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Torah Dialogue : Shoftim

08/19/2020 03:03:10 PM


Rabbi Edward Davis

SHABBAT SHALOM. Today is 2 Elul 5780.

SHOFTIM     Deuteronomy 16:18
Compiled by Rabbi Edward Davis (RED)

1.    This Parshah deals with the unique Halachic status of the leaders of Bnei Yisrael. We Americans are quite familiar with the different branches of national leadership. There are three divisions: the Executive branch (the President and his staff), the Legislative (Congress), and the Judicial (the Supreme Court and all the court systems in the country). We were taught in school that these divisions create a system of Checks and Balances, with each division acting together and independently. Similarly, there are several systems itemized here in the Torah to create a Torah society. There is a King, the Sanhedrin, the Kohen Gadol (and all the Kohanim and Leviyim), and the Prophet. They, too, are called upon to work together, but they do possess their own sphere of independence. It is interesting to note that the King, Kohanim, and Leviyim have inherited positions while the Sanhedrin and the Prophet are not inherited positions. Each tribe is independent and yet tied together to create the nation, just as the states in America are separate and yet united to create a nation. Jerusalem was originally established as a capital and not a residential city, and so too was Washington, DC created as a non-residential area. (RED)

2.    Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof (16:20) Justice, Justice shall you pursue. This directive is addressed to the plaintiff, to the claimant. Even though he might have confidence in the local Beit Din, he is required to seek the most learned court of judges. No matter how secure he feels in his case, and he feels he has a slam dunk in proofs and evidence, and he knows that he is right and the defendant is wrong, he still must go the best judges. Rav Henoch Leibowitz ,z”l, speaks to this issue. Is the plaintiff seeking the truth or is he more interested in getting the money? He has to question his own motives. The lower court might decide in his favor but he might be taking money illegally. Therefore he must do all he can to have the most qualified judges on the case. He must want only the truth to come out. He of course is interested in winning the case, but he has to put the truth above all else.

3.    You shall not plant for yourselves an idolatrous tree (16:21). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 7a) quotes Reish Lakish as saying: he who puts up an unqualified judge is likened to one who planted an idolatrous tree. The Brisker Rav (Rav Soloveitchik’s grandfather) explained Reish Lakish’s statement. When you see an idol, it is an unmistakable sight. You know it is an idol. But how do you recognize an idolatrous tree? It looks like a beautiful tree! The worshippers have turned the tree into an idol. Similarly, when you see any judge, he looks the part. You think he is honest and capable. Only through his actions and his sayings do you discover what his insides are made of. This is true of any structure that you admire and think is beautiful. It is only through a thorough investigation do you realize the truth. The Holy Temple is a perfect example. Or any beautiful modern synagogue. But it is only through what goes on inside the walls of the structure that identifies what it really is.

4.    We are required to listen and obey the Beit Din (17:11). And Rashi points out that this mandate extends to even “when they tell you the right is left and left is right.” This a remarkable statement. We are to listen to the Beit Din even if they are wrong? Rashi is basing his comment on the Sifri, the Midrash Halachah. But the Sifri adds “it appears to him” that right is left... The Abravanel and others agree with the Sifri. It is not possible that the Torah is instructing us to listen and obey that which is wrong. That would result in anarchy! Either Rashi deleted the words “it appears” (or maybe an early editor of the Text is the guilty party). The Ramban and the Ran accept Rashi as written. Ramban: Hashem has ruled that we accept the Beit Din. [Hashem will find a way to straighten it out, either in this world or in the next world]. The Ramban furthers explains by quoting a Mishnah (Rosh HaShanah 25) where Rabban Gamliel disagrees with Rabbi Yehoshua in calculating when Yom Kippur will occur. Ramban Gamliel, as the head of the Sanhedrin, orders Rabbi Yehoshua to travel to R. Gamliel‘s house with his staff and traveling bag on the day that R. Yehoshua felt was Yom Kippur. And Rabbi Yehoshua did so. (There can only be one Torah!)

