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Parashat Shofetim

Essay of the Week
The Misleading Binoculars

"Do not pervert judgement, do not favor one party and do not take a bribe, for bribery will blind the eyes of the wise, and corrupt the words of the righteous." We might have thought that these words were only meant for judges. The Gaon, Rabbi Yisrael from Salanat zs"l stressed that that is not the case, that each one of us is a judge, for each one of us makes decisions and rules for himself all the time. If so, he must take care that his decisions should be balanced and correct, and that he should not be blinded by bribery. There is a pointed example of this in the book, "Shaarei Armon," which discusses the High Holy Days. The book is filled with parables, and here is one from the introduction to the book. There was once a farmer who piled up a mountain of grain onto his wagon to bring it into his silo. Unfortunately, his wagon got stuck in the door, with the pile of grain reaching to the top of the door, unable to enter. He beat the horse, but to no avail.

A lightheaded prankster passed by just then and said: "Why are you beating your horse? Don't you see that the pile is higher than the doorway?"

The farmer asked: "So what should I do?"

He answered: "Buy these binoculars, which make everything look many times larger. Aim it upwards, and the doorway will grow. Then you'll be able to bring your wagon in with no trouble!"

The farmer bought the binoculars at full price, and the prankster went on his way. The farmer looked at the doorway through the binoculars, and it really did grow tremendously. He pulled the horse's reins - and the wagon was still stuck. He was shocked, and called after the prankster: "Tell me, why has he doorway grown, and I still can't bring in my wagon?"

The prankster responded: "Fool, look at the pile of grain through the binoculars and you will see that it has grown larger too, and is once again blocking the entrance!"

The farmer looked at the pile through the lenses, and, lo and behold, it had grown tremendously. If so, what had he gained? He called in frustration after the crook: "You have tricked me! I want my money back!" From afar, he heard the voice of the prankster saying: "There is one solution! When you look at the pile of grain, turn the binoculars around, and everything will turn out all right!"

` There was indeed a second side to the binoculars, and he hadn't known! He turned it around towards the grain, and it shrunk in size! He was extremely happy and he looked through the focus and whipped the horses. And they, once again, would not move! He wanted to ask the salesman what was going on, but he had already disappeared, leaving him with the mystery.

A smart man passed by and saw the wagon stuck in the doorway of the storehouse, with the wagon driver looking through the binoculars at the doorway, then turning it around and looking through the other way, and back again. He went up to him and said: "You poor fool, don't you understand that the binoculars don't change reality. You can't look through different sides whenever it's convenient for you to make the doorway larger and the grain smaller."

The farmer agreed: "But what should I do!?"

The wise man answered: "There is nothing simpler. Just take off the grain that is above the height of the doorway, and the wagon will enter easily."

This is the parable. The explanation? We are in a month of mercy and forgiveness, on the doorstep of the days of judgement on which our actions will be analyzed and decisions will be made about us. Will we merit and be written in for life, health, a good livelihood, peace of mind and happiness? If we are honest with ourselves, we aren't very worried or frightened at all. We are much too calm, and there is a good reason for that. We are coming with a wagon filled with sins: sins of the tongue, wasting time of Torah, and many more. But the doorway is high, Heaven's mercy is great, and we rely on the 13 attributes of mercy. But "our sins have passed our heads," and there is a limit to the mercy and forgiveness. But we lean in our own favor, and prefer our own side. We have created binoculars for ourselves, that, on the one hand, enlarge the level of mercy and forgiveness, and on the other hand, reduce our sins! Therefore, we are sure that we will pass the judgement in peace. What are we doing, this is self-delusion! We must recognize the reality for what it is, and know that there is only one way: to reduce the mountain of sins, to repent and to merit in judgement!

Word From the General Manager
The Work of Elul

We are entering the days of mercy and forgiveness, the month of Elul. To a different atmosphere, a different behavior. More seriousness, more commandments and good deeds, more shiurim of Torah. To pile up more merits to meet the upcoming days of judgement. The standard thought is: This should be a month of strengthening, and afterwards a month of holidays. And afterwards, we return to our normal lives.

This is not true. This is not the reason that Elul was given to us, not for a one-time springboard. The month of Elul was given to give an accounting of our soul, so that we should rise a level and decide that from now on our lives will be different, more productive, more fruitful, better.

