that the letter Yud has the power to focus on the future. This is especially the case based on the Gemara (Shabbos 104a) that Hashem gives the Torah as a Yerusha to us. (After all, we are given the Torah in order to transmit it to the future generations.) Thus, the letter argued that although Shlomo might have been ok logically but the Torah rests on super logical principles and needs to be observed even when it looks logic at the time does not support the need for the rules.
וְכָ֨תַב ל֜וֹ אֶת־מִשְׁנֵ֨ה הַתּוֹרָ֤ה And he will write 2 Sifrei Torah (17:18) – Rav Kalman Ber Shlita noted that the job of writing 2 Sifrei Torah became the king’s because he serves a dual function for the Jewish people. On the one hand, he has a personal obligation like all Jews to write a Sefer Torah. But he also has a second obligation based on his responsibility to represent the monarchy which leads the people. In fact, the institution of Melech was supposed to be one of representative leadership – not one of lordship. This was Shmuel’s problem with the request of the people when they sought a king – he understood that they wanted a king to lead them away from prophesy leadership which connected them to Aveinu She’BaShomayim. Their real need was to have a king who would handle leadership matters with the people’s mission – that of Hashem – in mind.
רֵאשִׁ֨ית דְּגָֽנְךָ֜ תִּירֽשְׁךָ֣ וְיִצְהָרֶ֗ךָ וְרֵאשִׁ֛ית גֵּ֥ז צֹֽאנְךָ֖ The first of your grains, vineyard and olive press and the first of the shearings of your sheep you shall give to me (18:4) – Min Hatorah, the only obligation to separate Trumah and Maser applies to Dagan, Tirosh and Yitzhar. Rambam explains that the Torah singled out these items to teach us that anything like them – including all fruits – are Chiyav in Terumah and Maaser. Shittah Mikubetzes (BM 88b) notes that only the 7 Minim are Chiyav biblically. Ramban limits the requirement to separate Terumah even from grapes and olives to only oil and wine. Rabbi Akiva Eiger challenges Ramban here because the Mishna clearly allows one to separate Terumah using olives to count for olive oil. This would be forbidden according to Ramban! The Chazon Ish explains that Ramban refers to grapes and olives about to be pressed. These are chiyav.
וְכִֽי־יָבֹ֨א הַלֵּוִ֜י מֵֽאַחַ֤ד שְׁעָרֶ֨יךָ֙ When the Levi shall come from the one of your cities with all of his soul’s desires..to serve in the name of Hashem (18:6-7) – Rav Belsky Shlita has pointed out that some people go to serve in the name of Hashem while others need to be dragged in order to participate in spiritual matters and undertakings. The difference reflects the commitment of the one who is involved in the process. Each Jew needs to act on his or her motivations for spiritual growth in order to become a true servant of Hashem.
תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה Be Tamim with Hashem (18:13) - What does it mean to be Tamim? Ibn Ezra defines Temimus, as entailing simplicity. Rambam sees it as a purely intellectual-philosophical understanding of the concept, and Ramban views being Tamim as developing an all-embracing relationship, intellectually and emotionally, with the Almighty. Rav Aharon Lichtenstein ztl. noted that all three are correct in the right context. There is a time and a place for each approach in our religious consciousness. And we must be sure not to disparage either those who appear more naive than ourselves spiritually, nor those who have an even greater degree of sophistication in their Avodas Hashem.
תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה Tamim Teheyeh (18:13) – There is a major discussion among the Poskim about whether Segulos are a good thing or should not be adhered to. The proponents of following the Segulos argue that they appear in early Rabbinic literature so why not follow them? Rav Pinkus ztl. explained that Segulos are like certain fertilizers. They may not hurt if you do not use them but if you continuously use them and forget at some point, the damage to the crop at that point might outweigh the yield. The advantage to Learning Torah and doing Mitzvos as the best Segulah is that it is the segulah that keeps on giving.
תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה You should be wholehearted with Hashem (18:13) – Rashi explains that one should not be routed in trying to figure out the future. Rav Wolbe ztl. pointed out that often a person thinks more about the future than the present. At the same time others spend too much time on the past. The Torah wants us to know that one shouldn’t dwell on his past too long or be excessively concerned about his future too much. The Gemara (Rosh Hashana 16b) tells us that we are judged in the present. That is because the present encapsulates the past and is the seed of the future. We need to make the most out of each day as it presents itself.
תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה You should be Tamim with Hashem(18:13) – What does walking Tamim mean? Rav Yaakov Moshe Charlop ztl. explained that it is the opposite to the other Mitzvos that appear in this section. The other prohibitions of the section speak about sorcery and witchcraft which center around man’s desire to know the future. Tamim Teheyeh speaks about living in the present. Some people savor moving on to the next issue and fail to savor the present – to appreciate the process that one goes through in order to attain the goal. That is the way that we connect to Hashem. The Chofetz Chaim is reported to have stated that in secular society, only results count but in Torah existence it is the Ameilus – the Toil that makes all of the difference.
וְזֶה֙ דְּבַ֣ר הָֽרֹצֵ֔חַ This is the matter concerning the rotzeiach (murderer)(19:4) – Why call one who kills inadvertently a Rotzeiach? Rav Lamm shlita explained that when a person acts B’vli Daas it means that he SHOULD HAVE thought about the ramifications of where he was and what could happen. Rabbi Lamm continued to explain that Ein Daas Ela Torah – that Torah is true Daas and that thoughtlessness and true Torah study and life are indeed incompatible.
ונס אל אחת הערים האל וחי And he shall run to one of the aforementioned cities and live(19:8)- The Gemara (makos 10b) explains that when a student is sent to the Ir Miklat, his Rebbe is sent with him in order to continue to educate him and give him life. Rav Steinman ztl highlighted that Rav Simcha Zelig Reguer would often quote Rav Chaim of Volozhin who explained that when the Gra was on his deathbed, one of the townspeople was complaining that he could not handle the pressure of the kedusha since the tannaim and amoraim were around to greet the Gra as a teacher would the students. This, Rav Steinman explained, is part of the unbeatable connection between Rebbe and student. Even as the student transitions from one world to the next, the teachers come to accompany him.
כי יהיה איש שונא לרעהוWhen a person hates his friend (19:11) - The Torah goes to great lengths to explain the accidental nature of the death that led to the exile to the Ir Miklat, so why the introduction about hating one’s neighbor? Rav Chaim Pinchas Sheinberg ztl. explained that when one is lax in a simple issue, he will come to do a greater one. If you violate V’ahavta, you will come to violate Lo Tisna and once hate is acceptable, ultimately you will come to spill blood. Rav Sheinberg added that we see why this is a klal gadol in the Torah. If you miss the message, the error can change the trajectory of one’s whole life.
וְנִגַּ֥שׁ הַכֹּהֵ֖ן וְדִבֶּ֥ר אֶל־הָעָֽם: And the Kohein shall approach the nation (20:2) – Later we will find that the Shotrim were supposed to speak to the people about the fear. It seems like the jobs are reversed. Shouldn’t the Shotrim speak to the people and tell them not to be afraid and then have Kohanim speak to the people about their Avairos? Rav Refael Sorotzkin ztl. explains that when we speak of Jewish law and Jewish fear of war, we are not speaking of battle fears. Thus the Kohein – the spiritual leader, speaks to the soldiers to inspire them. It is the Shotrim who ask the people to follow the Torah and follow through.
