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Parashat Shofetim

Concerning Right and Left

"You shall act according to the Torah which they instruct you and the judgment which they tell you. Do not deviate right or left." The phrase "right or left" seems extraneous. Therefore our sages explained that the intent is: "Even if the rabbis tell you that right is left, or left is right." In other words, as the Ramban spells out, even if you think the rabbis are wrong, follow them anyway.

Still, the turn of phrase "right or left" needs explanation. One of our sages pointed out that when two people stand opposite one another, one's right is the other's left and vice versa. Only if they stand side by side will one's right be that of the other's.

This is what the sages were driving at. If you ask the Torah giants a question and they respond in a way totally out of line with your thoughts -- realize that you are standing opposite them, not alongside them. You must change your outlook so that it matches up to theirs. Our sages used this turn of phrase to indicate that a mere submission to their judgment is insufficient; one must realign his basic outlook so that it conforms to that of the great Torah decisors.

Judges and Gates

"You shall place judges and policemen in all your gates." Our sages explain that this verse refers to the "gates" of a human being: the eyes, ears, and mouth. Man is bidden to appoint judges and policemen to guard his personal gates, to filter everything which he sees and hears and stand watch over the things he says. Our sages tell us that the ears will be the first organ to feel the punishments of the World to Come, as they often allow one to hear a rumor which poisons the listener. The eyes cause the heart to desire forbidden things; "the evil inclination only excites man over those things which his eyes see." The mouth carries enormous dangers with it: "Life and death are in the power of the tongue." If man merits it, his mouth is occupied with Torah, prayer, and deeds of loving kindness which bring peace to the world. If, however, he does not act meritoriously, he spews forth gossip and dissent-provoking talk, causing his sins to be piled up to the very heavens.

Even the good actions which a person performs, the Rabbis tell us, cannot measure up to the value of his speech. In a famous letter, Rabbi Haim Berlin describes how Rabbi Yis'hak Blazer appeared to him in a dream following the latter's death. "I asked him concerning his judgment in the World to Come, and he told me that the judgment was indeed very severe, beyond measure -- and they were especially strict with regard to improper speech uttered in this world. Talmud scholars, however, merit a special protection." It would seem that Rabbi Blazer was referring to the Talmud's statement (Arachin 15b) that study of Torah is the antidote for habitual gossipers. One who is concerned about the upcoming Days of Judgment should increase his study of Torah and participate in Torah classes. In this way, the Torah will serve as a source of merit for him and his family to earn long and happy lives.

Thus far we have discussed how one should refrain from using his organs to sin. But the judges which patrol man's internal "gates" should also spur him on to do good. To demonstrate, we will cite a parable from the Yeshu'a Ve'Rahamim (quoted in "Yosef Da'at" on Rosh Hashana): A man once had a son who was blind. The doctors examined him and attempted various medicines and operations. But nothing worked. Sadly, the father approached his son, held him by the hand, and said in anguish: "My dear beloved son -- Heaven has decreed this fate and we will accept it with love. Your world will always be dark; your ailment has no cure." The son bowed his head in submission. A few days later, the child entered a store, and felt around with his hands to identify the products on the shelf. He came across a round object.

"What is this?"

"This," replied the storekeeper, "is an electric lamp."

The child was confused. "What is a lamp?"

"When it is dark," explained the storekeeper, "you push the button, and the light goes on, and then you can see." The boy was moved. When he returned home he complained to his father: "Father, why did you cause me to despair? Why did you tell me that there was no hope? I was in the store today and I found a lamp. You just push the button -- and you can see! Father, please buy me this miracle lamp, and light the world up for me!"

Emotionally, the father responded. "My dear son, do not deceive yourself! The lamp is meant for one whose vision is unimpaired; he merely cannot see because the room is dark. One, however, who cannot see at all -- he will never be able to see with the lamp ..."

This week we began to say Selihot. They are a powerful tool -- the thirteen divine attributes, the confession, about which the rabbis tell us that "one who confesses cannot be touched by menacing angels (Bemidbar Rabba 20:15)." It is all true. But we must realize that the Selihot are not some kind of magical hocus pocus; they do not automatically bring Hashem's pardon. Only one whose heart and emotions are alive and awake can perceive the Selihot as a ray of light which will chase away the darkness which often, through the daily travails of life, envelops a person. One, however, who has not appointed "judges and policemen" to monitor his speech will find, G-d forbid, that the Selihot function as well as does a lamp for the blind, unable to affect that which they normally would.

From the Wellsprings of the Parasha

"You shall place judges and policeman for yourself in all your gates ... according to your tribes"

The phrase "for yourself" seems superfluous! Rabbi Eliyahu ben Harush -- one of the great Moroccan sages of the last century -- explains it as follows: Generally, a legislator only imposes his will on the general populace; if a law impedes him personally, he simply legislates it out of existence! The Torah, however, is obligatory for the judges and sages to follow just like the general populace. They cannot deviate from it even one iota. Hence the phrase "for yourself"...

