Torah Weekly

For the week ending 10 August 2002 / 2 Elul 5762

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.


Did You Hear That?

When you go out to battle against your enemy and you see horse and chariot Let not your hearts be faint; do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not be broken before them. For Hashem, your G-d is the One who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies, to save you. (20:1-4)

The Torah give four warnings here: Let not your hearts be faint; do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not be broken before them. Rashi comments that these four warnings correspond to four strategies that the kings of the nations use in battle: Let not your hearts be faint - from the sound of the stamping of horses hooves and their neighing. Do not be afraid - of the sound of shields being banged together. Do not panic - from the sound of horn blasts. And do not be broken before them - from the sound of their shouting.

All of these fears are based on sound. The power of sound is that it draws from the world of imagination, intimation. It lacks the immediacy of sight but therein lies its power.

Sound suggests much more than it says: A creaky door in a gothic house; the sound of the wind whistling through a cracked window. These are only sounds but they have the power to petrify. Why? Sound is always alliterative. It hints. It suggests. The nature of sound is that the person who hears has to assemble the sound and make it meaningful.

Sight is unambiguous. When the Jewish People were sinning with the golden calf, G-d told Moshe to go down and see what was happening in the camp. Wouldnt Moshe have believed G-d if He had told him what was happening? If you cant believe the Almighty, who can you believe? And yet G-d wanted Moshe to see with his own eyes what was going on. Because you cant compare hearing to seeing. The very ambiguity of sound is what makes it so frightening.

Did you hear that? Or was it just me?

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