Dvar Torah Parshat Shoftim 5774 2014

We are given a decree: שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן־לְךָ בְּכָל־שְׁעָרֶיךָ, “You shall appoint judges and officers in all your cities…”. (Deut. 16,18) The prophet Yeshayahu foretells: וְאָשִׁיבָה שֹׁפְטַיִךְ כְּבָרִאשֹׁנָה וְיֹעֲצַיִךְ כְּבַתְּחִלָּה, “And I will restore
Your judges as at first, and your counselors as at the beginning, afterwards you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city.” (Is. 1,26) It is because of this prophecy that Jews pray three times daily in the weekday Amida: השיבה שופטינו כבראשונה ויועצינו כבתחילה, “Restore our judges as in earliest times and our counselors as at first.”

What the prophet forecasts for us and what we pray for is that the judges and counselors will return to judge according to the rules of the Torah. This implies the principles of Hashem laid down for us by Moshe and interpreted by Chazal, our Rabbis of old.

When this will become a reality then Jerusalem and all cities that follow these precepts will be known as the cities of righteousness and faithful cities. When courts and judges decide the law based on what they think it should be and not what is called for by the commandments or the established principles, there cannot be true justice and morality.

Advertisements

Dvar Torah Parshat Shoftim 5773 2013

This particular Portion we read on Shabbat establishes the laws of government which were to be practiced in the Land of Israel. We are told about the laws of how the judges were to conduct themselves and that a police force was to be established. We are told the laws regulating a king. His rights were limited and defined.

We read the roll of prophets in Israel and the priests. We are told about the cities of refuge for the protection of individuals who unintentionally had the misfortune of killing someone. Property rights are discussed and the laws of behavior when the army had to go fight to defend the country. Many more laws of governance are given.

While many nations consider these regulations as part of the bylaws of a country, according to our Torah they are part of the religious obligations of a Jewish state. They are not just a social contract among people but rather divine instructions of behavior for a just society. A Jewish state is not just another country but rather a sacred entity which must live by the religious instructions we received from Hashem Himself.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shoftim 5772 2012

The Torah admonishes us to follow the teachings of the Rabbis by saying: לֹא תָסוּר מִן הַדָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יַגִּידוּ לְךָ יָמִין וּשְׂמֹאל, “…you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left.” (Deut. 17,11)

It is generally accepted to mean that if one breaches the law, a Mitzvah or a prohibition of the Rabbis of the Talmud, he is guilty of transgressing this Biblical decree. Rabbi Soloveitchik directed our attention to the commentary of the Ramban, or Nachmonides, an early recognized Rabbinic scholar, who says otherwise.

The Ramban points out that if one does not follow the dictates of the Rabbis, and does indeed transgress a regulation of the Rabbis, he is not in violation of this Torah law. One violates this commandment when he rejects the general principle of Rabbinic Law, that is, he rejects the Oral Law.

Throughout the ages there have been groups who felt that the Rabbinic interpretations of the Torah were not binding and their decrees were not obligatory. This, according the Ramban, is the real transgression of this Biblical edict.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shoftim 5771 2011 – It’s what’s inside that counts

A strange law prohibits Jews from planting trees by the Bet Hamikdash. LO TITA…KOL ETZ ETZEL MIZBACH HASHEM ELOKECHA…, “You shall not plant…any tree near the Altar of Hashem…” (Deut. 16,21) Why would this be prohibited?

When we build a synagogue today it is recognized by Chazal as a Mikdash Me’at, a diminutive of the Temple. We try to beautify it and make it pleasant for those who worship in it. Yet the Torah says not to plant trees, implying that one should not try to decorate it.

Perhaps the reason can be seen in the very name given to the synagogue by Chazal – Mikdash Me’at. It has a part of the MIKDASH, the holiness of the Bet HaMikdash. The beauty of the synagogue is not its walls and not its elaborate decorations. Its beauty lies in its holiness.

We are aware of “shtiblach”, Chassidic places of worship that are run down in need of repairs, of paint and of new furniture. Such a place is far from what we would call beautiful. Yet no one can deny that the holiness, the KEDUSHA, in this place cannot be equaled by most magnificent edifices where services take place. The beauty has to be inward. It has to be one of sanctity.

This does not mean we should not try to beautify our places of worship. On the contrary. We should make them as magnificent as we can. But we must remember that the sanctity is what creates the true beauty.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shoftim 5770 2010

TAMIM TIHEYEH IM HASHEM ELOKECHA, “You shall be wholehearted with Hashem…” (Deut. 18,13) The meaning is obvious. A person should not do too much worrying about the future but should have trust in the Almighty that everything will work out fine.

Rabbi Simcha Bunim adds a little touch to this explanation and asks why the Torah tells us to have trust in Hashem when this is obvious. It should have just said have trust in the future. He answers that there are many people who are very influential and they can gain your trust and mislead you about the future.

Hence the Torah says not to be influenced by the glib talking of some people but to put our trust and our faith in Hashem. We must be optimistic and believe that things will turn out right.

This was the attitude of a great Talmudic scholar known as Ish Gam Zu. He was so called because whatever happened to him his mind-set was always “this is also for the good”. The Talmud tells us he was a person physically afflicted and lived in miserable poverty but he always had a confident outlook.

Dvar Torah Parshat Shoftim 2008 5768 דבר תורה פרשת שופטים

We are commanded by Hashem through MOSHE Rabbenu to heed the teachings of the Chachamim. Moshe says: LO TASUR MIN HADAVAR ASHER YAGIDU LECHA, “…you shall not deviate from the word they shall tell you…”. (Deut. 17,11) We make a Berachah whenever we perform a Mitzvah. The Halacha tells us that even for a Mitzvah of Chazal we have to make a Berachah.

The question raised by many is how can we say VETZIVANU that He has commanded us when in fact it is only a requirement of Chazal. The answer given to this question is that the Pasuk quoted above tells us to obey the dictates of Chazal; hence what they tell us to do is in fact sanctified by Hashem as is evident from this Pasuk.

Many people minimize the importance of Rabbinic Mitzvot. From this command in the Torah we see that the Rabbinic regulations are as obligatory on us to carry out as are the Mitzvot explicitly mentioned in the Torah.

Dvar Torah Shoftim 2007 – 5767 דבר תורה שופטים

We are told that if we have a difficulty in resolving a dispute among litigants, or if we are unsure about a certain law and we cannot resolve the matter within our community, we should go up to the place that Hashem will choose, namely Jerusalem, and bring the matter before the Kohanim. In the time of the Bet Hamikdash the Kohanim were the leaders and teachers of the people. The decisions of these judges must be followed.

Then the Torah adds and tells us that if a person shall deliberately ignore the bidding of the Kohen HA’OMED LESHARET SHAM ET HASHEM, “who stands there to serve Hashem”, then a proscribed punishment is to be carried out. Why was it necessary to mention the fact that the Kohen serves Hashem? This is well known and unrelated to the instructions on hand.

The fact, however, is that many people think that a Kohen who spends his time in serving Hashem is disconnected from the mundane world and cannot be expected to resolve worldly disputes. Many feel this way also about Rabbis and teachers of religion today. They think that people who are involved in the spiritual world are detached from reality. That is why the Torah emphasizes that one should go to the Kohen who serves Hashem. Specifically, he, is in a better position to judge ethically and morally to resolve the issue on hand.