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by Daneal Weiner
Last week on R’ay, the B'air Yoseph asked why the verse begins with the singular verb form R'ay while 3 words later is lifnaichem- before you which is plural, i.e. before you all? One answer, Moshe was a southerner. From southern Egypt. But the Torah teaches moral lessons and that one is lacking. We are being taught a very important outlook on life. Nothing less than the key to success. Half of the tribes are going to be on Har Grizim and half on Har Naival. One hill is the blessing and the other is the curse. Picture the two hills as two bowls of a balance scale and all the mitsvos and sins of Israel are placed on the balance. The result is exactly half and half. The world hangs in the balance. YOUR next action is going to tip the scales of judgment towards the blessing or, ch’v’sh, towards the curse. What are you going to do? R’ay- you, the individual, see your self lifnaichem – before everyone. If we imagined this before we acted we be assured of staying on the derech Hashem.
With this idea Moshe opens this weeks
with "Judges and officers you will appoint for yourself in all your cities…" Rabbi Moshe Feinstien zt’l says that the words for yourself are unnecessary. Of course judges and officers are for the sake of ourselves! So what is the Torah adding, not just with those words but also with the fact that Moshe Rabbeinu is addressing all Israel and yet this verse is spoken in the singular form? Rav Moshe Feinstien answers that the Torah is not just concerned at the community level but also on a personal level. Every single person has to appoint ‘judges’ and ‘officers’ for themselves! Introspection! Reflection! Have/Be your own judge! Are your actions measuring up? Are you more or less committed to Hashem then this time last year, last month, last week? (Not more-or-less committed but committed more? or less?) Maybe a couple personal law enforcement officers would help you reach your goals, keep you out of trouble? Set up indicators, mile markers to gauge your direction and accomplishments. And if you mess up, do you 'ticket’ yourself? The first half-pint of ice cream is for my desires and the second half will be to look the other way. When the Raishis Chachmah would work on his character traits he would put aside a large sum of money and he would promise that if he lost control for a moment he would give the money away! I remember one guy in my first Yeshiva, he announced, “If a say anything that embarrasses someone publicly I will give everyone in the room at that time 10 NIS.” That was not just creative but impressive. He made everyone an judge and officer. And everyone couldn’t wait for payday!
The next verse says, "…and you will not accept a bribe because a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise…” A Gemorah Shabbos explains, “A judge who will pass an absolutely true judgment is like a partner with the Creator in the creation of the world.” Our job is to keep the world going. There are many ways to understand this Gemorah, even literally! Hashem looked into the Torah to create the world. Not too long ago we reviewed that when Moshe died and many halachos were lost, Yehoshua asked Hashem for a reminder of those laws and Hashem said, “Lo bashamayim he”- It’s not in the heaven. Hashem didn’t say, “It’s now on earth.” He didn’t say, “It’s not in heaven, ANYMORE.” He didn’t say, “The edition up here is the old one, yours was updated.” He said, “The Torah? THEE Torah? Anybody see a Torah? Yehoshua, there is no Torah up here. You expound on it, great! You forget it, sorry.” There is only one Torah. One edition. If Hashem looked into the Torah to create the world, how our Sages expound on the Torah, that’s the reality Hashem created! When a judge, obviously meaning a Torah Scholar, when he honestly and objectively decides a case based on how he was taught and understands Torah principles he is telling the court what the Torah says, not what he says. We loose site of that because we’re so accustomed to say, “Rashi says…” or “Rav Moshe says…” or “the Rabbi says…” But go to any of them and ask (respectfully), “How can you say that?” there answer would be, “Me? I’m not saying it! Who am I? You see this verse… these words... this Gemorah? It’s what the Torah says. It’s what Hashem says. Not me.”
