Dedicated Refuah Shelemah for Rochel Leah Bat Fraida Basha By Rabbi Diamond and Family
The first passuk in Shoftim begins with these words: “Shoftim veshotrim titen lecha bechol shearecha asher Hashem elokecha noten lecha.” The literal translation is: “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your [city] gates, which Hashem, your G-d, gives you.”
Rambam sounds an alarm in his comment on this passage. He explains that if not for these laws and people’s respect for them, and without judges to hear cases between brothers, then the downfall of the nation would not be far behind. Such a breakdown would lead to anarchy, with the Torah being fragmented into many Torahs, has veshalom.
The Shela Hakadosh and the Hida both site a similar interpretation. They comment that the “judges in all your gates” 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, so we don’t see what we shouldn’t be looking at; and 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.
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 everything 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 violent behavior. Seeing or listening to immoral stimuli will influence our moral values. As the Torah warns us in parashat Shelah, perek 15 passuk 39: “This (tzitzit) 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.”
“The hands of the witnesses shall be the first upon him to put him to death... You shall remove the evil from your midst (17:7).” The author of the Ohr Same'ach, points out that it is specifically those who witnessed a crime who must be the ones to execute the death penalty on the transgressor, because witnessing someone committing a sin and continuing to lead an undisturbed existence is likely to desensitize that person to the enormity of the transgression. Hence, "The hand of the witness shall be the first upon him to put him to death," in order to reinforce the witness's fear of and aversion to the sin that he has witnessed.
This teaches us the importance of living in a place of Torah, where we are not exposed to forbidden sights and sounds, such as chillul shabbat. Anyone living in a far-from-ideal environment for whatever reason, who is not thus shielded, must remove the evil from his midst by constantly eradicating it from his heart and mind in order to minimize the effect it has on him.
Just like witnessing chillul shabbat desensitizes the witness to the ramifications of mechalel shabbat, so does witnessing injustice and corruption desensitize us to these things and cause that person to think it’s okay to live in a sinful environment. It’s just like today how we’ve become numb to all these mass shootings that we hear in the news on a daily basis.
The Tactics of th he Satan
Rabbi Frand brings down a passuk: “then the two men who have the grievance shall stand before Hashem, before the Kohanim, and the judges who will be in those days”[Devarim 19:17]. The expression “who will be in those days” immediately raises a question: To which other judges would a person present himself, if not to the judges who are around in his time? Obviously, he can’t go to judges of previous generations!
Rashi famously adds: “Even though he is not of equal stature to judges who existed in previous generations, one must listen to him, for one only has the judges available in his own time.” This does not only apply to judges. It applies to Rabbis, teachers, Rosh Yeshiva Gedolim. The Torah leaders with whom you interact may, in fact, not measure up to those of years gone by. That cannot be helped. You, however, must have the attitude that the individuals who are Torah leaders in your time are the greatest authorities that exist and you must approach them with proper respect and deference.
Rav Pam, zt”l, quotes the Gemara in Baba Batra (15b) which records a dialog between Hashem and the Satan. The Satan told G-d: “I have traversed the whole world and found none so faithful as your servant Avraham. You promised him that you would give him the length and breadth of the land which he traversed, and yet when he was unable to find any place in which to bury Sarah until he bought one for four hundred shekels of silver, he did not complain against your ways.”
Then G-d said to the Satan: “Have you considered my servant Iyov? For there is none like him in the earth…” The Satan then challenged the Hashem to let him test Iyov to check out his true character. This initiated the well-known events at the beginning of the book of Iyov.
Rav Pam asked: Since when is the Satan in the business of praising people like Avraham? “There is no one around who compares with the righteousness of Avraham” does not sound like the Satan!
Rav Pam answered that this is, in fact, EXACTLY the tactic of the Satan. The Satan picks some previous Gadol and sets him up as a “fine and wonderful Jew”. But he does this only to find fault with contemporary Jewish leaders. Such are the devious techniques of the Satan.
We must show respect and reverence to the leaders who are present in our own days. The Satan = Yetzer Hara = Evil Inclination tries to always belittle our contemporary leaders in comparison to the “great leaders” of past generations. We must avoid this trap when approaching the leaders who are present “in our own days”.