אל ירא לבבכםDo not fear (20:3) – Hashem tells us that there will be no need to be afraid because Hashem will be with the Jewish army, saving them and fighting on their behalf. This theme is repeated again in Parshas Ki Teitze (23:14-15), where the soldiers are commanded to be careful to have a clean camp, and to dress properly out of respect for the shechinah. Rav Schachter Shlita reminded us that the Gemara also applied these laws (of cleanliness and proper dress) to one who is davening or learning Torah. The source for those rules comes from here with soldiers who are fighting "Hashem’s battles." The Yirushalmi learns that 10 soldiers constitutes an army camp. Similarly, it takes 10 to make a minyan to recite kaddish, kedushah, or barchu. The minyan, fighting "G-d's battles" constitute a Davar Shebikedusha, and the Torah promises that the Shechinah will be with them.
אל ירא לבבכם Do not fear them (20:3) – The Rambam counts not being afraid about going to war against an enemy as a Mitzva. Raavad challenges this and sees it as a promise because it is impossible to expect a human not to have fear when facing such a perilous situation. Rav Binyomin Eisenberger Shlita explained that the Rambam is speaking about a different war than the Ravad is. The Raavad speaks of a war between men. The Rambam speaks about man’s battle with himself/his Yetzer HaRa. Hence the Raavad knows that his battle cannot be without fear based on command alone while the Rambam demands that man step up to the challenges of fighting his own inclination.
פֶּן־יָמוּת֙ בַּמִּלְחָמָ֔ה וְאִ֥ישׁ אַחֵ֖ר יַחְנְכֶֽנּוּ: And another person will inhabit it (20:5) - It seems petty to send someone home for not dedicating the home. Rashi comments that it causes him distress. Rav Gifter ztl. explained that the Torah is trying to have us understand each person’s nature. When a person works hard at something and senses his efforts going to personal waste -- and more -- to someone else, it causes him distress. This is not a middos issue but rather of pain to the soul.
מִֽי־הָאִ֤ישׁ הַיָּרֵא֙ וְרַ֣ךְ הַלֵּבָ֔ב Who is afraid and faint hearted (20:8) - The Talmud (Sotah 44a) comments that the person who is afraid must be afraid of his own sins. Why do we send such a person home? Why not just have him do Teshuva? Rav Yisrael Grossman Shlita explains that when the Gemara notes that the Avairos are in his HANDS it is a hint to the sins of theft. Teshuva for that cannot be achieved until the item is returned and sometimes we cannot figure out when it can be returned and to whom. Rather than let him freak out, we send the person home.
כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה For man is like the tree of the field (20:19) – Rav Gedaliah Schorr ztl. explained the comparison by noting that unlike vegetation that needs to be rejuvenated yearly, trees learn to sustain themselves. Man too, needs to work on himself so that his strengths reinvigorate him. He should not need to constantly plow to find his own strengths. He should know where they are, work on them and bring forth beautiful fruit – while not allowing these talents to be blighted out into waste.
כִּ֤י הָֽאָדָם֙ עֵ֣ץ הַשָּׂדֶ֔ה Because man is like the tree of the earth (20:19) – Man is like tree? In what way? Rav Schachter Shlita would often remind us that trees derive sustenance from both their roots and from the environment (Basar Gidulo or Basar Nofo). In that manner man is similar – he is like the tree wherein he too, derives his sustenance from his roots (previous generations) and his branches (the future). He would need to be a fool to buy into the philosophy of living just for the moment.
יָדֵ֗ינוּ לֹ֤א שָֽׁפְכוּ֙ Our hands did not spill this blood (21:7) – Rashi cites the Gemara that notes that we did not send him off without food or drink. What would the benefit of food or drink have for one who was attacked and killed? The author of the Shai L’Torah explains that he might have been able to run away if he had the energy. The fact that he didn’t makes the city also somewhat culpable in his death perhaps. Hence they explain that this was not the problem. Perhaps one can explain that the issue is somewhat different – that the culpability here is over the fact that he did not have the mark of someone who was being watched out for. The loner makes the target. Jews need to know that no matter where they are, they are never alone.
