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Parashat Shoftim

Dedicated In Honor of My Eshet Chayil Wife Jody

Parashat Shoftim Guarded Gates 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 cite 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 eating food which is not kosher. Machloket The Torah continues, “If a case is too inexplicable for you to decide, be it a controversy over homicide, civil law, or assault—matters of dispute in your courts—you shall promptly ascend to the place G-d has chosen (17:8).” The simple interpretation of the verse is that if one has a halachic question that he is not able to resolve in any monetary or ritual matter, then he should bring the question up to the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem. The Ari goes further, and explains that these matters come about from machloket—divisiveness. Rabbi Frand cites Yoma [9b] saying that the first Temple was destroyed because of the three cardinal sins: murder, idolatry, and incest, while the second Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. Which sin was worse? The fact that a second Temple was built a relatively short time after the destruction of the first Temple, while the second Temple has still not been rebuilt proves that the later sins were worse than the former sins. The difference is that in the time of the First Temple, even though there were these terrible sins, at least there was no machloket. However, where there is baseless hatred, where there is machloket, we lose our greatest asset, which is unity. When there is dissension and divisiveness, we lose that strength and we end up suffering as a nation. The cure to these moments of suffering, he goes on to explain, is the second part of the passuk, “You shall promptly ascend to the place G-d has chosen.” The place that G-d chose is Yerushalayim, which can be translated as “The City of Shalom – Peace.” Peace is the cure. Don’t Desensitize 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. 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 Sameach, 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. Therefore, the witness is obligated to execute the sinner to reinforce his fear 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 the 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 (19:17).” The expression “who will be in those days” immediately raises a question. Which other judges would a person present himself to, if not the judges who are around in his time? Obviously, he can’t go to judges of previous generations! Rashi comments, “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, roshei yeshivah, gedolim. The Torah leaders with whom you interact may 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. Rabbi Shmuelevitz expands, saying 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. Hashem ensures that we have the Rabbis we need and who are perfect for the needs of our generation. 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 on 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. He 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.” Be Wholehearted with Hashem It says, “Tamim tihiyeh im Hashem ElokechaYou 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. Rabbi Diamond always taught us that one way to accomplish this wholeheartedness is to perform an act of chesed each day without anyone ever knowing about it. You will then truly feel one with Hashem! A Lifesaving Chesed Rabbi Yoel Gold told a story about an unlikely couple who were clearly meant to be, from an incredible act of kindness. Yisrael and Aviva knew each other well in college, but they were always missing each other when it came to dating. When he was available, she was busy. When she was available, he was busy. When they finally started dating and were going to get engaged, they were both on very different religious levels, and they were afraid to introduce each other to their respective families. They decided they would dip their toes, and introduce Yisrael to Aviva’s grandfather, who was in his nineties and no longer able to speak, besides quietly reading tehillim in his bed. When Aviva brought Yisrael into her grandfather’s room, he looked up at Yisrael and said, “Oh, Heshy’s yingele (Yiddish for Heshy’s boy),” Yisrael said, “How do you know that Heshy is my grandfather?” Aviva’s grandfather did not answer and continued to read his tehillim. Yisrael decided to research this, and what he found was astounding! Yisrael and Avivas grandfathers were both attending the Satmar Yeshiva before the war. When the Nazis came in to Hungary, they sent the yeshiva boys to the same camp, Mauthausen. During the time leading up to the camp’s liberation, the Nazis grouped many Jews together to exterminate them in huge numbers so they can cover up some of the atrocities that were committed there. They gathered a huge group of boys over a mass grave and began shooting them so they can fall into the pit. Aviva’s grandfather was shot, and Yisrael’s grandfather wasn’t but he had fallen into the pit. Yisrael’s grandfather stayed in the pit for two days, unmoving. When he knew no one would find them, he crawled out of the pit and started to seek out anyone who was alive so he could pull them out. He pulled out dozens of bodies and helped them with their injuries so they could hide for the next few days. One of the people he carried out was Aviva’s grandfather. The couple knew this was completely meant to be and decided to get married. Unfortunately, Aviva’s grandfather didn’t make it to the wedding, but Yisrael’s did. The couple went on to have many children, and the first stop with every new baby before going home from the hospital was Yisrael’s grandfather’s house, to show him how honored they are to be continuing his family. 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. Shabbat Shalom! Rabbi Amram Sananes as written by Jack Rahmey Discussion Points:

  • 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?

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