Our Own Rabbis of Today
The parasha goes on to say, in perek 17 passuk 9: “Ubata el hakohanim haleviyim ve’el hashofet asher yihiyeh bayamim hahem —You shall come to the kohanim, the leviyim, 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 Shmuelevitz 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.
There’s a story that’s not unique to our community about Stanley Chera A’h who recently passed away suddenly due to Covid. On a video that went viral in our community yesterday Stanley tells a story about a unique relationship he had with our great Rabbi Jacob Kassin. Stanley was speaking about when he bought his home on east 3rd st in Bklyn across the street from Cheif Rabbi Jacob Kassin. He was in the retail business then and on Saturday mornings, when he left his home to go to work he would see Rabbi Kassin at the same time walk to shul. In all those times, he never looked up and he never said anything. One Saturday morning Stanley was going to shul for a bar mitzvah or a briss and he found himself walking with Rabbi Kassin to shul. The rabbi looked at Stanley and said very simply “much better”. The next Saturday morning he’s walking out of his house to get in his car to go to work and the Rabbi said to Stanley “come with me to shul and go to work after”. So from then on every Saturday morning he would go to shul and then go to work after.
Three months later after going to shul in the morning and to work after, Stanley was walking out of shul and Rabbi Kassin saw him and said “go home now and have lunch with your children and then go to work after “. Three months later he saw the rabbi again and he said to Stanley, “I heard you’re doing well in business”. Stanley responded “yes Rabbi, I am”. The rabbi answered, “So you don’t have to go to work on Saturday anymore”.
Stanley closes by saying, from then on he never went to work on Saturday again and that’s what are community is and was and what our Rabbi’s are all about. That’s why he’ll always fight to maintain tolerance among all our community members no matter what level of religiosity they’re holding. Just like Rabbi Kassin showed me and our community, through tolerance and patience with our people, we all have a true desire to grow in Mitzvot and a higher level of jewish observance.
Be Wholehearted with Hashem
Lastly, it says, “Tamim tihiyeh im Hashem Elokecha – You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, your G-d (18:13).” 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 passuk to mean that we should be sincere in our observance of Torah, even when we are alone with G-d and no one else is around to see what we are 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 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. We are in the month of Elul, and with each passing week we are getting closer to the days of judgment by the ultimate Judge, Hashem! The passuk 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 emmet (truth).
Rabbi Diamond always taught us that one way to accomplish this wholeheartedness is to perform an act of hessed each day without anyone ever knowing about it. You will then truly feel one with Hashem!
The Angels that Protect Us...
Rabbi YY Jacobson shared a very moving story about a man named Sol Teichman, a patriarch of the Los Angeles community, who was well known for being an openhearted man who helped many others. He was once asked why he dedicated himself so completely to hesed and tzedakah. He responded by telling the story of how, as a young Jew from Munkatch, he was transported during the Holocaust in a cattle car to a selection line at a concentration camp. At the end of the line, Mengele waited to point his next victim to his death. Just at that moment, a man with a beard and kippah approached Sol and asked him “When were you born?” Sol said, “1927.” The man said, “No, no I insist, you were born in 1925.” Sol tried to argue, but the man said, “Trust me. You were born in 1925. I ask you again: When were you born?” And Sol said, “1925.” Then the stranger suddenly disappeared.
When Sol approached the front of the line and stood in front of Josef ‘Angel of Death’ Mengele, yemach shemo. Mengele asked Sol, “When were you born?” Sol answered, “1925.” Mengele motioned with his thumb and pointed him to go to the right. He found out later, that those who were born in 1927 or later were immediately sent to the gas chambers. He then realized that the man who approached him was his guardian angel sent by Hashem!
May we always only seek justice between our fellow Jews and avoid distorting justice in any way. May we also guard 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 as Sol Teichman by being an angel to others
Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey
· Did you ever think negatively of someone, only to have it become clear later that they were right?
· If G-d suddenly materialized next to us and followed us around all day, would our day look any different than it does now?
· Do we look to emulate Hashem by doing random acts of kindness?
Eliyahu Ben Rachel
Rabbi Shimon Chay Ben Yaasher
Avraham Ben Garaz
Sarah Bat Chanah
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Avraham Ben Mazal
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