Since the policeman enforce the laws made by the judges, it would seem that appointing judges is meaningless without appointing policemen. Indeed, the Sages hint at this by saying, "If there are no policemen, there are no judges." However, writes the Ohr HaHaim, since the Jewish people are holy and follow the laws even without policemen, every judge is really both a judge and policeman rolled into one by virtue of the Torah authority he enjoys.

The Hida explains that Hashem imposes suffering on people to encourage them to repent; if they do not, the suffering, G-d forbid, is for naught. This idea is hinted at homiletically in our verse: Judge and decide why Hashem imposes the rod of suffering upon you (the Hebrew word shevet -- rod -- is also the word for tribe) and repent!

Rabbi Abir Ya'akov Abuhasira cites the Zohar's teaching that Hashem provides man with two angels who keep him from sinning, as the verse says, "For He will assign His angels to you to guard you in all your ways." If man, however, sins, the angels desert him. This, homiletically, is the intent of our verse. "You shall place judges and policemen" -- these angels -- "in all your gates" -- make sure they accompany you everywhere so that you never sin -- "which Hashem has given you according to your tribes" -- For Hashem has given them to you to guide and punish you [shevet = tribe or rod]; see that you do not cast them off through your sins!

The Golden Column: Rabbi David ben Hasin of blessed memory

Rabbi David ben Hasin, a great Moroccan sage some two hundred and fifty years ago, composed many liturgical poems. Some have been collected in his "Tehilla L'David"; they were often sung in Moroccan synagogues on Shabbat and holidays.

The poems were also sung in the synagogue of Rabbi Ya'akov Birdogo about a century ago. Rabbi Birdogo was well-versed in all aspects of Torah knowledge, having composed works of Halacha ("Shufrei De'Ya'akov"), sermons ("Shevut Ya'akov"), Torah commentaries ("To'afot Re'em"), Talmudic commentaries ("Kedushat Shabbat" on Tractate Shabbat), and works of Kabbala ("Galei Amikta"). Additionally, he composed liturgical poems entitled "Kol Ya'akov." On the first day of Pesach, Rabbi Ya'akov substituted his own poem for that of Rabbi ben Hasin, which had normally been sung.

That night Rabbi ben Hasin appeared to Rabbi Birdogo in a dream. "My son," he said angrily, "does the Torah not say, 'Do not encroach upon your neighbor's border, which was set down in ancient times'?"

The sage awoke in a sweat. The next morning he related the dream to his congregants, and they promptly went back to reciting the poem of Rabbi David ben Hasin, as had traditionally been done. On the night following the holiday, Rabbi ben Hasin reappeared to Rabbi Birdogo and blessed him for having restored the original order.

We see from this story how incumbent it is upon us to be careful regarding the honor of our sages and the ways of our fathers.

Questions and Answers -- Based on the Halachic Decisions of Former Sephardic Chief Rabbi of Israel Rabbi Ovadya Yosef

Written by Rabbi Moshe Yosef, Head of Beit Midrash "Me'or Yisrael"

One Who Recites a Blessing on a Fruit and Wants More

Question: If one recited a "Borei Peri Ha'ess," ate a fruit, and now decides to have more fruit, need he repeat the beracha?

The commentaries are divided as to the opinion of the Shulhan Aruch in this matter. The Magen Avraham writes that certainly if one had in mind to eat more fruit when making the original beracha, he need not repeat it later; conversely, if he was initially sure that he would only eat that fruit, he would have to repeat the beracha upon subsequent consumption. When, however, he had no specific intention when he originally made the beracha, the halacha depends on whether he had finished eating the original fruit when he decided to have more; if he had, he must make another beracha, but if some of the original fruit was still intact, he need not and should not repeat the beracha.

Many commentators -- chief among them the Ram"a -- explain the Shulhan Aruch's opinion differently. They understand that even if the original beracha was recited without specific intent, one would never repeat a beracha when he decided to have more. People usually eat more than they originally anticipated, so here we can consider it as if there was intention to have more than one fruit, even if there was no specific intention. Rabbi Ovadia Yossef (in his glosses to the Ben Ish Hai, Parashat Pinhas) follows this second position, since we generally refrain from making a beracha if there is a dispute as to whether we should say it or not. Thus, if one had no specific intention, he would not repeat the beracha when he decided to have more fruit, even if he had finished the original fruit. However, certainly one should try to accustom himself to have in mind when making the beracha initially to cover any subsequent fruits which he might decide to have later. By doing this he will avoid any dispute.

Of course, this entire discussion only relates to one eating at his own table. If, however, he is a guest at someone's house, all the commentators agree that his initial beracha covers any fruits subsequently served, even if he had no specific intention when he made the beracha. This is because he makes the beracha on everything the host plans to serve, since he cannot know specifically what food will be brought to the table.

To sum up: If one made a beracha on a fruit with specific intention to have more later, he certainly need not and should not make another beracha when he does so. If he had no specific intention in mind, he should also not repeat the beracha, since we refrain from making a beracha in case of dispute. However, if he had in mind specifically that he was only going to have this fruit, he would certainly repeat the beracha if he then decided to have more.

