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Parashat Shoftim

"You Shall Listen to Him"

"A prophet, like myself [Mosheh], Hashem will establish for you - you shall listen to him." Mosheh promises the nation that there will never be a lack of communication-lines between God and His people. There will always be those who will teach the people the ways of Hashem and guide them along the path of proper observance. Rabbeni Behaye, in his work, "Hovot Halevavot" (in "Sha'ar Hateshuvah" ch. 6), writes that this promise is an eternal one, and not a single generation exists without this guarantee. Hazal say, "By the time Mosheh's light was extinguished, the light of his student, Yehoshua, was ignited. By the time Eli's light was extinguished, Shemuel's light was ignited. By the time Eliyahu's light was extinguished, Elisha's light was ignited. On the day on which Rabbi Akiva died, Rabbi Yehudah the Prince was born..." Similarly, the mantle of leadership is held in every generation in every location - there will always be one who calls to his God and His service, one who teaches His Torah.

We are guaranteed by the Almighty Himself that not only will there never be a generation - or even a short period of time - with a lack of Torah scholars with a clear view of the Torah's meaning, who bring the nation closer to its Creator, and who rule on issues of halachah, but there will be Torah leaders in every period and in every land. We see with our own eyes, in our generation, that great Torah leaders have risen in every Jewish community throughout the world, who lead and guide their constituents along the path of the Torah. We are commanded, "You shall listen to them," to follow the guidance of the leaders of each generation. They are the emissaries of God, and He assists them in their leadership and guidance of the nation. Let us heed their words and instruction, and thus be worthy of the promise, "Whoever consults the elders - succeeds."

"Who are You, the One Who Fears?"

Two hundred and fifty-five years ago, the great Rabbi Hayyim Abualefia zs"l, who reinstated the Jewish settlement in Tiberias, led a flourishing community which was granted the protection of the sheik Daahir Al Emaar, who fortified the walls of the community. His assistance and support for the Jews was met with great displeasure by the governor of Damascus, who feared the formation of a new independent force within the region of his jurisdiction. He set out to Tiberias with a huge army, with the intention of conquering it and destroying its fortification. The Jews of Damascus frantically sent the message to the revered rabbi asking him to escape from Tiberias with his community and their possessions, as they were guaranteed protection by the authorities in Ssefat. The rabbi refused to abandon the city, "...and he trusted in the God who wishes for the good of the Land of Israel, that the merit of all the ssadikim, tannaim, and amoraim buried in this country will protect the people and the entire land."

The siege began and the canons started pounding the region. The attackers set upon the city " destroy, demolish, wreck, and sack, day and night. But the wonders of Hashem were too numerous to be counted, for not a single house was destroyed and not a single life was lost, despite the fact that a single canon had the capacity to destroy several homes." Most of them fell into the Kinneret, some landed on and were buried in the ground, and still others exploded in the air. "And at the moment when the attackers launched destructive stones, Rabbi Hayim Abualefia zs"l held in his hand a staff upon which was written the holy names of God, and as he pointed his staff toward the rockets they fell into the Kinneret Sea and did no damage to anybody in Tiberias. And if two people traveled together, the stones would pass in between their shoulders or their feet. And when the gentiles in the city witnessed the Hand of God fighting on behalf of Israel, they refused to listen to the general battling against Tiberias who demanded that they destroy the wall and the tower, and he did not succeed."

After a long and frustrating siege, one which produced no result and caused many fatalities, the governor gave up and returned to Damascus. Great joy and celebration overtook the besieged people, they sang Hallel and recited the prayer, "Nishmat kol hai..." The fourth of Kislev was instituted as a day of festivities and celebration.

But the story does not end here. This mistake continued to haunt the governor, and he soon became the laughing-stock of those around him. People wondered, how did he lose? With all his artillery, large number of soldiers, and sophisticated arsenal of weapons, how was he unable to defeat a lone city under siege? He felt compelled to regain his pride, and he swore to return to Tiberias and not return until the city was destroyed. Once again, the rabbi was warned to escape, and, again, he refused.

In the month of Av, the general left Damascus with a huge army which included the armies and weaponry of Aco. He ensured that the villages surrounding Tiberias would not offer any military support to the sheik. He then set up an embargo to siege the city from the sea. This time, he thought, the siege would final and definitive. On Erev Shabbat of Parashat Shoftim, the governor's army reached the village of Lubia, adjacent to Tiberias, and on Shabbat they were to have begin building the siege around the city itself.

