Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 10   No. 47

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
ha'Rav Chayim Tzvi ban Aharon Mordechai z.l.
(founder of the Johannesburg Kollel) by his Family.
May his extraordinary love of Torah and Mesiras Nefesh for Torah
serve as an inspiration
for his family and for all who knew him.

Parshas Shoftim

Of Fruit-Producing Trees and Men

The Torah forbids cutting down fruit-trees during a siege, adding that "a tree is not a man", to be subjected to the rigors of a siege.

Based on Rashi, the Sifsei Chachamim explains that although it was common to withhold food and drink from captives caught outside the city walls, to frighten the enemy into submission, this does not apply to fruit-trees, which are hardly likely to react when one of their kind is cut down.

Whereas the Ibn Ezra, by adding one word ('chayei', livelihood) to the Pasuk translates it as "a tree constitutes man's livelihood". Consequently, the Torah is forbidding us here to treat them like the enemy (to 'cut our nose to spite our face' so to speak) by felling them.


The Gemara in Ta'anis (7a), bothered by the fact that, to accommodate the above explanations, the Torah ought to have written (not "ki ho'adam eitz ha'sodeh", but) 'ki eitz ha'sodeh ho'adam', seeing as it is in fact, striking a contrast between a tree and a man (and not the other way round -[Agados Maharsha]), interprets the Pasuk in the following way. Citing Rebbi Yochanan, the Gemara establishes the above Pasuk by a decent Talmid-Chacham (who is being compared to a fruit-tree), in whose company one should remain and from whom one should learn. Whereas the following Pasuk (which speaks about cutting down a non fruit-bearing tree), refers to a Talmid-Chacham whose behaviour is not commensurate with his knowledge. Him one should leave, to go and seek better pastures.

This is how Rashi and Tosfos explain the Sugya. The Agados Maharsha however, queries this explanation from the Torah's use of the word 'cutting down' ("ve'Choroto"), which has much stronger connotations than 'leaving the Talmid-Chacham'. Consequently, he links Rebbi Yochanan's statement to the previous Sugya, which differentiates between a Talmid-Chacham who studies Torah 'li'sh'mah' (with the correct motivation), and one who studies it 'she'lo li'sh'mah'. For the former, Rebbi Ban'ah in a B'raisa explains, Torah serves as a balm, whereas for the latter, it is poison.

Here too, says the Maharsha, by a 'decent Talmid-Chacham', Chazal mean one who studies Torah li'sh'mah, and by a Talmid-Chacham who is not, one who studies she'lo li'sh'mah, whom one should actually destroy. Interestingly, in the piece that precedes the two currently under discussion, Rashi and the Maharsha switch their interpretations.


The definition of 'Torah 'li'sh'mah' and 'she'lo li'sh'mah' is subject to a dispute between Rashi and Tosfos here. Rashi defines the latter as learning Torah in order to be called 'Rebbi'. Tosfos considers that to belong to the (positive) category of 'she'lo 'li'sh'mah' which the Gemara in Pesachim (50b) encourages, since it eventually leads to li'sh'mah. The category of 'she'lo li'sh'mah' in Ta'anis, he explains, is negative, and refers to someone who learns Torah in order to criticise it.

Rashi, for his part, will establish the Gemara in Pesachim with regard to someone who learns in order to receive reward. Whichever interpretation one adopts, it is about the Talmid-Chacham who learns she'lo li'sh'mah that the Pasuk is now saying "oso sachris ve'choroto (Him shall you destroy and cut down)"!


The Ibn Ezra explains that the Parshah of Eglah Arufah, dealing with a dead man found between two towns, is juxtaposed on both sides to Parshiyos that deal with wartime, so as to place a war between two individuals beside a war between two nations. Various other explanations are given to explain why the Torah deals with an event that took place in peace-time in the middle of Parshiyos that deal with situations that occur in war-time. The Ba'al ha'Turim comments that in fact, it is usually during a war that one finds slain corpses, whereas others add that that is when people take advantage of the prevalent situation to murder their enemies, in the hope that they will be assumed to have been killed in battle. The K'li Yakar however, based on the Gemara in Ta'anis that we discussed earlier, connects a decent Talmid-Chacham to a fruit-producing tree. If the Torah is so particular about destroying a fruit-producing tree, he explains, then how much more so a Tzadik who produces children and good deeds (which are also referred to as off-spring - see opening Rashi in No'ach). And it is for the very same reason that G-d takes this murder so very much to heart, as Rashi explains 'Bring a calf in its fist year, that has not produced fruit, and let its neck be broken in a location which has not produced fruit (virgin land) to atone for the murder of the man who was prevented from bearing fruit.


Parshah Pearls
(adapted from the Ma'ayanah shel Torah)

Bribery Blinds

" ... because bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous" (16:19).