From the Wonders of Creation: The Berry

In Israel, the red and juicy strawberry is both common and loved. However, there are other berry trees, whose fruit are either black or white. The berry can be used in various ways. It is generally eaten raw, but it is also made into jelly, used to decorate cakes, and processed when making ice cream. The berry grows on a short shrub, which has small roots and leaves which grow in groups of three. The berry flower is white and gives off a pleasant smell. Unlike other fruits, the berry lacks any kind of peel. Its pit grows outside, unlike that of most fruits which grows inside. The plant does not actually grow by means of the pits, but rather through thin thread-like protrusions which spread out along the ground. These tiny "branches" produces roots which create new fruits. Thus the berry grows wild in any place which is suited to it.

Dear readers, a berry which is cultivated by man is certainly of much better quality than that grown wild. In this regard it is like other fruits which are cultivated by man using various agricultural techniques. The question we must address is why Hashem did not create fruits which would be naturally perfect, needing no cultivation? The Torah answers this question in Beresheet with the words "which Hashem created -- to do." The meaning of this phrase is that Hashem left many things in His world unfinished for man to perfect on his own -- "to do." It is actually a tremendous kindness that Hashem has done for man by allowing him to earn his bread through the sweat of his brow. This distinguishes man from other beings, as man has a sense of self-worth which prevents him earning "bread of shame" -- bread achieved without hard labor. Therefore, Hashem made the world in such a way that anything which grows wild is not as good as that which is cultivated through the hard work of man. Hashem, for His part, gave man a sun and rain to enable him to cultivate the soil, along with physical and intellectual gifts which enable him to carry out this mandate of "to do." One must remember, however, that the ultimate success is not a function of man's power and prowess, but a divine gift which enables him to do all those things which he can.

Measure for Measure -- Part V

(To summarize from last time, A poor scholar who had come upon hard times found himself in the Bet Midrash of a rich man who loved Torah. He never asked anyone for a handout, but the rich man, once speaking to him, found him to be rich in Torah and wisdom, and invited him to dine in his home.)

The poor man followed the rich man to his house near the Bet Midrash. At once, the table was set, and delicacies were brought out to the table. The rich man, however, was a scholar, and knew that all of life's delicacies were mere vanities; only the Torah, more precious than gold, would truly sweeten the palate. So he sat the poor scholar down in a place of honor, then washed and dried his own hands, and recited the blessing in a sweet voice before dipping his bread in salt.

Even while he ate the delicious bread, he turned to his honored guest and began to discuss Torah topics with him. The table became a discussion in Halacha, with questions and answers being exchanged between the two of them. Between each question and answer he would stick the fork into the food in front of him and produce a sizable portion; as his brow was furrowed the food would make its way to his mouth, where his lips would smack, either due to the tasty food or some brilliant idea which had just entered his mind. The poor man, meanwhile, tried to gather all his strength to discuss the Torah and ignore the beautiful tastes and smells in front of him. While the rich man chewed his food, the poor man chewed on Torah ideas and thoughts. The rich man was duly impressed with his thoughts. "It is truly a pleasure, he said, "to fulfill the sages' requirement to learn Torah at the table in such a fine manner!"

The poor man's stomach, meanwhile, was churning. Is he so thick or cruel, he thought, that he will torture a starving poor man? He realized that that couldn't be the case, since he was, after all, a good person. But he would only invite someone for a meal if the matter was brought to his attention. If not, however, the thought that someone else was hungry would never even occur to him.

Such people are many and numerous. We should look into ourselves as to whether we number among them ...

To be continued...

excerpts from Sing You Righteous...

by: Rabbi Avigdor Miller shlit"a

Youth IV

Aaron: That is clear. The golden era of oppurtunity is being wasted by the youth which pursues "Pleasure" recklessly, and which plunges into false college-ideologies; and thus squanders the wealth which is never to be regained.

Mr. Goodfriend: There is still another reason why youth is so precious. Youth is valuable for humility. The youth is more capable of learning, because he is not yet arrogant. This is a foundation of humanity, for Mankind's existence requires a youth which learns to live properly by hearkening to the counsel of older men. When the youth is so pampered that they become arrogant, they are thereby rendered incapable of being counseled, with sorrowful consequences to themselves and society. When Rav Dimi came, he said: Eighteen curses (of prophecy) Isaiah cursed Israel, but he was not mollified until he said: "The youth will be arrogant over the old, and he who is despised (will be arrogant) over one who is honorable" (Isaiah 3:5) (Hagigah 14a).

Aaron: Meaning: that this is already the worst.

Mr. Goodfriend: All misfortunes that befell Israel can be remedied by rebuilding a new generation. But when the youth become arrogant, then all is lost. We are grateful to the Guardian of Israel for our golden Torah-youth who hearken to the counsel of the Torah-ages. This youthfulness caused us to be beloved by G-d.

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