On Friday night, after dinner, the community gathered around in the rabbi's home with a sense of dread. His son sat at the table preparing the next day's haftarah reading: "I [Hashem], I am the One who comforts you, who are you, the one who fears from a human, who will die, and from a person, who will be like grass." The next day, the rabbi spoke in the synagogue as usual, and elaborated on the verse, "Listen, Israel, you are coming today to do battle against your enemies. Let your hearts not soften, do not fear, do not worry, and do not panic because of them. For Hashem, your God, walks among you to fight for you against your enemies to save you!" Passionately, he cried, "Who are you, the one who fears from a human, who will die! Even if the enemy currently resides in Lubia - he will not approach this city and will not build a siege around it. You have my absolute guarantee!"

Shabbat was the fourth of Elul, as it is this year. On Sunday, the fifth of Elul, the governor took ill. On Monday his condition worsened and on Tuesday, the seventh of Elul, he died and the plans for the siege were aborted. "Then, the people rejoiced heartily and the joy permeated throughout the community. The rabbi spoke on that Shabbat of the miracle and they recited Hallel as they had done originally, and they accepted upon themselves to observe the seventh day of Elul as a day of joy and celebration, for on this day the governor perished. So may all Your enemies be destroyed, Hashem. So may You show us the great salvation with the coming of the Moshiah speedily, and in our days, amen, and so may it be Your will" (from the work, "Zimrat Ha'aress" which was composed in honor of this miracle).

We are promised that these miracles will occur, if only we follow the word of God as transmitted by His prophet, "I, I am the one who comforts you! Who are you, the one who fears from a human who will die - and you have forgotten Hashem who created you, who spreads forth the heavens and establishes the land!"

If we do not forget Hashem - we are guaranteed that He will not forget us!

Based on the Rulings of Harav Ovadia Yosef shlit"a

Rice Eaten Together With Other Foods

When one has before him rice mixed with other foods (such as carrots), the Rambam maintains that he recites the blessing on the other item with fulfills his requirement for the rice. The Rif, however, distinguishes between a case when the rice constitutes the majority of the dish, where one would recite the blessing over the rice and thereby fulfill the requirement for the other food, and a case where the other food is the majority, where one should recite the berachah over the other food. The Shulhan Aruch (208:7) rules in accordance with the Rif, so if the rice is the majority, then one recites the blessing over the rice and thus fulfills his obligation for the other foods.

In any event, this demonstrates the fact that although the blessing for rice is mezonot, we do not afford to it the same importance as we do to the five species of grain, regarding which one always recites mezonot, even if they constitute the minority ingredient in a dish (so long as they contribute taste to the dish).

If the rice is mixed with meat, we should, it seems, take into consideration the two critical factors stipulated by the Mishnah Berurah (212:1): 1) which ingredient constitutes the majority component, and 2) which is the more significant ingredient. In our case, the meat is clearly the more significant ingredient, and thus we would have come to the conclusion that one should recite the blessing over the meat and thereby fulfill his obligation for the rice, as well. However, the Rishon Lessiyon Rav Ovadia Yosef shlit"a (in a responsum cited in "Yalkut Yosef" vol. 3 p. 535) quotes a comment by the Ritva in Hilchot Berachot (1:29) that although rice does not fall under the category of "dagan," grain, nevertheless it does contain a unique stature and importance, as it represents a significant source of sustenance for many people. Therefore, one would recite the blessing over the rice and thereby fulfill his obligation regarding the meat.

However, it goes without saying that were the meat to constitute the majority of the mixture, then one would have to recite the blessing for the meat, and not for the rice, as the Shulhan Aruch (cited earlier) notes explicitly, that no matter how unique a stature we afford to the rice, its blessing does not take precedence when it is the minority ingredient. This unique status comes into play when the rice is the majority, in which case we rule that although the other ingredients may be of greater significance than the rice, the blessing for the rice wins out.

According to this discussion, if one eats with meat food with rice stuffing, he should recite a mezonot, as the rice is considered the main ingredient.

In summary, if one eats rice mixed with carrots, if the carrots are the majority then he should recite the blessing over the carrot and thereby fulfill his obligation as far as the rice is concerned. If, however, the rice is the majority, then he should recite the blessing over the rice. The same applies if one eats rice together with meat.

