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Parashat Shoftim

Dedicated Leilui Nishmat Moshe ben Frieda, A'H, Mark Gindi by His Children and Grandchildren

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.


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 com e 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 Twerski, 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.”

Kohen Mashuach Milchama

Before the Jewish people go out to war, a specially designated Kohen addresses the nation. He tells them “Hear O’ Israel. You are going out today to do battle. You should not be afraid because the Almighty One will help you (Devarim 20:3).” The Kohen who made this speech was known as Kohen Mashuach Milchama—the Priest Anointed for War.

Rabbi Frand comments that it seems strange that the only known duty of the Kohen Mashuach Milchama was to address the people before they went out to battle. A person could perform such a job without working a single day his whole life! Wars are not an everyday occurrence. One can go years or decades without needing to make such a speech. It is conceivable that despite his exalted position such a Kohen never had to carry out the duties of his office.

This anomaly leads us to a simple question: Why not assign this job to the Kohen Gadol himself? Why create a new job title?

The passuk introducing the job of the Mashuach Milchama states, “And it will be when you draw near to battle the Kohen will approach and speak to the people (20:2).” He must approach the people before he begins to speak. Rabbi Frand derives the answer from these words.

Those of us who remember the Six-Day War in 1967 recall how the entire world was talking about the brilliant strategy of the Israeli army which defeated armies of tens of millions of Arabs. They decimated the forces of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria in less than a week’s time. There was a pervasive feeling of “we are so much smarter than them”, “we are so much braver than them”, “we are so much more technologically advanced than them”. This is an improper, mistaken philosophy.

Prevention of this mistaken attitude was the job of the Kohen Mashuach Milchama. He reminded them that Hashem will be there to help them with their battle. We may have the arms, the most brilliant generals, and the best strategy, but we must know that in the final analysis, it is the Master of the Universe who will help us win a war.

Rabbi Frand concludes that that is why the Kohen Gadol was not given this job. The Kohen Gadol spends his entire day and his entire life in the Bet Hamikdash. He is a person who is entirely spiritual. This job description does not require a holy person, it requires a person who knows the temptations of what it is to be out there in the real world.

A Lifesaving Commitment

Now that Elul is here, and Rosh Hashanah is rapidly approaching, it is time to reevaluate our current routines and take mitzvot upon ourselves. Rabbi Baruch Rosenblum told a beautiful story about a man who took a kabala—commitment upon himself one Rosh Hashanah to wash his hands before prayers from then on. Though it was a small commitment, he chose this one carefully. Throughout the year, he stuck to his word. Whether it was mincha, birkat hamazon, or Tehillim, he did netilah just before he prayed.

He went on a little vacation with his wife later that year, and as he was jogging on a path along a river in Tel Aviv, he heard a group of men, heartily calling, “Mincha! Mincha! We need a tenth!” He went to join them when he remembered his commitment to wash his hands before prayers. At first, he thought to himself, “It’s no big deal. I’m not praying in a shul or anything; they caught me on a jogging path. There are no sinks around here anyway.” But then, he recalled, he took a kabala, and so he was obligated to look for water. He asked the men to wait while he took a cup to the Yarkon River to make netilah.

He went down the stairs to dip his cup into the water, and suddenly, he saw a little hand break through the surface. He looked a little closer and saw a toddler’s head bobbing under the water. He quickly sprung into action and jumped into the river and lifted a little girl out of the Yarkon. He knew exactly what to do, performing CPR until the girl coughed and vomited all the water out of her tiny body. And that’s when he heard, “Sharon!! Sharon, where are you??” Her family had been looking for her. If they had found her then, five minutes from the time the man found her, she would never have survived.

The rabbi concluded his story by blessing the little girl to have a long, happy life, where she marries and has plenty of children who are tzaddikim and gedolei Torah, and that all of her and her descendants’ merits should be credited to this man’s commitment to making netilah. One mitzvah. Just one small commitment in honor of Rosh Hashanah. We never know how it can affect our soul or any other neshamot. After all, it could literally be lifesaving.

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 commit to taking upon a mitzvah in honor of Rosh Hashanah.

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Amram Sananes, written by Jack Rahmey

Discussion Points:

· Did you ever think negatively of someone, only to have it become clear later that they were right?


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