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Perashat Shof’tim

Dedicated for a Refuah Shelemah for Esther Bat Tziporah

Perashat Shof’tim

The first Pasuk in Shof’tim begins with these words: "Shof’tim ve shot’rim titen lecha be’chol shearecha asher Hashem elokecha noten lecha lishvatecha veshaf’tu et ha'am mishpat tzedek." The literal translation is:"Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities, which Hashem, your G-d, gives you, for your tribes." Rambam sounds an alarm in his comment on this passage. He explains that if not for these laws, and without judges to hear cases between brothers, and if there is a breakdown of respect for the interpretation of the laws, then the downfall of the nation Has V’shalom might not be far behind, because such a breakdown would lead to anarchy, with the Torah being fragmented into many Torah’s.

How careful we must be when we judge our fellow man, although we are not allowed to judge other because Hashem is the only true judge, subconsciously we do. A story is told about an elderly woman who boarded a crowded bus in Israel. She stood next to a young girl who was seated. The young girl was looking out the window pensively, and ignored the woman beside her. The elderly woman expected the young girl to offer her seat, but the young girl, though obviously aware of the situation, did not look up and pretended not hear the conversation around her.

The conversation was about the young girl’s behavior. The elderly woman said out loud, “She’s not even looking at me, it’s mindboggling. Today’s teens are so… I don’t know what’s up with them… but they’re certainly not thinking about me.”

The other standing passengers around her were sympathetic, and nodded their heads.

“I’m so confused,” the older woman said, unable to understand why even after the rudeness was pointed out to her, the young girl still refused to get up and offer her seat. Instead, she continued to stare out the window acting totally oblivious to the conversation that was brewing around her.

A man standing next to the woman said, “Frankly, it’s scandalous.”

“It’s not even crossing her mind that maybe…” the critical woman continued.

A second man concurred. “There’s no respect,” he said.

The woman said, “It’s perhaps not respect but maybe a lack of manners. What a generation…” she sighed, expanding her criticism from the girl to all her imagined peers.

Just then a woman across the aisle concluded a call on her cell phone. “I have to go,” she said, shutting her phone and rising. She opened a folded wheelchair, and proceeded to help the young girl, who was evidently her daughter, into the wheelchair, and began wheeling her off the bus. The passengers who had been so free with their loud and vocal criticism were silenced, and it was obvious from the look on their faces that they were deeply ashamed of themselves, and regretted every word they’d uttered.

We learn from this story that we have to be aware of our tendency to judge others, and of the consequences that this tendency has. First we feel free to judge. That leads us to communicate our judgment to others, and once we have taken that road, it won't be long before we are doing the same thing in public. It is then an easy next step to humiliating the object of criticism in public. The elderly woman did not hesitate to complain about the girl in front of everyone, on a crowded bus. She was sure of her own judgment, sure that she was right. Because of her, the others joined in on the negative judgment.

We are are not omniscient – only God is. We are never in possession of all the facts, and we have to be humble and acknowledge that. As the Talmud says (Baba Metzia 58b), one who shames another in public, causing the blood to drain from their face, is comparable to a murderer. Not only did the people on the bus gang up in their criticism against an innocent girl who was unable to give up her seat, no matter how much she wished to do so, they also embarrassed her in front of everyone.

Always consider what you are saying, and think before you speak. As the Rav Dov Ber of Mezeritch has said, “Eagerness is a precious value for all of man’s body parts except for the mouth and the tongue.”

One of the Baal Shem Tov’s most famous teachings is that “Your fellow man is your mirror.” He explains that when a person is pure, they will see purity in others. If they see a blemish on others, they are encountering their own imperfection. “Whoever judges his fellow, whether for the good or the bad, simultaneously reveals his own verdict.”

The Shelah Hakadosh has another interpretation. He comments that the "judges in all our cities" is a reference to the judges at the gates of our bodies. Our ears have ear lobes which act as gates to protect us from hearing Lashon Hara, our eyes have eyelids as a gate, so we don't see what we shouldn't be looking at and which may not be proper, our mouth has two gates, our teeth and lips, to protect us from speaking Lashon Hara and to also protect us from eating food which is not kosher.

The Hidah cites a similar interpretation by Rav Haim Vital, that our gates are our sense organs, through which we receive information from the outside world. We may feel that we are in total control of our behavior and there is no danger of being influenced by the things that we hear or see around us. That’s a big mistake, because every single thing we are exposed to in the media and which surrounds us has a tremendous direct and subliminal influence on our senses. According to Rabbi Twersky, many studies have conclusively proven that children who are exposed to violence on television are more prone to behave violently. Seeing or listening to immoral stimuli will definitely influence our moral values. As the Torah warns us in Parashat Shelah, Perek 15 Pasuk 39: "This shall be fringes for you, and when you see it, you will remember all the commandments of the Lord to perform them, and you shall not wander after your hearts and after your eyes after which you are going astray.”

