Torah Weekly

For the week ending 18 August 2007 / 4 Elul 5767

Parshat Shoftim

by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair -
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Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael to appoint judges and officers in their cities. A bribe of even an insignificant sum is forbidden. Trees are not to be planted near Hashem's altar, as was the way of idolaters. Blemishes in animals designated for offerings and other points of disqualification are listed. The Great Sanhedrin is to make binding decisions on new situations according to Torah criteria to prevent the fragmentation of the Torah. A very learned scholar who refuses to accept the Halachic decisions of the Sanhedrin incurs the death penalty. A Jewish king may only have possessions and symbols of power commensurate with the honor of his office, but not for self-aggrandizement. He is to write for himself two sifrei Torah, one to be kept with him wherever he goes, so that he doesn't become haughty. Neither the kohanim nor the levi'im are to inherit land in the Land of Israel, rather they are to be supported by the community by a system of tithes. All divination is prohibited. Hashem promises the Jewish People that He will send them prophets to guide them, and Moshe explains how a genuine prophet may be distinguished from a false one. Cities of refuge are to be provided an accidental killer to escape the blood-avenger from the deceased's family. However, someone who kills with malice is to be handed over to the blood-avenger. Moshe cautions Bnei Yisrael not to move boundary markers to increase their property. Two witnesses who conspire to "frame" a third party are to be punished with the very same punishment that they conspired to bring upon the innocent party. A kohen is to be anointed specifically for when Israel goes to war, to instill trust in Hashem. Among those disqualified from going to war is anyone who has built a new house but not lived in it yet, or anyone who is fearful or fainthearted. An enemy must be given the chance to make peace, but if they refuse, all the males are to be killed. Fruit trees are to be preserved and not cut down during the siege. If a corpse is found between cities, the elders of the nearest city must take a heifer, slaughter it, and wash their hands over it, saying that they are not guilty of the death.



“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all the gates of your cities…” (16:18)

The Bar Mitzvah boy sat behind the head table, his face shining beneath the brim of his new Borsalino, beaming with the excitement of the big day.

His proud father asked his Rabbi if he would like to hear the derasha (exegesis on a Torah theme) that his son had prepared.

“Does he know it well?” asked the Rabbi.

“Yes.” Replied the proud father.

“I don’t mean does he know it parrot-fashion, I mean does he understand it.”

“Yes, he does.” Replied the even prouder father.

“Okay” said the Rabbi.

The father led his Rabbi to sit with his son at the top table and left his son to expound the intricate piece of halachic logic that he had so carefully prepared.

After the bar mitzvah was over, the father asked his son what his Rabbi had said to him.

“After I finished the derasha, he asked me a few questions and then he said that if I learn, I will be a Gadol (great Torah scholar).”

“And what did you say to that?” asked the father.

“I said, ‘Amen!’ Then he said to me, ‘It’s not a beracha’ — it’s a metziut (reality)’.”

The gap between potential and actuality is called hard work.

Many of us are born with gifts, talents and abilities that are given to but a few. Fewer of us, however, develop those talents into real achievement.

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all the gates of your cities…”

Rashi explains that the judges dictate correct behavior, while the officers ensure that their dictates are obeyed.

In any construction project, there are two stages. First, the architect sets pen to paper, then the contractor takes that blueprint and makes of it a reality. Similarly, a composer sets notes on a stave and the musician takes those hieroglyphics and fills the air with music.

If the Torah is the blueprint of life, its practical application is ethical behavior.

Halacha tells us how to do the mitzvot of the Torah, whereas mussar (active character refinement) teaches us how to become the kind of person that the Torah demands us to be.

The Rambam (Shemone Perakim) writes that a complete person must constantly review his character, weigh his actions, and examine who he is every day. The work of becoming a great person is achieved in minuscule increments. The grand gesture leaves no imprint, however the constant learning and application of ethics changes our character for the better even without our being aware of it, just like the stone that Rabbi Akiva saw where tiny drops of water had carved a large trough over time.

There is no substitute for, nor is anything as powerful as constancy.

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