Torah Weekly

For the week ending 3 September 2011 / 3 Elul 5771

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.


The Last Scene

"When you go out to the battle to meet your enemy... the officers shall speak to the people, saying: 'Who is the man who has built a new house and not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war and another man will inaugurate it... Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted, let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the heart of his fellows like his heart'." (20:1-8)

The Yiddish Theater was not known for its championing of Torah values and so it was not surprising when two students came running to the Brisker Rav, breathless with indignation: "Does the Rav know about the new play the Yiddish theater has put on? The people associated with it should all be put in cherem (excommunication)! They've made a satire on the Torah!

First, one of the actors says "Who is the man who has built a new house and not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he die in the war and another man will inaugurate it." So, ten people get up and walk off the stage. Then he says "And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it? Let him go home lest he die and another man redeem it." So, another ten people get up and leave the stage. Then he says "And who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go home lest he die in the war and another man marry her." So, another twenty people get up and walk off the stage. And then he says "Whoever is afraid, let him go home so he won't scare everyone else." So now everyone leaves the stage except two actors who play the Vilna Gaon and the Sha'agas Ariyeh. The Vilna Gaon says to the Sha'agas Ariyeh "K'vod HaRav, you take the first shot," and the Sha'agas Arieh replies "No, no, I insist. After you." As they argue about who's going to start the war, the curtain falls and the audience laughs and claps. It's terrible!"

The Brisker Rav paused and then said:

"Well - what's wrong with that?"

The jaws of the students dropped. They gazed at their Rav dumb-struck.

The Brisker Rav continued, "The only thing they forgot is the last scene."

"What last scene?"

"The last scene is where the Vilna Gaon and the Sha'agas Ariyeh win the war."

The strength of the Jewish people is not in the vastness of its numbers nor its military might. The Torah calls us the "smallest of the nations."

Our strength is a function of our righteousness and our faithfulness to G-d the "Master of Wars."

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