This is a verse in our parashah: "When you take heed of all of these commandments to do them, to love Hashem, your G-d, and walk in His ways all of the days (19: 9)." "All the days," explained Ibn Ezra, "without a pause between them." The words of the Hafess Haim zs"l about a fever, which flares up once every two or three days, are well-known. Even when the fever has died down, he is still considered a sick man, for this is only a temporary pause! That is our situation if we treat Elul as only a one-time procedure. How can we present ourselves on the day of judgement, if we have only temporarily paused! But if we treat Elul as a new beginning and as a new level, we will be judged in that light and will merit in judgement!

The Golden Column

Our Rabbi Haim Vital zs"l

Our Rabbi Hayim Vital zs"l was the greatest of the students of our Rabbi, the holy Ari zs"l, and he inherited his legacy. From above, it was revealed to our Rabbi, the Ari, that he had only come to this world to give over his wisdom to Rabbi Haim Vital, who would pass it on for all generations.

In our parashah, we are commanded not to turn to magicians and soothsayers. Rabbi Haim Vital experienced the reason for this when he once fell ill and began to heal. Suddenly, he saw two pillars of fire that blinded him and singed his vision. He found out that there was one Arab who would heal with herbs, and who was also proud of his sorcery and hidden knowledge. He went to him, to know if he had some medicine for his eyes. When he arrived, the waiting room was overflowing with people waiting for their turns. Suddenly, the sheikh rushed out hurriedly, turned to him and said: "Come, enter, wise man of the Jews! It is not proper for a great man like you to bother himself by coming to me. You could have sent for me and I would have come to you!"

The rabbi was surprised, as were the others present. He had never met him, and how did he know that he had come? The rabbi entered his room and the sheikh said to the others waiting: "Return to your homes, for as long as the rabbi is here, I do not know how to respond to you!" The all left and the rabbi told him about the pain in his eyes and his blindness. He asked if the sheikh had any medicine. Not through sorcery, halilah, but through medicinal herbs and the like.

The sheikh said: "I know nothing!"

The Rabbi was surprised: "How can you say that you do not know? Did you not come out to greet me!"

He said to him: "That is the point! All my power is derived from the forces of impurity. Suddenly, I was told: "The wise man of the Jews, righteous and pure, has arrived - and it is not in our power to remain in his presence!" They left and all my power has been taken from me."

Therefore we have been warned not to use sorcery, so that we do not cleave to the other side!

From the Wellsprings of the Parashah

"Judges and policemen you shall place in all your gateways"

"In all your gateways." Explained Rabbi Hayim Vital zs"l, that these are the gateways of the body: the eyes, the ears and the mouth. Every person must place judges over them, to know what to speak and why, what to see and what to hear, and policemen to know from what to hold himself back, when to shut his eyes, stop up his ears and close his mouth. He wrote, that one who guards the openings of his gateways appropriately, will have the gateways of Gan Eden open before him!

"Justice, justice you shall pursue"

Our Rabbi, the holy Or Hahayim zs"l explained that the repetition of the words is to tell us that it is not enough to choose a straightforward and honest judge, a Torah scholar who fears Heaven. We must go further and choose the best of the best of the candidates. The greatest of the Torah scholars and Halachic deciders, and we should not be satisfied with less.

The Sefat Emet zs"l explained, that even justice must be pursued with justice. Many times a person goes out to fight for a just matter, but he does not choose the proper means for his fight and turns from the victim into the merciless pursuer. The sadik, Rabbi Yisrael from Salanat zs"l said to one who wanted to go to war for a just cause: "If you are correct, see that you remain correct!".

"And it shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life"

The king is commanded to write a small Sefer Torah and to carry it with him everywhere. But the Torah is a feminine noun, and it should have been written in the Torah as "bah" and not "bo." Therefore, our Rabbi, the Ramban zs"l explains that since the king will cling to the Torah, its illumination will influence him and he will attain "Daat Torah." "And he will read from it," he will find in himself the direction and instructions of the Torah.

The Hatam Sofer zs"l would say that the king must rule over the treasures of the Torah, until he finds in it a solution for every question, and the Torah will guide him in every step, until it becomes like the story of his life. This is "and he shall read from it all the days of his life," he will find every event of his life in it!

