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Rabbi A. Leib Scheinbaum
Hebrew Academy of Cleveland

Parshas Shoftim

According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgement that they will say to you, shall you do: (17:11)

In the neighborhood in which the Gaon M'Vilna lived, a poor tailor also resided. He was a wholesome, G-d-fearing Jew whose life revolved around doing his work and returning to his study. It happened one Erev Shabbos that this tailor was able to scrounge together the necessary kopeks to purchase a chicken for Shabbos. Imagine the joy that permeated his home: his family would be able to honor the Shabbos in a manner becoming this special day. He quickly had the chicken slaughtered and prepared for cooking. In all of her rush and excitement, his wife accidentally dipped a dairy spoon into the pot in which the chicken was cooking. They now had a sheilah, halachic question, regarding the kashrus of the chicken.

The tailor immediately left for the home of the Av Beis Din, Head of the Rabbinical court, to ask his opinion regarding the kashrus of the chicken. The day was short, and the distance was far. It was getting late. Soon, it would be too late to finish preparing the meal. Therefore, the tailor's wife decided that she would go to her neighbor, the Gaon M'Vilna, to ask his opinion regarding the chicken. The poor woman arrived at his door Erev Shabbos with a sheilah. The Gaon immediately welcomed her. After listening to the circumstance, he rendered his judgement: the chicken was not to be eaten. In the meantime, the tailor had returned home with good news: The rav had rendered his judgement - the chicken was kosher. We can only begin to imagine the quandary he was in when his wife told him that she had asked the Gaon for his psak, decision, and it opposed the rav's psak.

There was nothing else to do but return to the home of the rav and notify him of the Gaon's decision. After listening to the tailor's story, the rav said, "Go home, and eat your meal. The Gaon and I will join you later to partake of your wife's delicacies. "

That night, after the rav had recited Kiddush and eaten part of his meal, he went to the home of the Gaon. After wishing him Gut Shabbos, he implored the Gaon, "Rebbe, my master; I am nothing before you. My learning is insignificant in contrast to yours. I am, however, the rav of this community. When I was asked a sheilah, I rendered a decision according to my understanding of the law. Regardless of the Gaon's decision, my psak must be upheld, or else the institution of rabbanus, rabbinate, will be impugned. I, therefore, respectfully ask that you join me at the tailor's home for a taste of their Shabbos meal." The Gaon responded, "If the rav asks me to come, I have no alternative but to go. Come let us go."

The tailor and his wife were overwhelmed with delight. In fact, they were so excited that the tailor's wife, in all of her enthusiasm, tripped and bumped into the table, causing the candle made of non-kosher wax to fall into the pot of chicken. Suddenly, everyone became still - including the rav. It was evident that the Gaon's decision had been correct, and by Divine intervention they were being prevented from eating the chicken. The rav immediately went over to the Gaon and begged his forgiveness for imposing his decision on him. "Please Rebbe, forgive me; obviously Heaven is telling telling us that I was wrong in my psak," said the rav to the Gaon. "No," replied the Gaon, "the law is in accordance with your decision, and we are enjoined by the Torah, 'According to the teaching that they will teach you. And according to the judgement that they will say to you, shall you do.' You are the authority in this town; you are the rav, and your decision is the accepted decision to follow. Since I rendered judgement to the effect that the chicken was not kosher, however, I could no longer eat it. It is for this reason that I was prevented from Heaven from partaking of this meal."

This story was related to demonstrate the level of a gadol b'Yisrael, Torah giant, one whose personality and character is molded through the medium of Torah. It also indicates how Torah life should be, how it was, and the level we should aspire to attain.

According to the teaching that they will teach you. And according to the judgement that they will say to you, shall you do; you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you, right or left. (17:11)

The Torah enjoins us to listen to our chachamim, sages/Torah leaders, and to live according to Torah teachings. It is interesting to note that the Torah employs three different forms of communication between the sages and the people. They are: "yorucha" - teach; "yomru" - say; "yagidu" - tell. Each of these terms denotes a different mode of communication. It also differentiates between the individuals who are being addressed. Horav Chaim Rabinowitz, Shlita, says that the Torah is telling us that one must listen to the Torah leaders, regardless of the manner in which they convey their message.

Let us attempt to define these terms and the lesson to be derived from the specific use of each by the Torah. "According to the teaching that they will teach you" is the leaders' license for eminence. Only the fact that it is indeed Torah that they are teaching grants them supremacy and stewardship over the people. They teach what they themselves have learned from their own rebbeim. It is a constant process called mesorah, transmission, in which the Torah is transmitted from generation to generation, unaltered from its original pristine state, as it was given to us by Hashem through Moshe Rabbeinu. To transmit Torah, one first must be worthy of receiving it. He then has the ability to hand it down to the next generation.