When the Upter Rav (the 'Ohev Yisrael') was Rav in Kolbsub, he once presided over a Din Torah between two litigants (Reuven and Shimon) one of whom (Reuven) had bribed the other judges. During the proceedings, it became clear that those judges sided with Reuven. The Upter Rav however, firmly disagreed with them, proving beyond any shadow of doubt that Shimon was in the right. Eventually, the other judges, realizing that they would not be able to convince the Rav to change his mind, suggested that Reuven bribe him too. This of course, was easier said than done. Until they hit on the idea of placing a wad of notes in his coat pocket without his knowledge.

The following day, during the course of the proceedings, the Upter Rav unaccountably found himself doubting his previous stance, and agreeing with the other judges. This bothered him immensely, and he immediately postponed the case for a later date. Meanwhile, he fervently prayed to Hashem, pleading with Him to open his eyes and show him the truth, until eventually, he discovered the money in his coat pocket, and realized what had happened.


Chazal have indeed explained the word 'Shochad' as the acronym of 'she'hu chad' (he becomes one with the donor). Yet it is incredible that bribery should effect even someone who is unaware that he is being bribed. Logically, it would appear to be a matter of the two hearts becoming one, and not the two bodies.

Be that as it may, it is remarkable how the slightest bias or prejudice affects a person's thinking, to the point that he confuses Emes with Sheker. The Torah deliberately refers here to Chachamim and Tzadikim, to demonstrate that nobody who accepts bribery remains unaffected by it. Because irrespective of one's wisdom, a person who is biased is incapable of thinking straight and of seeing the truth. As Rebbi Elchanan Wasserman pointed out, any thirteen year old Jewish boy, who learns to push aside his prejudices is able to perceive the truth in a way that the great philosopher Aristotle, held in the vice of his own desires, was unable to do.


Tainted by the Chilonim

"And you shall not set up ... a Matzeivah (an altar hewn out of one stone) which Hashem detests" (16:22).

Rashi comments that even though G-d loved it in the time of the Avos, now that the gentiles have adopted it as a regular idolatrous practice, He detests it.

We can learn from here that things that are in themselves, fine and perfectly acceptable, become rejected by the mere fact that the gentiles (or the secularists) have adopted them. A case in point is the Minhag of placing trees in Shul on Shavu'os, which the Vilna Ga'on negated because the gentiles have made an issue of placing trees (albeit not in their churches, but) in their homes on their festivals.

Perhaps we can compare this to the most fragrant spice, which, when placed with foul-smelling garbage, itself becomes foul-smelling.


Listening to Lashon-ha'Ra

"When there is discovered among you ... a man or a woman ... who went and served idols ... and it is told to you and you shall listen" (17:2-4).

The words "And you shall listen" appear superfluous, asks the Alshich. When someone tells you something, you are bound to listen to him and to hear what he is telling you?

Not so! he answers, since the Torah is speaking about pure Lashon ha'Ra. Outside of Beis-Din, one is forbidden to listen to such reports of a fellow-Jew, and the Torah is hereby authorising, indeed instructing, Beis-Din to listen carefully to the witnesses' testimony.


The Root of All Problems

"If a matter of judgement is hidden from you between blood and blood, between judgement and judgement, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your cities" (17:8). If you wonder at the cruel judgements and tortures that Yisrael must constantly endure ... why Jewish blood is Hefker and spilt like water; why judgements and decrees are issued against us day in, day out; and why we have to suffer new plagues from one day to the next, the Torah is telling us, then you should know, that it is the result of the ''matters of dispute in your cities'', because of the disharmony and disunity that ravages our society. That is the underlying cause of all our suffering (the Kelmer Magid).

Perhaps this explains why the Pasuk continues "and you shall arise and go up to the Place that Hashem will choose". Because that is the Place where there is one Kohen Gadol and one Mizbei'ach. That is the place where all of Yisrael gather 'like one man, with one heart', to serve the One G-d together. What better antidote to disunity can there be than that.


The Unwanted Mitzvos

"He (the king) shall not have too many horses, so as not to return the people to Egypt. And he shall not have too many wives, so as not to turn his heart away" (17:16/17).

The Torah finds it necessary to add the reasons for these prohibitions, explains the Agados Maharsha, because they themselves are Mitzvos. The Torah has forbidden us to return to Egypt, and it has forbidden us to indulge in activities that lead us away from the Torah.

In fact then, the Torah is giving us one set of Mitzvos to safeguard another.


Double Dose

"And he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah" (17:18)

Two Sifrei Torah, Rashi explains.

Now why should the king require two Sifrei Torah? Why is one not sufficient like everybody else, asks the Yalkut David? The answer is that due to his greatness, a king needs to take upon himself the yoke of Torah more than anybody else. Indeed, Chazal have said, the greater the person, the greater is his Yeitzer ha'Ra. How much more so the King of Yisrael, who wields so much power.

And it is for the same reason that once the king bowed down at the beginning of the Amidah, he remained bent over before Hashem throughout the Amidah. Because, he more than anybody else, needed to humble himself before Hashem.


Searching in the Right Place

"And he shall read in it all the days of his life" (ibid.).

This can be understood in two ways. Besides the simple interpretation (that he should read the Torah constantly) explains the Chasam Sofer, it can also mean that whenever he is faced with a crossroad in his life, and he is uncertain how to handle it, he should turn to the Torah for the answers. Like Chazal tell us in connection with David Hamelech, who would always consult the Sanhedrin before going to war (B'rachos 3a).