Due to my sins I happened across a dvar-sheker on the internet by a reform rabi. It was an endless string of distortions and outright lies and, of course, against the religious. The beginning was supposedly based on bible, though I don’t think even the King James version translated the way he did. And his message? On Parshas Pinchas, he compared Baruch Goldstein and Yigal Amir to Pinchas. Two individuals, the likes of their actions have never been seen before in the Orthodox world and whose actions were condemned by the entire Torah world and this rabi portrays them as the religious norm and says, “You see what the religious extract from the Torah and promote against people who don’t think like them?” Then rabi hate monger (ha.m.) went into what the Gemorah says on the topic. G-d’s opinion of Pinchas means nothing to him, he can’t follow a story from simple contextual Chumash and I should suffer his degradation of the Gemorah, which was intentionally written so people like him couldn’t understand it? I wasn’t going to waste anymore time…but, I felt compelled to email him asking if he actually believed the garbage he wrote or was he just fanning the flames against the religious to insure his paycheck? After some back and forth he finally asked me, “What’s *your* opinion of the Gemorah? That’s how he wrote it- *your*. Understanding where he was coming from I answered (and this is where it ties into the last paragraph), “What your American trained, liberal, narrow mind doesn’t wish to grasp is that when an author writes something, he MEANS something. It MUST be, therefore, there is something he DOESN’T mean!!! When a person has an unbroken tradition since the author’s time of what the author meant, then that person’s opinion isn’t * his* opinion. It’s the *author’s* opinion.” Whether rabi ha.m. believes the Torah was Authored by Hashem or by man, ch’v, his own logic should tell him that he, with his 40 credit hours in Judaic study isn’t in a position to publicly dictate as an authority, what the Author of the Torah or of the Gemorah meant. Our Rabbis give their lives to know the Author. They will give up their lives for Him! They are the only authentic opinion and for them the Author Himself says, “Yes, that’s what I mean.” No doubt this is partly behind why the Torah warns us not to turn from the words of our Rabbis, not right or left. And Rashi says, “Even when they say right is left.”
[In closing, regarding rabi ha.m. I declined sharing *my* understanding of the Gemorah explaining the halachic ramifications would not bind him and it’s moral implications would not move him and I don’t make cocktail conversation out of Torah. A reform Jew asking a question is one thing. A self appointed ignoramous profaning Hashem, mocking His Torah and promoting brotherly hatred is something entirely different. I further used the opportunity to explain, “You need to understand the aleph-beit, then Chumash, then Rashi, then Mishnah and then you can ask questions on the Gemorah. And lastly, due to the destruction you and your colleagues have reeked upon all Israel, your having a Jewish last name is no longer an indication you’re Jewish. And if not, our Oral Tradition is none of your business.” Some people are moved by inspiration. Some by desperation. Some by a whoopin’ upside the head. Hashem should help him do tshuva or fulfillment in the 7 Noahide Laws. Whichever is applicable.]
POINT IS, to get back to where we started, (if we wait a second the orbit will do it for us… ) the way our Sages interpreted Torah, Hashem retroactively used thato create the world! No doubt some people will get their feathers ruffled at such an idea. “You mean some guy… (in Ba’al Tshuva Yeshivas, all our holy Rabbis are ‘guys’ for the first 6-7 months. In some circles, the first 60-70 years.) …some guy says bananas are blue and G-d will make all bananas blue!?! I’m supposed to believe that!?” Let’s keep in mind that a) no idea in Judaism is in a vacuum and b) Hashem created our minds too! A mind that knows Torah is truth and is committed to learn the truth and prays that Hashem gives him the understand of that truth, such a mind will discern that Hashem wants bananas to be yellow. Certainly before you eat one. And the Creator of our mind also warns a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise! Don’t think any mind knows better or operates differently. But shouldn’t it say, “blinds the eyes of the corrupted”? Who else would take a bribe?
What if someone wanted to give a bribe to judge FAIRLY?! A rich man and a poor man have a claim. The rich man approaches the judge outside of court. “Rabbi, I can not help but notice that due to my wealth, I get special treatment. I am a G-d fearing Jew. Here are two envelopes. Each one has a thousand dollars. If you judge in my favor, take one. If you judge in his favor take the other.” A bribe to judge fairly. The Bais Yoseph in Hilchos Dayanim- Laws of Judges says that Hashem means that if that Gemorah Shabbos said Hashem means "A judge who passes a true judgment…" with only one adjective, then we might think that any way to get to the truth would be acceptable. The end would justify the means. BUT, since the Gemorah say Hashem means "Any judge who passes an absolute, true judgment" - emes l'amiso, this excludes any path to the truth other than truth itself! The end is only a summation of the means! And since it says in black and white a bribe corrupts and since our Sages interpreted it as meaning even a bribe to judge fairly so Hashem made the nature of man! Period!! No matter how honest and sincere one thinks they will be they have been won over by the hand that fed them! They are incapable of an honest, objective ruling. Such a judge will not be a partner with Hashem. As the Hebrew word for "bribe" teaches, shochad is a contraction of "sh' hu chad"- he is one. He could have been two, a partner with Hashem! But he chose to work alone.