"So that he should learn to fear Hashem, his G-d, and to guard all the words of the Torah"

As a continuation, Rabbi Ovadiah Seforno zs"l explained that there are two parts to the Torah. One explains the practical commandments which are demanded from us, and the sins that we are commanded to avoid. The second is the narrative portion of the Torah, such as the punishments of Sedom and Egypt, the actions of our forefathers and the exodus from Egypt. Its purpose is to implant in our hearts the knowledge of reward and punishment and fear of Heaven. The king learns both of these matters from the Torah: "to fear Hashem, his G-d, and to guard all the words of the Torah."

"You shall not plant an asherah, any tree near the altar of Hashem, your G-d"

Maran Rabbeinu Yosef Karo zs"l brought the words of the gemara (Pesahim 8b) that explain why the Holy One, Blessed Be He, did not make the land of Jerusalem as fruitful as the valley of the Kineret. So that those who come to Jerusalem on the holidays will not say: If we had only come to eat from these fruit, it would have been enough, and then their trip would not have been for a proper purpose."

Therefore the Torah forbade planting a tree near the altar, so that people will not say: "If I had only offered a sacrifice to enjoy the fruits of this tree or to rest in its shade, it would have been enough." Rather let his sacrifice be only for the sake of Heaven!

According to the Order of the Shulchan Aruch, Based on the Rulings of Rav Ovadia Yossef shlit"a
By Rav David Yossef shlit"a

Chapter 98

The Laws of Intent in Prayer

Prayer at a time and place where it is impossible to concentrate

In the times of the sages of the Talmud, they would be careful not to pray in a place where there was something that would ruin their concentration, or at a time when they could not concentrate. However, in our times when we do not concentrate so much at any rate, we are not as careful about this. At any rate, even in our times, it is better to try to be as careful as possible not to pray in a place or at a time when one suspects that his mind will be distracted and he will not be able to concentrate appropriately.

Prayer as pleading and not as a burden

One should pray in a pleading manner, like a poor person who is standing at the doorway. One should also pray in a way that it does not seem like a burden, which he wishes to be done with. If he did not pray in a pleading manner, and his prayer did seem like a burden, he should pray again with a condition that it be considered voluntary if the prayer were unnecessary.

Chapter 100

Organizing the Holiday Prayers

One must organize - that is, look into and read the prayers for Rosh Hodesh, holidays, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kipur before praying them.

The prayer of Rosh Hodesh is "Yaaleh Veyavo," and therefore one must also organize the prayer of "Al Hanisim" before Hanukah and Purim. At least one must organize the first prayer of Rosh Hodesh, Hanukah and Purim. So too one must organize the musaf prayer of Rosh Hodesh that falls out on Shabbat, when we pray "Ata Yassarta."

According to maran, the Bet Yosef, one should be strict about organizing the prayer even if one is praying from a siddur. However, in terms of the prayer of "Yaaleh Veyavo," one may be lenient if one prays from a siddur.

In our times, the custom is to be lenient and not organize one's prayers before praying, whether on Rosh Hodesh, Hanukah and Purim, or the holidays. We are relying on the fact that we pray from a siddur. At any rate, it is proper to be stringent about this if possible, even if one is praying from a siddur. Certainly the hazan should be stringent about this.

Chapter 101

On the Necessity of Intent and Hearing One's Own Prayers and Prayer in a Different Language

Someone who prayed without proper intent in the blessing of "Avot," has not fulfilled his obligation to pray. However, the custom has spread that he does not pray again. If he usually has proper intent while praying, and one time he did not even have proper intent in the blessing of "Avot," and he knows that if he prays again he will have the proper intent in the blessing of "Avot" at least, he may pray again. However, it is proper for him to make a condition beforehand that the prayer be a voluntary one if it were unnecessary. There is another method of repairing the fact that he did not have proper intent while praying. He should hear the repetition of the Amidah from the hazan, paying attention to every single word, answering "amen" after every blessing, and intending to fulfill his obligation thus. [It is proper for him to tell the hazan beforehand so that the hazan will intend to fulfill his obligation in prayer.]

