SEPTEMBER 1-2, 2000 2 ELUL 5760
- Rabbi Reuven Semah
"Judges and officers shall you appoint in all of your gateways" (Debarim 16:18)
One of the most important factors that ensures Jewish society to be a Torah-oriented one is the justice system and its judges. A judge must be independent, impossible to influence. At the same time, he must be a person that understands people and their needs.
He must be unapproachable with a bribe. A story is told about Rabbi I.Z. Meltzer. One Purim, an influential member of the community sent the Rabbi an unusual mishloah manot. Besides the two required edible foods, he sent him a live cow! The Rabbi did not want to insult the man so he accepted this important gift. Later that year, close to the Pesah holiday, the wealthy man came to visit. This time he had a request on his lips. He had a friend who was a skilled shohet (ritual slaughterer), and he asked the Rabbi to accept him amongst his approved shohatim. Instead of answering, the Rabbi immediately sent back the cow with honor to him. The Rabbi commented, no one should think that it is possible to "buy me" and my standards of shehitah through the use of mishloah manot. At the same time a judge must be unyielding. He must try to render justice that is acceptable to all parties. A compromise is always desirable, if possible. He must also realize that he is dealing with today's generation. At one time in our history, Hillel adopted the "peruzbol," a document that allows a creditor to collect his loans even after the Shemitah year. The Torah law is that every seven years, the Shemitah makes all loans uncollectable. This led people to stop lending. Hillel introduced the peruzbol to encourage the lenders to lend again. In our day, our Syrian-Sephardic community has enacted the edict against accepting converts in our midst. Some say it is against the Torah. However, we know that our community would not be around today if not for this edict. Rabbi Avigdor Miller has said, "I admire the Syrian community for this edict that has held the community together." This is what our Torah teaches when it says that the judges must deal with the generation in which they live. Shabbat Shalom.
- Rabbi Shmuel Choueka
"Let your heart not be faint, do not be afraid" (Debarim 20:3)
When the Jewish people went out to war, the Kohen would give them words of encouragement and tell them not to be afraid, not to tremble, not to panic and not to become weak hearted. The Gemara says that there are four terms used here because the Gentile nations would use four methods of frightening the Jews: by screaming; by blowing shofar; by clanging their weapons together; and by making their horses stamp their hooves loudly. We see from here how loud noises could shake up a person and make him lose his equilibrium. During World War II, the enemy used to fire bombs known as "Screaming Mimis," which would terrorize the soldiers.
The evil inclination uses everything he could in his arsenal. When we hear the deafening sounds which society calls music, it enters our soul and has the power to shake us up. Recently, while I was stopped at a traffic light, my car began to shake and I wondered what could be wrong, until I realized that the car next to me had his radio on so loud and the sounds were so powerful that they actually caused a car next to it to vibrate! Music has the ability to inspire and to elevate a person closer to Hashem, provided it is pure and sweet. What the world now treats as music is closer to cacophony which incites feelings and emotions in a person that will not get him closer to Hashem. We have to be judicious in what we let enter our ears and especially those of our kids. (I am not even speaking of some of the lyrics which are downright vulgar and offensive.) The sounds we hear affect us tremendously and we don't realize the extent and the long term effect it could have on us. If the Torah emphasizes the hazards that it had on Jewish soldiers, we could readily understand why the yeser hara (evil inclination) made a whole industry out of it. Let us hear only the music that will inspire us to greater heights of sensitivity! Shabbat Shalom.
"And neither shall you set up a pillar which Hashem, your G-d, hates" (Debarim 16:22)
Rashi notes that, although the pillar was beloved by Hashem during the days of the Patriarchs, He now hates it because the Canaanim had employed it for idolatry. This comment is puzzling. The pagans also worshipped altars, but altars were not prohibited by Hashem. Why did He single out the pillars to be forbidden? Perhaps, we can suggest a homiletic interpretation of this law. Prior to the Torah's transmission to Klal Yisrael, a Jew's potential level for achievement was limited. Through the Torah and misvot, however, Hashem structured a new mandate to Klal Yisrael. They now had the obligation to strive constantly for deeper understanding of Torah, higher levels of spiritual achievement, and greater advancement in the area of misvah performance. It had become no longer simply sufficient for one's good deeds to outweigh his bad ones. Hashem expects and requires constant growth.
Because pillars consist of a single stone, they signify status quo and limited potential. In contrast, altars are made of many stones, which suggests many possible levels of achievement and a readiness to acquire additional "stones" of attainment. While the pillars were beloved by Hashem, they reflected a sense of confinement. After Matan Torah, the Jew is obligated to reach forward towards greater spiritual development. The altar represents this model of striving for constant growth, which is beloved by Hashem. We should continually strive to deepen our spirituality as we advance further through Torah study and misvah performance.
A pillar, or monument, is placed at one's graveside in order to indicate that this individual has attained the culmination of his spiritual achievement. Those who survive have the obligation to maintain the spiritual growth process in order to serve as the vehicle for the continued spiritual growth of the deceased. (Peninim on the Torah)
"If a corpse will be found on the land...your elders and judges shall go out...[and declare] 'Our hands have not spilled this blood'" (Debarim 21:1-7)
Prior to this, the Torah discusses the laws of war. Immediately following this, in the next perashah, the Torah again discusses war. Why is the law of eglah arufah - the calf whose neck is broken - discusses in the middle of the subject of war?
During war there is much bloodshed and inevitably many lose their lives. Often, soldiers become callous to human life, and another fatality ceases to impress them. The Torah is teaching that even if it is between wars and many are losing their lives, the death of an innocent person must be accounted for and may not be taken with complacency.
A lesson to be learned from the eglah arufah is that a Jew who is alien and detached from Judaism cannot simply be written off as a product of the times and part of a statistic. It is incumbent upon all to make sure that he is spiritually "alive" as a Jew, so that we will be able to claim without any hesitancy, "We have not caused this spiritual shedding of blood."
When Ya'akob parted from Yosef, the last halachah he taught him was about eglah arufah. Possibly, Ya'akob meant to impart to Yosef the teaching that even though he might become a leader of a mighty nation, he was always to remember that every person is important and that every person must be accounted for by the highest authorities of the land. (Vedibarta Bam)
Answer to Pop Quiz: Any man who built a new house, took a new wife, or planted a new vineyard and did not benefit from these yet, or any man who was afraid.
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