יָדֵ֗ינוּ לֹ֤א שָֽׁפְכוּ֙ And they shall respond and state our hands did not spill this blood (21:7) – Rav Nosson Tzvi Wachtfogel ztl. explained that the reason for everyone’s involvement is that the all of Am Yisrael are responsible for one another. When Achan sinned the Jewish people as a whole were put at risk. It then becomes the responsibility of the leadership to put an end to the loss of life. He compares it to the situation of a runaway train where it is the responsibility of the trainman to pull the emergency brake in order to save the lives of all those who are aboard the train.
ואתה תבער הדם הנקי מקרבך And you shall destroy the innocent blood from your midst (21:9) - Ibn Ezra comments that if one does that which is Yashar in the eyes of Hashem, then there will be no blood spilled. This is simply a result of Schar Mitzva in this world. In other words, the greatest Kiruv we can do, is the Kiruv of ourselves. Rav Nosson Tzvi Finkel ztl. Would often point out that the world gets a lot of inspiration from the Yashrus of the individual. Why? When the person realizes that s/he impacts the world through the individual actions, it gives us the rest of the energy to us to keep doing them.
אָֽנֹכִ֧י אָֽנֹכִ֛י ה֖וּא מְנַֽחֶמְכֶ֑ם I am, I am you comforter (Yeshayahu 51:12) – Why the double Anochi? Yalkut Shimoni explains that Hashem tells the Bnei Yisrael that he once used the term Anochi on Har Sinai and he will yet again say it twice. Rav Gideon Weitzman Shlita explains that the Jews at the time of the Churban felt very distant from Hashem. Therefore Hashem used the term Anochi as opposed to Ani for Anochi denotes a sense of closeness. But the people were too much in sorrow to hear the message. Thus, Hashem repeated the message of Anochi – he was close with them in the past and will remain close to them forever.
מִי־אַ֚תְּ וַתִּֽירְאִי֙ מֵֽאֱנ֣וֹשׁ יָמ֔וּת Who are you that you fear man (Yeshaya 51:12) - Rav Shaul Yisraeli ztl noted that Yirah is not something that exists only during war but also during peace. In fact, he notes, much of our motivation in life comes from fear of the future. The Torah teaches us not to fear man or man’s issues. Rather, when it comes to Torah life, a commitment of royalty is the commitment to standards above fear -- and above anyone else. The Torah wants us to commit to Hashem -- just as the king in the Parsha does, by studying Torah L’Maan Tilmad L’Yirah.
ותִּשְׁכַּ֞ח You have forgotten Hashem your maker, who spreads out the heavens (Yeshayahu 51:13) – Rav Schwab ztl. pointed out that the Novi is reminding the Jewish people to get past the symptom and to focus on the root of the problem that leads to all of the Tzaros – our own shortcomings and failings in the eyes of Hashem because this is what is causing the enemies to hate us. Rav Schwab ztl. added that Yeshayahu is not only speaking to the threat of the Assyrians, he is speaking to the Jew facing the enemies of his generation -- even the arabs – to know that it is not just to them we need to our focus but rather to Hashem and the shortcomings in our relationship with Him.
: וָֽאָשִׂ֚ים דְּבָרַי֙ בְּפִ֔יךָ וּבְצֵ֥ל יָדִ֖י כִּסִּיתִ֑יךָ לִנְטֹ֚עַ שָׁמַ֙יִם֙ וְלִיסֹ֣ד אָ֔רֶץ I have placed My words in your mouth, and with the shade of My hand I have covered you – to implant the heavens and to set a foundation for the earth – and to say unto Zion, 'You are My people.'" (Yeshaya 51:16) – To whom is the Novi speaking in this Possuk? Rav Avrohom Rivlin Shlita explained in the name of Rav Chaim of Volohzin that the intent here is to every Jew who is to remember his enormous potential level and the great abilities that are inherent in him, that are able "to implant the heavens and to set a foundation for the earth." In this regard, Yeshaya wants to contrast the lowliness of the oppressor, who is a "mortal human" and "men who will be made as grass," with the Jewish person, who has the ability "to implant the heavens and to set a foundation for the earth," a quality that is mentioned in our verses in relation to G-d Himself. If so, why the fear!