This is especially relevant to our society today, with all that's available at our fingertips on the Internet. I heard Rabbi Shor speak about this topic once and he said that we have a bigger test today than the previous generations because they weren't as exposed as we are, through all the different media, to the decadence of today's society. We learn from this that we must constantly be aware of the need for "judges and officers" who sit at the portals of our minds in order to protect us from improper influences. We must give very serious consideration to what we see and read through our own personal "gates" and what we allow to enter our homes.

In Dvarim (17:8) the Torah tells us: “If a matter of judgment is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your cities — you shall rise up and ascend to the place that Hashem, your G-d shall choose.” The simple interpretation of the verse is that if one has a halachic question or disagreement that theperson is not able to resolve in any monetary or ritual matter, then the question should be brought to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem.

The Ari Hakadosh offers further insight into this verse...“If a matter is hidden from you…” The word used for "hidden from you" is Yipaleh. In other words, something that cause wonder (peleh). According to Ar’I this refers to wonderment in understanding Jewish history why did the Jewish people had suffered so much?

“It says in your Torah ‘An ox or sheep, it together with its child shall not be slaughtered on the same day’ [Vayikra 22:28], but how many Jewish parents and children were killed on the same day?”

In other words, the Midrash is asking: How is it that terrible things like the events of Tisha B’Av and so many others happen to theJewish People? We can expand on that question as we look at the centuries that followed this midrash. How did a Spanish Inquisition happen? How did the pogroms happen? How did the Holocaust happen?

This is the meaning of the verse “When something will escape you” — the event will be so hard to fathom, that it defies every type of rhyme and reason. The verse goes on the specify: “Matters of dispute (divrei rivat) in your cities”. The cause for this is Machloket. The Talmud tells us in Yoma 9b that the first Temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins of Murder, Idolatry, and Incest, while the second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. The Talmud asks: “Which sin was worse?” The reply is: “Look at the Sanctuary for proof”. The fact that a Second Temple was built, a relatively short time after the destruction of the First Temple, while theSecond Temple has still not been rebuilt proves that the latter sins were worse than the former sins.

This, the Ari z”l says, is the cause for the historical events which cause us wonderment at our misfortune — “matters of dispute in your cities”. Shows us how dangerous Machloket is.

The cure, he goes on to explain, is found the next part of the verse: “You shall rise up and ascend to the place that Hashem, your G-d shall choose.” The place that G-d shall choose is Yerushalyaim, which can be translated as “The City of Shalom – Peace”. This is the cure. An end to dissention and dispute among us. We must have harmony and peace among us.

The Perasha goes on to say, in Perek 17 Pasuk 9: "Ubata el ha’kohanim ha’lviyim ve'el ha’shofet asher yihiyeh bayamim hahem." "You shall come to the Kohanim, the Levites and to the Judge who will be in those days."Rashi comments on this that even if the Rabbis of our days are not equal to the Rabbis of previous days, we must obey them because all we have are the Rabbis and judges of our time. Rabbi Shmulevitz expands on this to say that Hashem will always provide us with Rabbis and leaders who are suited to our particular generation. In other words, the Rabbis that we have today are tailor-made for us.

So don't think for a minute that it would have been better if we lived in another time when we would have had different Rabbis who would have guided us differently, because Hashem ensures that we have the Rabbis we need and who are perfect for the needs of our generation: "bayamim hahem, baz’man hazeh" – in our time.

Lastly, it says in Perek 18, Pasuk 13: "Tamim tihiyeh im Hashem Elokecha.” "You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d." Rashi comments on this, that we should follow Hashem with perfect faith, without feeling that we need to know what will happen in our future. Alshich interprets this Pasuk to mean that one should be sincere in his observation of Torah, even when one is alone with G-d and when no one else is around to see what one is doing! Our devotion to Hashem should be whole and not fragmented. If you do some things for G-d and other things for yourself, then you are not being wholehearted with G-d. Some people may act very religious in shul and other public places, but in the confines of their home they can stray from that religious facade. Maybe they have a temper at home or don't give proper attention to their family. Or they might be diligent in their prayers but may be ruthless and unethical in their business dealings. We have to know that Hashem sees us and only He is our ultimate judge, so we never have the right to judge others. This is especially important at this time as we entered the month of Elul and with each week we are approaching the days of judgment by the ultimate Judge, Hashem! The Pasuk reinforces this: "Be wholehearted with Hashem." In other words, we must be wholehearted with ourselves, and always have Hashem in our thoughts, every second of the day, so that we can be one with G-d and not stray from that path of Emet (truth). Rabbi Diamond always taught us that one way to accomplish this wholeheartedness is to perform an act of Hesed each day without anyone ever knowing about it. You will then truly feel at one with Hashem!

May we seek only justice between our fellow Jews and avoid distorting justice in any way. May we also protect the gates of our bodies to keep harmful, forbidden influences from entering our lives and the lives of our families. May we also find it in ourselves to be wholehearted with Hashem and look for opportunities to do acts of kindness for others without anyone knowing about it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey

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