At first, Torah leaders interpret and teach the law to us. This is referred to as "horaah." At times, however, they must render a decision. How this decision is transmitted to the people depends greatly on the type of decision and to whom it is being communicated. Regardless of the situation, we are instructed not to deviate right or left from this decision. "Amirah," saying, is the first and primary method of communication. It is, as Chazal describe, a "lashon racah," soft manner of speech. It is a manner of communication most appropriate and pleasant - easy to understand and easy to accept. It explains Hashem's command in a way that the listener can better attune himself to assimilating the message into his life. It speaks to each person individually, according to his own cognitive level of perception. Amirah is used even when one does not speak to another person - even if he is contemplating to himself. One is instructed to "say" the rabbinic interpretation to himself, to understand and contemplate it. Indeed, even the rabbinic arbiter should say it over to himself, making sure that he fully comprehends the halachah that he is about to transmit. In order for the student to understand the lesson, in order for the rebbe to convey the lesson properly - the rebbe must be fully comfortable, understanding every nuance and aspect of the halachah. Last, amirah is a term used b'lev, in the heart, as one "says"/thinks in his heart. The halachos should be fully integrated in the heart and mind of the rebbe. They must be his essence, his life.

The next mode of communication is "yagidu," telling. Horav Shlomo Wertheimer, zl, explains that in this form of expression one relates to others what he has either seen or heard. Horav S.R. Hirsch, zl, defines "hagadah" as speaking up to someone. Melding these two definitions together, we may define "yagidu" as a strong form of communication in which the mesorah, tradition, that one has heard or seen is conveyed to the people in an aggressive manner. In truth, at times one must issue forth a decision that may not necessarily be written in the codes, but it is something he has seen or heard from his own mentors. In any event, "yagidu" is an approach that the people are not always inclined to easily accept. Not everyone likes to be "told." This is the Torah's message: regardless of the manner of communication, our sages have the first and last word in deciding the course we are to take as Torah Jews.

Or who will come with his fellow into the forest. (19:5)

The Torah addresses the issue of the unintentional murderer who, while chopping wood in the forest, causes his friend's death. The Mesorah cites another pasuk in Bamidbar 27:17, where Moshe Rabbeinu asks Hashem for a leader who "will go out before them and go in before them," "va'asher yavo lifneichem." It is similar to the "asher yavo es re'eihu ba'yaar." While they may be similar in spelling, their relationship remains enigmatic. In the Kedushas Tzion, the previous Bobover Rebbe, zl, gives the following response.

When Moshe asked for a leader, he actually asked for two things. "May Hashem appoint a man/leader over the assembly"…and "let the assembly of G-d not be like sheep that have no shepherd." He cites Horav Yosele Dombrover, zl, who explains that Moshe asked that Hashem appoint a leader. He also asked that the assembly acknowledge this leader. They should not be as a sheep without a leader. They should appreciate and revere their leadership. All too often, we are blessed with wonderful leadership, but regrettably, we find it difficult to accept or defer to this leadership. The deficiency is in our character - not in that of the leader. The Bobover Rebbe relates that the rav in the town in which Horav Mordechai Tzernobler, zl, had his chassidic court was not a chasid. Indeed, he had never gone to the Rebbe. Once, on the last day of Pesach, he decided he would go see the Rebbe's Tish, table, where all the chassidim would gather together, sing and listen to the Rebbe say words of Torah. As soon as he stepped over the threshold of the house, the Rebbe said to him, "You must perform teshuvah, repent, for you have transgressed the prohibition of chametz on Pesach." The rav became very agitated and went home to search for the chametz. After awhile, he found a piece of bread at the bottom of the water barrel which was set aside for Pesach. The rav was shocked - and upset. He returned to the Rebbe and asked, "If the rebbe knew I had chametz, why did you not tell me earlier?" The Rebbe answered, "I knew nothing - until you came to me. Once you were about to establish a relationship, I was given the opportunity by Heaven to see that which was limiting you spiritually." We derive from here that as long as there is no relationship between the shepherd and his flock, as long as they do not recognize him as their leader, he cannot save them from despair.

This is the relationship between the two pesukim. If Klal Yisrael has a leader whom they appreciate and revere, then he will protect them in the "forest," saving them from the obstacles that would undermine their spiritual achievement.

Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house. (20:8)

The Torah does not seek to place a person in a situation that he cannot handle. A soldier who is afraid can harm himself and, by extension, the others who rely on him. Chazal teach us that this fainthearted person does not fear the battle per se'. He fears "because of the sins in his hand," which is a reference to such sins as diverting his attention between his Tefillin Shel Yad and Tefillin Shel Rosh. Placing Tefillin on one's hand and forehead is one mitzvah which is to be performed without any lapses in attention. One's mind must be completely focused on this mitzvah, in no way diverting his attention between the two Tefillin. One might think that this sin is not of such great significance. Chazal indicate the contrary. In fact, it is sufficient reason to return from the battlefield. Such an individual may be a liability to himself and other soldiers.