From the Haftarah

The Great Consolation

"Onochi Onochi Hu menachemchem (I am the One who will comfort you)".

The word "Hu", comments the Tzavrei Shalal, appears to be superfluous. Why does the Pasuk see fit to add it? To explain this, he cites the Pasuk at the end of Beshalach "Ki yad al Keis Kah ... ", where the 'Alef is missing from "Keis" and the 'Yud' and the 'Hey' from "Kah", because neither Hashem's Name nor His Throne is complete until Amalek is destroyed. When that happens in the time of Mashi'ach say Chazal, these letters will be returned to their rightful places. And that is what the Pasuk here is hinting at, because the letters of "Hu" ('Hey' 'Vav' and 'Alef') are synonymous with the three missing letters. And the completion of G-d's Name and His Throne are an integral part of the ultimate consolation to which we look forward with eager anticipation.


The Amidah

(Part XXXXV)
(based mainly on the Siddur "Otzar ha'Tefillos")


ve'Nafshi ke'Ofor ... P'sach Libi ... u've'Mitzvosecho Tirdof Nafshi

The Eitz Yosef explains that first and foremost we ask G-d to help us attain good Midos, above all humility (the key to all good Midos and the basis of Torah-study), then we ask him to open our hearts to His Torah ('our hearts' note, because Torah must enter our hearts, not just our brains). And finally, we ask Him for the inspiration not only to fulfill His Mitzvos, but to relish them and pursue them (like Avraham Avinu, who could not wait for the Chesed to come his way, but who went out to look for it).


ve'Chol ha'Choshvim olai Ro'oh ...

And as long as we are pursuing Hashem's Mitzvos, we are assured of Divine protection, for neither man nor demon can harm the King's emissary.


Asei Lema'an Shemecho ... Asei Lema'an Yeminecho, Asei Lema'an Kedushosecho, Asei Lema'an Torosecho

At the time of the Churban, G-d's Name was desecrated (as the Pasuk writes "for the sake of My Holy Name that you desecrated"), His right hand was weakened ("He placed His right hand behind Him"), the power of Torah was diminished ("its king and princes are among the nations, there is no Torah) and all the holy things were profaned ("and they inherited their holy places"). That is why we pray for their reinstatement (Acharis Shalom).


Lema'an Yecholtzun Yedidecho Hoshi'oh Yemincho va'Aneini

We are not even praying so much for our own salvation as for the sake of G-d, "who is with us in our troubles", and kevayachol, who suffers together with us. That is our prime concern, and first and foremost, we must pray for the alleviation of His suffering, before that of our own. This is what we have just been doing, and that is what we mean when we say 'In order that your beloved ones be delivered from their troubles, save Your right hand and answer me'. Because when G-d saves us from our troubles, His own deliverance is at hand (Iyun Tefilah quoting the Medrash Tanchuma).

Perhaps the double reference to Hashem's right hand here can also be understood in the following way. At the time of the Churban, Hashem's right hand (which has connotations of His Midas Rachamim) became, as it were, a second left hand (Midas ha'Din). Conversely, at the time of the salvation, His left hand becomes a second right hand (as Rashi explains in the Shirah [15:6]). Similarly, the Eitz Yosef explains 'May Your right hand save' (according to the simple interpretation of the words) to mean that the right hand of Hashem is raised high, to vanquish His Midas ha'Din.


Yih'yu le'Rotzon Imrei Fi ...

We began the Amidah with a request that Hashem help us verbalize His praise, because without His constant assistance we would not succeed in doing so. Indeed, Chazal have said 'Were it not for G-d's assistance, we would be unable to overcome the Yeitzer-ha'Ra'. In similar dashion, before leaving His presence, we ask Him to accept our words. We cannot take this for granted, for who is to say that we are deserving of this privilege. And besides, prayer is a conduit for blessing, and asking Hashem to answer our prayers increases our chances that He will.


Hashem Tzuri ve'Go'ali

Our recognition of Hashem, the Acharis Shalom explains, comprises three parts: His power to maintain the creation (expressed in the Name 'Havayah', which means the G-d who is 'Mehaveh' [maintains everything that exists]), His Midas ha'Din ('Tzuri' - my Rock), and His Midas ha'Chesed ('Go'ali' - my Redeemer).

Before taking three steps back, we conlude with the word 'Go'ali', a most appropriate ending, seeing as we began the Amidah with 'Ge'ulah', much in the same way as the 'Sh'ma' ends on the same triple note as it began, in the way that we explained there.

Moreover, our request is not that Hashem answers our prayers, but that He answers them with good-will, and not begrudgingly. And we ask Him to do so whether we are worthy or not, whether we uttered the prayers with devotion or not, as long as we had full Kavanah whilst reciting the first B'rachah, as we explained earlier. For if we did not, then we have in any case not fulfilled our obligation, and, strictly speaking, we need to Daven the Amidah again.


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