Another application of the Gemorah Shabbos is that Hashem not just sustains the world but actually recreates it at every moment. As long as there is absolute true judgement in the world, it gives Hashem a reason to keep recreating it. One who judges emes l'amiso is a partner in creation.
Verse 17:11> "You shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left." What a coincidence. We just spoke about this. The Hebrew word for left is smole. In this verse smole is missing the letter vav. The next topic in the parsha are the laws for the king and within those verses it says a king has to have a Torah scroll in his hands at all times, to read from it, to fear G-d, to stay humble and “not to turn from the command, right or left”! This time smole is written with the vav!? The B'air Yoseph wants to know what Hashem means by the disappearing/reappearing vav?
First, to hear the question, why is the word command singular? Shouldn’t a king depart not from any and all commandments? Rashi says Hashem is referring to even the smallest command a king may be given by the prophet of his day. Every king was kept in check by a prophet who was the top Rabbinic authority of the time. Now the B'air Yoseph’s comparative analysis of the two words left makes sense. Rashi, again, says Hashem means that if the Sages even declare left to be right than we are to follow that decision. Why? The Sefer HaChinuch explains that Hashem prefers we stay unified in sin rather than resorting to anarchy and everyone doing what they perceive as left. The Midrash Sifri whoops us upside the head. Reality 101: It’s not possible the average, even learned Jew would know better then a life long dedicated Torah Scholar! The B'air Yoseph bases his answer on the Sifri. When the Torah is addressing us, the learned folk, and it will be our *opinion* v.s. our Rabbis, the world smole is missing the vav. To us it might look like a smole, smell like a smole, taste like a smole, feel like a smole, even sound like a smole but it’s missing a vav. It might not be smole. Truth be known, we wouldn’t even know our left from our right were it not for the Rabbinic authorities over the millennia. But the king, he is a life long dedicated Torah Scholar himself! He has the vav in smole! He knows smole! He knows if the Rabbi said wrong! Still, the Torah tells him not to reject their guidance!
And speaking of guidance, could the first parsha of the month of Elul not talk about the Ir Miklat- City of Refuge? An Ir Miklat wasn’t void of life accept for these unfortunate souls. Just the opposite! It was a city of Levites! Levites worked in the Temple on a rotation basis. The rest of the time they would be immersed in Torah study. The first national kollels. Why are they the Ir Miklat?
Should an accidental killing occurred, the Torah gives the right to the kin of the deceased to avenge the accidental death and gives the killer sanctuary in an Ir Miklat. The first time the Ir Miklat appears in the Torah is in Shmos, 21:13 when Hashem says He caused it! Rashi explains what Hashem means: Somewhere a man committed a murder and it was not witnessed. Elsewhere a man accidentally killed and it was not witnessed. Hashem brings the murderer and the accidental killer together. The accidental killer accidentally kills the murderer and it was witnessed. Justice has been exacted on the murderer and on the accidental killer who now must flee to the Ir Miklat. What does all this mean?
An accident is from negligence, from lack of preperation, from a lack of appreciation for an act and/or its consequences. All these things not only bring about physical accidents but also spiritually takes a person away from the derech Hashem. When Hashem deems it necessary, a person who has spiritually fallen will have an accident occur by his hands which will force him to an Ir Miklat, a city a Levites, a place where everyone is publicly housed, clothed and fed and have no worries but to study Torah and learn the derech Hashem. A city of people who know every action they take carries the weight and responsibility as only the Temple service can. Here a spiritually fallen Jew finds himself immerses in an environment that is the antithesis of an accident.