Someone who knows that he will not be able to have proper intent while praying at all, even in the blessing of "Avot" (such as one who is extremely ill or is in extreme distress, or in a place where will not have any proper intent) may not pray without intent. At any rate, if the time for that prayer has passed and now he is able to pray with the proper intent, at least for the blessing of "Avot," then he should pray an extra prayer to make up for the missed one.

The Wonders of Creation

The "Livyatan" and Us

You have obviously noticed that we have placed the word "livyatan" in quotation marks. The livyatan that is mentioned in Beresheet and the book of Iyov, the king of the fish, is unknown to us. However, we now use that Hebrew word for whales, the large ocean animals, whose lengths can reach the tens of meters and whose mouths are so large that a man can stand up inside them. We know how much food our bodies need, from plant and animal life. Who can imagine how much food an elephant, the largest land animal, needs, whose weight reaches several tons! How much more food must the whale need, which is larger than several elephants.

There is something interesting: Large animals, the elephant, rhinoceros and hippopotamus are all vegetarians. They do not hunt for their food, but they eat grain and straw and branches in the tens of kilograms per day. So too the whale. It does not hunt for other fish, like the shark which is tens of times smaller than it. The whale merely opens up its huge mouth, fills it with water and strains from them the small particles of food that are found in the water. These tiny particles sustain its tremendous body!

As usual, we must ask: Why did G-d do this? Why are specifically the huge, tremendous animals vegetarians? What is this coming to teach us? There is certainly an amazing lesson here: You don't have to prey on others to become great. Look, precisely the large animals are vegetarians.

But there is also an additional, wonderful lesson here: Look, such an enormous body is sustained by tiny particles that it swallows by the way! What does this tell us? The commandments are the sustenance of the soul. Don't just look for the impressive commandments. It is possible to grow tremendously from many small commandments: 100 blessings a day, saying tehillim, hok liyisrael, watching one's tongue, a positive countenance and kindness!.


"From Hashem are the Steps of Man" (13)

Summary: Rabbi Azriel traveled on the mission of the duke, to find a matching pearl to the one in the earring of the duchess, in place of a pearl that was lost. The boat anchored on a deserted shore and the travelers disembarked to rest a little. Rabbi Azriel also got off the boat, and was so amazed by the flora and fauna that he didn't hear the siren call to return to the boat. When he returned to the shore, the boat had already set sail. He thirsted for water, and G-d opened his eyes to find a spring of fresh water. He drank and blessed and continued with prayer.

He began and said: "Master of the World, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness, which is Your attribute of goodness, and you have opened my eyes to see the spring. You have kept me alive in your great kindness. Please continue to show me your kindness, and save me from this place to peace and a good life.

While the words were on his lips, he saw a dark stain on the horizon, a boat traveling on the sea. "I thank you for you have answered me, and have been a salvation to me," whispered his lips. He quickly took off his sisit, and began to wave them as if gripped by madness. To his joy, they saw him from the boat and they turned the boat towards the island, Before the sun had set he was on the deck of the boat, with his talit and tefilin, his only possessions. He told the captain his story, and explained that he had nothing. The captain told him that this boat was travelling back to his homeland. His life was saved, then, but he had lost the property with which he came; the box of gold coins and the pair of earrings were left in the safe of the first boat. How would he appear before the duke, how would he tell him about the large amount of money he had lost? It was logical to think that the duke would never believe his story. He would think that he had only pretended to be an honest man to gain his trust. He would think that when he had gotten the one pearl and the money, he had invented a story and hid the money and pearl in a secret place. The duke, in those days needed only a suspicion to through one into prison, torture and even to take his life!

Rabbi Azriel remembered the instruction of Ben Sira: "Do not anguish over the worry of tomorrow. Lest tomorrow should come and it is naught, and you will have worried over a world that is not yours." Why should I worry, Hashem who has helped me until now, will help me in the future. Do I not see how the providence of G-d hovers over me! So why should I torture myself with depressing thoughts!

The boat docked at the port. Rabbi Azriel thanked the captain and went down onto the dock. He didn't have a penny in his pocket, and could not hire a carriage to take him back to his city. Instead, he latched on to a band of paupers, who wandered from city to city to collect alms. He heard that they were planning on travelling to Mezritch. There lived a wealthy man by the name of Rabbi Azriel, whose kindness was proclaimed by all.

To be continued, G-d willing, next week.

