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AUGUST 9-10, 2002 2 ELUL 5762

Pop Quiz: How many wives was a king of Israel permitted to have?


"You shall be simple with Hashem, your G-d" (Debarim 18:13)

After commanding us not to seek out the future using soothsayers and magicians, the Torah tells us to be simple in our faith with Hashem. The word "tamim" means simple and also means perfect, to be whole and complete with G-d. Even though the meanings don't seem related, they are really along the same line. To be simple with Hashem means to put our faith only in Him and not let ourselves be consumed by what may be and all the "what ifs" of the future. Although we must plan and be prepared as much as is the norm, we must not be overanxious or use desperate means to figure out the future. By focusing on the "simple" trust that Hashem controls everything and He can do anything he wants, we turn to Him with complete faith, and this becomes a perfect faith.

Especially in these turbulent times, when events are rushing past us at dizzying speeds and we are tempted by those who claim to know what's ahead of us, let us remember that simple means perfect, and that by going back to our ancestors' ways of simple faith in Hashem, we will get closer and closer to perfection. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

"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. Rabbi Reuven Semah


"For bribery blinds the eyes of wise men..." (Debarim 16:19)

The Hafess Hayim gives an analogy: If you would hear Reuben say that Shimon is wealthy, you need to know Reuben's financial situation before you can have a clear picture as to how much money Shimon has. If Reuben himself is very poor, then his considering Shimon wealthy does not mean that Shimon really has a large amount of money. However, if someone who is internationally famous as one of the richest men in the world would say that someone is wealthy, we know that the person he is referring to owns a tremendous amount and has enormous financial assets. Similarly with wisdom. If Reuben says that Shimon is wise, we need to know how wise Reuben is to get a picture of Shimon's wisdom. For example, if we heard the Rambam say that someone is wise, we know that person has much wisdom.

With the above in mind, we can gain a deeper understanding of this verse. Hashem himself testifies that a person is wise, so this person must have the ultimate in wisdom that is possible for a human to have. Even so, the Torah states about him that bribery will blind him. Regardless of how wise any mortal is, once he is biased he will not be able to see. (Hafess Hayim al HaTorah)


"You shall rid yourselves of evil." (Debarim 17:7)

One who is in the company of sinners and constantly sees their actions will become used to the sin. The sins will gradually become less severe in his eyes.

When witnesses testified against a person who was then sentenced to stoning by the court, the Torah tells us that the witnesses would be the first to throw stones at the man. Why is this? Since they actually saw the sin being committed, they became accustomed to it. Therefore, they are required to initiate the stoning in order to emphasize upon themselves the severity of the sin. This is what the Torah means by "You shall rid yourselves of evil." You must remove the evil from within your own hearts.

This is a very important principle even today. One must understand that he is constantly being influenced by his surroundings. If we spend much of our time with people who are not observing the misvot, we are sure to absorb their indifference to Torah ideals. Therefore, we must try to associate with people who are constantly striving to improve themselves in Torah observance. Then, we are guaranteed to learn from their ways, whether we are conscious of it or not. (Yalkut Hamishai)


"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 halachahh 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)


This Week's Haftarah: Yishayahu 51:12-52:12.

This week, we read the fourth in the series of seven haftarot of consolation. It alternates between prophecies of suffering and prophecies of redemption. The knowledge that Hashem will ultimately have mercy on us and redeem us helps to make the pain and suffering easier to bear. Hashem longs for the day when we will merit the final redemption.

Answer to pop quiz: Eighteen.

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