5.    “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem” (18:13). Rashi comments that you shall walk with Hashem with purity... and don’t seek a way to know the future. Accept all that comes in your direction with purity (and sincerity), and the result will be that you will be with Him (end of Rashi). Looking at astrology or other future reading people is not advisable because Hashem can alter the movement of the stars at any time. The Rambam wrote in his Code that we should not seek soothsayers and the like because they are worthless and empty. And the Ramban codifies this Biblical mandate as a positive Mitzvah, one of the 613 Mitzvot of the Torah. It is part of the overall subject of accepting Hashem who determines everything in this world. In modern times, there are soothsayers even in our neighborhood in Hollywood, Florida. I would even add to this that reading your horoscope in the daily newspaper is considered a potential violation of this Biblical mandate.

6.    Hashem says that He will provide prophets for us (at least in the Biblical period) (18:15) and not for the Goyim, the idolaters (Sifri). Yet we see Bilaam, who Hashem provides so that the non-Jews could not complain to Hashem: “Listen, if You, Hashem, will provide prophets to us, we would be as good as the Israelites.” So Hashem proved them wrong. Furthermore, Hashem sent Yonah to Nineveh, to the non-Jews, to reprimand them. And they responded favorably to Yonah’s 5 word message (at least at that time). I cannot say that historically Bnei Yisrael really listened to Hashem’s prophets. Many of them were ignored. The Talmud (Bava Batra) said that there were 55 prophets (men plus women). In actuality, there were many more prophets in our history, but Scripture mentions only those that the Talmud mentions. Why did we lose prophecy? The Talmud (Shabbat 30b) states “Prophecy does not come upon a prophet when he is sad...” The Rambam (1105-1204) in his Guide for the Perplexed explains that when we went to this long exile, we would be sad and then ineligible to receive prophecy. Rambam adds other reasons as well, but this was the main one.

7.    Eidim Zomemim (19:15-21). Two witnesses testify that a Jew committed an offense. Then two other witnesses come forward and dispute the testimony of the first witnesses and testify that the first witnesses were with them when the offense occurred. They could not have seen it. The court will impose the punishment upon these first witnesses. We do to them what they wanted to happen to the defendant. Why do we believe the second witnesses? We must understand that these first witnesses are called “scheming witnesses,” and not “contradictory witnesses.” The second set of witnesses did not come to testify to the offense. They were not offering a different story to the first set of witnesses. Had they come and offered a different description of the crime, the testimonies would offset each other, and the court would be back to square one. The second set of witnesses said that the first set of witnesses could not have seen the crime. “They were with us.” The testimony is about the witnesses and not about the crime. Therefore we believe them.

ISAIAH 51:12

    "Awaken, awaken, put on your strength, O Zion; put on the garments of your beauty, Jerusalem the Holy City, for no longer shall the uncircumcised or the unclean continue to enter you."  (52:1) Awaken from the deep sleep of pain and put on the strength you had in the past.  (Mezudat David).  The uncircumcised are the kingdom of Edom, who are uncircumcised.  The unclean are the Ishmaelites, who show themselves as being clean and pure with their constant bathing, but who are, in fact, unclean because of their evil deeds.  These two kingdoms occupied Jerusalem since the destruction of the Temple, and they are constantly battling over it, first one occupying it and then the other.  From the time of the redemption, they shall no longer enter the Holy City (Redak). Abravanel points out that God answers the Jews with the identical expression with which they prayed to Him (see 51:9).  The double expression alludes to the loss of the First Temple and the Second Temple.  During the time of the Second Temple the Jews were remarkably strong, and during the days of the First Temple the city was very holy.  Both these gifts will be returned in Messianic times.  The prophet, therefore, announces, "Awaken, awaken, put on your strength" – that you enjoyed during the time of the Second Temple;  put on the garments of your beauty, O Jerusalem the Holy City – restore your sanctity of the days of the First Temple, etc.

Wed, October 28 2020 10 Cheshvan 5781