There is profound philosophical significance to this transgression. Horav Yaakov Beifus, Shlita, in his new volume, Yalkut Lekach Tov - Chaim Shel Torah, cites Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, who spoke about the significance of this sin while addressing a Bar-Mitzvah celebration. He began by questioning the fact that a boy who turns thirteen years old is called a "Bar"-Mitzvah, while one who sins is referred to as a "baal" aveirah. Indeed, we find throughout halachic literature the word "bar," -- which is the Aramaic rendition of "ben," meaning "son" -- and the word "baal," -- which is usually translated as "husband" or "owner" -- both used to denote "shaychus," relationship or connection, to something or someone. Is there some specific reason that "bar," son, is used in relation to mitzvah observance, while "baal" is employed in relation to sin?

There is an essential difference between these two words. A "ben"/"bar" is the son of someone - a relationship that can never be severed, regardless of how estranged one may have become. It is impossible to divorce oneself from one's parents. A "baal," husband, is connected to his wife via the kiddushin, marriage agreement, which can be severed through a get, divorce. In other words, a "baal" is a relationship that is not necessarily irrevocable. A "bar" is everlasting. One who becomes a Bar-Mitzvah establishes a permanent bond with mitzvos. He is literally like a "son" of the mitzvos. He is obligated to observe and execute Hashem's command, regardless of the circumstance. Disregarding his responsibility, citing a lack of belief or whatever other excuse enters his mind, does not revoke his obligation. It is eternal. On the other hand, one who sins is called a "baal" aveirah, denoting that the particular sin is a temporary lapse. While this "lapse" may last longer for some than for others, it is still not binding. A Jew who sins can sever his relationship with evil and return through teshuvah, repentance.

With this in mind, let us return to the sin of diverting one's attention between the Tefillin Shel Yad and Tefillin Shel Rosh. Chazal teach us that "chochmah ba'goyim taamin," wisdom is to be found among the gentiles, while Torah ba'goyim al taamin," Torah is not to be found among the gentiles. There is profound wisdom to be gleaned from Torah. There is an essential difference, however, between Torah and chochmah. Torah teaches a person how to live; it is the Jew's blueprint for life. While we find many wise gentiles whose intellectual accomplishments are profound, they do not have Torah. They do not have to live their lives in accordance with the wisdom they possess. It is an abstract wisdom which is not assimilated into their lifestyle. To learn Torah means to live Torah. One cannot study Toras Hashem and not live the life it dictates.

Aristotle was one of the wisest men who ever lived. It was known, however, that at times he would defer to his base nature and act in a manner acceptable for a creature of a lower order. When asked how he could do this, he responded, "Now I am not Aristotle!" This is chochmas ha'goyim, secular wisdom, which does not change the individual. Our Sages lived what they learned. Their total demeanor reflected the wisdom of Torah. Torah teaches; it shapes and molds a person in accordance with the amount of himself he puts into it.

The Tefillin Shel Rosh represent the thought process, the cognitive approach to life. The Tefillin Shel Yad denote action, observance, carrying out mitzvos. The prohibition against speaking or diverting any attention between these two Tefillin implies the importance of integrating the mind with the act. There cannot be any breach between what one thinks and what one does. They must be in sync with one another, unified in harmony, reflecting one's understanding and belief in the mitzvos he carries out. A Jew whose thoughts do not coincide with his actions, whose beliefs are not necessarily in harmony with his observance, is spiritually defective. He lacks the "Torah" element of his wisdom. He cannot represent Klal Yisrael in battle. When one looks at a ben Torah, the wisdom he possesses should be evident in his appearance, in the way he speaks, and in his relationship with people. As a representative of the Torah, he must mirror its image.


1) At what point does one become liable for planting an asheirah?

2) What is unique about when we execute a zakein mamre?

3) What is the maximum number of wives a melech Yisrael may have?

4) How many copies of the Torah must the melech have?

5) Who succeeds the melech Yisrael?

6) What does "reishis degancha" refer to?


1) From the time of its planting.

2) We wait with his execution until the next festival when all of Klal Yisrael is in Yerusholayim to witness the execution.

3) Eighteen.

4) Two: One to be placed in his treasury and one that he keeps with him.

5) His son, if he is suitable for kingship.

6) Terumah.

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Rabbi and Mrs. Sroy Levitansky
in memory of
Mr. Sol Rosenfeld


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