A Summary of the Shiur Delivered on Mossa'ei Shabbat by Rav Ovadia Yossef shelit"a

The Laws of Gentile Wine

Continuation of the shiur from parashat Ekev

1. One who regularly violates the Shabbat, both for ideological and pleasure reasons, has the same law as a gentile who is not an idolater. Wine that they touch is forbidden to drink, but not in enjoyment. Therefore, one must be extremely careful with non-Jewish or irreligious waiters in a restaurant or a wedding hall.

2. If an irreligious person has repented of their ways, one is permitted to drink their wine. No specific fasts are necessary for the one who has repented. The best repentance is achieved by holding back one's desires and inclinations and by learning Torah.

3. Wine that has been watered down can still have the law of gentile wine. However, wine that has been boiled or pasteurized can not - either because that type of wine is not regularly poured on an altar of idolatry, or because it was so uncommon, that the sages did not make their decree in this case. This is a way to avoid the problem of gentile or irreligious waiters.

4. If there is a doubt whether or not non-idolatrous gentiles, such as Moslems, touched some wine, one is permitted to be lenient and drink it. However, if there is a doubt whether or not an idolatrous gentile touched the wine, one should be stringent on the matter, because of the stringency of idolatry.

5. Wine vinegar that is so vinegary that it will bubble when poured on the ground does not come under the laws of gentile wine. However, if a gentile touched wine and it later became vinegar, one is forbidden to drink the vinegar, from the law of gentile wine.

6. If one made the blessing of kiddush on wine, and then when he drank it found that it was so vinegary that it would bubble if poured on the ground, he has not fulfilled the commandment of kiddush. If it would not bubble, then he has fulfilled his obligation of kiddush.

To Him You Shall Listen

Dear Brothers,

The Nation of Israel is unique in its prophets, prophets of truth and justice. Moshe Rabbenu, the father of the prophets was promised that G-d's presence would only dwell on Israel. For one thousand years, there were prophets in Israel, more than double the amount of those who left Egypt. And then suddenly it stopped. Why?

The reason is written in our parashah. We imagine that prophecy is the highest level. From one perspective, this is true. What could be more wondrous than a direct connection between the Creator and His creations! However, from another perspective, it is not good to know everything. "Simple you shall be with Hashem, your G-d." He is a good and beneficent father - let us trust Him with closed eyes!

If so, then why were we given prophets? The Torah reveals to us: "For the nations. to magicians and soothsayers they turn, but to you, the same has not been given by Hashem, your G-d. A prophet from amongst you, from your brothers like me, Hashem, your G-d will give you, to him you shall listen" (18: 14-15). This is to say: If the forces of impurity seduce you to come and make use of them, then "This as opposed to this made G-d," and the true prophets will tell the future and reveal secrets. But if not so, it is better to rely on our Father in Heaven, who will lead us on the pathways of justice for the sake of His name. Therefore, when the men of the Great Assembly nullified the inclination towards idolatry, and the prophets of Baal disappeared and the Ashtoret lost their power, the prophecy all left Israel.

Since then, we have a principle in our hands: Everything that "they" have to present, we can use, parallel to the forces of holiness. Without being dragged onto the opposing side and listening to the impurity. But more than that, the principle of "Simple you shall be with Hashem, your G-d" stands firm, and we should not try to investigate the future.

In this generation, those who ignore the hand of G-d claim that everything is dependent on nature and chance and are willing to make decisions based on their intelligence, analysis and conclusions, based on probabilities. We must know the opinions of those great in Torah and fear of Heaven, who are filled with clear knowledge of Torah. By means of their skills, the power of their analysis and their wisdom and experience, together with assistance from the Al-mighty, they can give us the most proper advice in all these arenas, the medical and the business. But their power is only as opposed to another power, and therefore, their recommendation does not have the force of prophecy, but the force of intelligence and probability which is better than any other advice and instruction that one might receive elsewhere. More than that, "Simple you shall be with Hashem, your G-d," and He shall do what is best in His eyes!

To turn for a blessing, to ask them to pray, to remember us for good are proper. But prophecy has passed on. Our commandment is: "Simple you shall be with Hashem, your G-d." Do not try to tell the future!

With the blessing of Shabbat Shalom,

Aryeh Deri

Gamliel Ben Nizha and Yosef Ben Hanom

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