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EXTRA EXTRA by Rabbi Reuven Semah

"That [the king] should not turn aside from the misvot to the right or to the left." (Debarim 17:20)

The Torah speaks about the laws of the Jewish king. The king must be very righteous, very humble and very educated in the Torah. Also, the Torah admonishes him not to go to the right or to the left, but he must be on target. What does this mean? Not to the left means he may not be lenient where the halachah does not permit him to do so. He must assert his authority and enforce the halachah. This applies today to every Rabbi. He may not close his eyes to the violation of the halachah.

That's easy to understand. But what does it mean when it says, "Don't go to the right?" It means that if the king suggests and urges the people to be more strict, if it beyond the requirement of halachah, if it is an "extra", he must tell them so. He may not lay down a law and bring the people to added restrictions without notifying them that they are not required to do so. If a person finds it difficult to uphold the added law and violates it, he must know that it was an extra. If he knows this, he will still be careful to uphold the basic halachah. However, if he doesn't know this, he may think that he violated the basic halachah already and he will not be careful any longer, and eventually he will violate the halachah.

There is a mistaken attitude that many times the Rabbis add on laws of their own. They add extra strictness on the people. This is not only untrue, but if a Rabbi does it, he is violating the Torah! Most times, the people's mistaken attitude is due to lack of Torah knowledge. Since they have not heard of it up until now, they think that it must be an invention of the Rabbi. Make no mistake about it, the king or the Rabbi is encouraged to urge the people to take on extra fences or protections, to climb higher to reach new heights. What the Torah is warning here is to let the people know where the halachah ends and where the extras begin. Shabbat Shalom


"Do not erect a masebah (pillar)" (Debarim 16:22)

The simple meaning of the word 'masebah' is 'pillar'. This pasuk is telling us that it is forbidden to erect a pillar in order to serve Hashem. Our Rabbis offer another explanation for this verse by pointing out the similarity of the word masebah to the word 'masab' or 'situation'. When we read the pasuk this way, it is telling us "don't set up a position for yourself that is rigid and inflexible." No two situations are alike, and we must look at all the circumstances of each situation before we take a position.

There are times when a misvah in one situation could actually be a transgression if the circumstances are changed. A person who acts compulsively, basing his actions totally on his unbending ideas, will put himself in a position to make many errors. One must have a full grasp of the Torah principles which apply in each case, and apply them properly. The more Torah a person learns, the more he will be equipped to react in different predicaments.

This is not to say that one should sacrifice his Torah ideals in any situation. This only refers to a person's traits, and how he should apply them. At times, a person must be compassionate while at other times, he must act cruelly. Sometimes he should be generous; sometimes he needs to be stingy. The Torah is warning us that a person should be careful to avoid treating every situation the same way without taking all of the factors into account. Only in that way can he make an objective, Torah based decision. Shabbat Shalom.


"You shall not plant an asherah, any tree, near the altar of Hashem." (Debarim 16:21)

The Sages equate appointing an unqualified judge with an asherah, a tree that was worshipped for idolatry. What is the connection? Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik explained: A regular idol is noticeable to all that it is an idol. Whoever sees it will easily be able to recognize that it is an idol and he must be very careful. But a tree that has been worshipped as an idol looks to the casual observer as if it is just an ordinary tree and looks harmless. But looks can be deceiving for it is really an idol and is spiritually dangerous. So too, a judge who is not qualified. From the outside he can appear very learned and even righteous. But because he is really not qualified or has certain character failings, he can be very dangerous.

One needs to learn to be discerning. Even those things that appear to be harmless can be very dangerous. If someone puts poison that is colorless and odorless in some food, although the food does not appear harmful, it can inflict mortal damage. Similarly, there are many things that are detrimental to one's spiritual well-being that at first glance do not seem dangerous. When in doubt, consult a reliable Torah authority. (Growth Through Torah)


"You should prepare the way...(so) that every murderer shall flee there." (Debarim 19:3)

The Torah implores B'nei Yisrael to "prepare the way" for the unintentional murderer, availing him the opportunity to reach the safe haven of the Arei Miklat (cities of refuge). Indeed, they prepared road signs which pointed the way to the nearest city of refuge. The Talmud states that just as Hashem shows the way for the unintentional sinner, He certainly does the same for the righteous. Harav A.H. Lebowitz notes that Hashem places "road signs" for all of us directing us to the correct path to follow for a successful life.

The unintentional murderer found his way by referring to the signs. When he came to a fork in the road, the sign pointed him in the correct way. We, too, have signs to follow when we reach a fork in the road of life. We are mandated to analyze the Torah and determine the meaning of its message to us. Our course in life is charted by Hashem's halachot, laws, which illuminate every step of our journey through life.

Our devotion to halachah will determine how simple or difficult it will be for us to recognize the message of our personal road signs. The greater our affinity to Torah law, the easier it is for us to find our way through the maze of confusion to which we are subjected in life.

Harav Lebowitz sums up his thesis with a profound observation. The reason that the murderer found it difficult to course his way was his lack of familiarity with the area of the city of refuge. Had he been near home, he would have had no problem reaching his destination. Likewise, the more we discover ourselves to be at home in Torah, the easier it will be for us to discern its message and to chart our path through life. (Peninim on the Torah)

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