Rabbi Shalom Sseror zs"l of Algiers

In our parashah, we are commanded to appoint righteous and just magistrates, judges who will be assisted and guided by the Almighty to rule properly, in accordance with the halachah. Many years ago, in Algiers, a man wished to divorce his wife but could not afford to pay her ketubah. He therefore hired two false witnesses to testify that she had been unfaithful, so that she would lose rights to her ketubah. The witnesses came to the court and presented the case. As the court interrogated them, they found no contradictions in their story. The poor woman cried and denied the allegations, and, with tears running down her face, she swore that the accusation is false. Whereas most of the court paid no attention, Rabbi Shalom Sseror zs"l, head of the court, listened to her and thought to himself, "She seems to be telling the truth." Despite the clear evidence against the woman and lack of evidence to support her contention, the rabbi said that he wanted to look into the matter further. Day after day, the husband would come to court to ask them to pass the ruling against his wife, but the rabbi refused each time. Finally, the husband put his influence to work, and had the leaders of the community approach the rabbi and express their wonder at his inaction. Still, the rabbi ignored them.

One day, a wealthy man from the city of Blaida came before the rabbi and claimed that he had paid one of the residents of Algiers for some wool but had not received the merchandise. He presented he contract to the rabbi, and the rabbi noticed that the member of his community being brought to trial was one of the witnesses against the woman. The rabbi examined the contract carefully and noticed that the witness had signed the contract in Blaida at the same time at which he had claimed to have witnessed the woman's infidelity. The witness was immediately called to clarify the issue of his sale of wool. The man explained that the authorities did not allow him to take wool from the city. He verified the entire transaction, including the location of the signing of the contract. The rabbi then asked, "If, indeed, you were in Blaida at the time, how did you dare testify against one of the daughters of Israel!?" The rabbi scolded him harshly, the plot was disclosed, and the entire community saw that Hashem resides among the judges of Israel!


"You shall appoint judges and law-enforcers in all your gates"

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra zs"l notes that the previous parashah ends with the missvah to travel to the Bet Hamikdash on Yom Tov, to visit the place of the kohanim, the High Court, the high priest, and the leaders of the nation. Then comes our parshah, which opens with the reminder that this is not enough; competent authorities must be appointed in every locale.

This bears practical application for us. Despite the fact that we are bound to our Torah leaders and visit them on occasion, a rabbi must be present in every synagogue, to rule halachah, to teach a shiur, and to provide the day-to-day connection to the Almighty.

"Do not turn judgment"

This expression requires some explanation. How does one "turn" judgment? A person can turn to a different path, he can turn his body to one side, but how does he turn a court ruling? Can one alter the truth? What's done is done! The Hid"a explains that indeed, one can alter judgment. A judge who has an inclination in a certain direction will alter his course of thinking in the direction which will yield evidence for that claim, and this evidence will get priority. The judges were therefore instructed to retain their objectivity, the way Bet Hillel would open their arguments with the rulings of Bet Shammai, in order to balance their perspective.

"You shall be whole-hearted with Hashem your God"

Rabbenu Efrayim zs"l notes that the words, "tamim tihyeh" ("you shall be whole-hearted") has the same numerical value as "Tishrei." Meaning, we are to ensure to do proper teshuvah during the month of Elul so that we are "whole" - complete and free of blemish - by the time the month of Tishrei - which features the Yamim Noraim - rolls around.

Some note that whereas a righteous person is "tam" (whole), a wicked person is the reverse - "meit" (the result of the reversing the letters of "tam") - dead. "Tam" begins with the last letter of the alphabet, and the second (and last letter) is "mem" - the middle letter of the alphabet. The righteous person always looks ahead to the future, always gives priority to the "last letter," to what lies ahead for him in the future. He thus operates accordingly in the present and avoids doing that which will lead to trouble in the future. But the sinner concentrates on the present, always seeks immediate gratification, and falls into his own trap later on down the road.


The Beaver

The beaver is a rodent which lives in Europe as well as the American Continent, in both water and dry land. We may very well consider the beaver the best architect in the animal kingdom. It builds its nest in rivers and lakes, from wood, small stones, and mud. After it completes the construction of its house, it then creates a dam to raise the water around nest. In this way it protects itself from its enemies and at the same time allows for passageways underwater which do not freeze in sub-freezing temperatures. The construction of the nest and the dam is not easy by any means. To cut the wood the beaver uses its exceptionally sharp teeth, as its front teeth never stop growing. If the beaver would not use its teeth constantly to cut wood, the front teeth would grow slow long the beaver would be unable to close its mouth. After the wood is cut - and the logs can be as long as 3.5 meters - it is dragged into the water. For this purpose, the beaver has to dig several long water channels to help them carry beams. In America, channels 300 meters long were found. The beaver feeds off the bark of the wood, and from the rest of the wood it builds its homes and dams. One dam found in America was 600 meters long!

The beaver's work symbolizes consistency and diligence. We are to learn from this great creature, that "So long as the candle is lit, we must continue to build and fix."

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