The verse in Shmos which first introduces the Ir Miklat says, “Inah l’yado v’samti lecha”- [Hashem] caused it to come to his hand and set for him a place. The first letters of these four words spell Elul. Judaism teaches that whatever exists in space also exists in time. If there is a place of refuge, there is a time of refuge. If there is a place to get back on the derech Hashem, there is a time to get back on the derech Hashem. That time is the month of Elul. The 30 days that lead up to Rosh Hashana, the day of judgment are set aside and are given a special influence to allow us to immerse ourselves before standing before the absolute true Judge. He might not take a bribe, but if He sees we are making an effort, would He not judge us favorably?
Another 4 words whose first letters spell out Elul; Ani l’dodi v’dodi li – I am for my beloved and my beloved is for me. Are you getting the picture?
The tsiruf for the month of Elul we just read in Parshas Va’eschanan. Hashem’s 4 letter name, (a yud, a hey, a vav, a hey), has 24 possible letter combinations. (1x2x3x4 = 24.) Since two letters of the Name are the same, the 24 ends up only 12 different combinations. Kaballah matches each of the 12 months with one of the combinations. These combinations are found in verses throughout Tanach. The combination for the month of Elul was verse 6:25, the last letters of the words U’tsedakkah tehiyeh lanu ki, (hey, hey, vav, yud) – And it will be a merit for us when [we are careful to do all the mitsvos, before Hashem as we’re commanded.] A very appropriate verse for thets of Elul. But wait! There’s more!
U’tsedakkah- And it will be a merit for us. Tsedakkah is the Hebrew word for ‘charity’ and it’s explained in context to mean ‘merit’ (by Onkelos). Why this word? Unique to the mitsvah of charity is the fact that even if you give for the wrong reason you still get credit for the right reason. If you donate money for a building just because you want your name in lights and not because of what goes on in the building, you still built a building. There is still shelter, warmth, a place to learn, to sleep, whatever the function of the charity. In Hashem’s kindness, since we can’t do every mitsvah with the proper intention, He gave one mitsva that even if we do it with the wrong intention, we still get it right. Tseddakah- specially used in the tsiruf for Elul.
This same idea is again alluded to in the ot-bosh of tseddakah. Ot-bosh is folding the 22 letters of the Hebrew Aleph Beit in half, matching 1st letter with last letter, 2nd with 2nd to last, 3rd with 3rd to last, etc., and swapping the letters of a word with their “opposite”. For Tseddakah, spelled tsaddik, daled, kuf, hey, the Tsaddik becomes a hey, the daled becomes a kuf, the kuf becomes a daled and the hey becomes a tsaddik. The ot-bosh of tseddakah is tseddakah! How ever you give it it comes out the same! The tsiruf for Elul goes out of its way to uniquely translate a unique word to tell us how merciful our Beloved Creator is. Whether you want to get into Elul because you want to be on the derech Hashem and develop a relationship with Hashem or whether it’s because you just want to stay alive another year to eat half pints of ice-cream, get into it!
In Yeshivas during Elul the guys are intense and serious in their studies. I think they’re half right. The ‘intense’ is right. But serious? Elul is such a gift, it’s such a blessing, it’s such a neis/flag of how much Hashem loves us. They should be intense and happy in their studies! Of course Elul isn’t only for the study halls. Do a mitsvah you haven’t yet done. Intensify a mitsvah you do do. Put some time aside for study you haven’t yet allotted. Maybe for some people they should just not watch TV for one month. I know a Jewish girl, she has a gentile father, she considers herself a baptized Christian, she’s in college, and when her mother died, for the shloshim, as an act of mourning she refrained from watching any TV. There is nothing like a Jewish soul! Even those buried deep force their way to the surface and find some expression they can relate to. Some souls are buried so deep it takes a tragedy to crack the shell, Hashem have mercy. For most of us it’s just outwitting our Yetser Horahs. Tell it it’s just for a month. One little month out of a whole big year you’ll do a little more and then you’ll go back to ‘normal’. Elul!!!
Make order in the court, appoint your officers and heed your Sages who told you to have a bona fide, sanctified, festive Eluldik Shabbot Shalom!
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