Our parashah opens: "Judges and officers shall you appoint in all
your cities -- which Hashem, your G-d, gives you -- for your tribes;
and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment." Additional
laws regarding the conduct and duties of these judges also are found
in our parashah.
The midrash states: "Rabbi Eliezer says, `Where there is
judgment, there is no judgment. Where there is no judgment, there is
judgment.' How so? Said Rabbi Eliezer, `If judgment is performed
below, it will not have to be performed above. If judgment is not
performed below, it will have to be performed above'."
On its simplest level, this midrash is informing us of the
importance of setting up courts. If mankind judges and punishes
wrongdoers and protects victims and the oppressed, G-d will not have
to do so. However, observes R' Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht z"l (rosh
yeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem B'Yavneh), there is another message here, as
When Hashem judges an individual, it is not to punish or hurt
him, but rather to notify him that he needs to improve. Nevertheless,
these notifications from G-d can sometimes seem like "punishments,"
and we would prefer to avoid them. The midrash tells us how. If each
person judges himself honestly and acts on his findings, he will not
need to be judged above. However, if there is no judgment below, if
man does not judge himself, he will have to be judged above. (Asufot
Ma'arachot: Devarim p.144)
"Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities --
which Hashem, your G-d, gives you -- for your tribes."
Last week's parashah ended with the commandment to rejoice on the
festivals. Why does the directive to appoint judges and officers
follow immediately thereafter? Our Sages explain that the Torah is
instructing that we appoint judges and officers to circulate among the
people and ensure that there are no frivolous gatherings of men and
women, as can easily happen amidst the rejoicing.
R' Avraham Saba z"l (1440-1508; Spain) adds: For the same reason,
our Sages ordained that one recite the berachah "Ha'tov Ve'ha'meiteev"
after drinking one type of wine and before drinking a better wine.
This blessing was originally composed to commemorate the miracle of
the "Martyrs of [the city of] Beitar." Although the Romans did not
allow these martyrs to be buried for a long time, their bodies did not
decompose. Because excessive drinking can lead to frivolity and
improper mixing of the genders, our Sages decreed that one recall
these martyrs in the middle of drinking in order to promote some
degree of solemnity.
You shall arise and ascend to the place that Hashem, your G-
d, shall choose." (17:8)
Rashi quotes a midrash: "This [the word `ascend'] teaches that
the Temple was situated higher than all other places."
R' Elya Meir Bloch z"l (1894-1955; founder and rosh yeshiva of
Telshe in Cleveland) observes: Of course we know that there are taller
mountains than Har Ha'moriah, where the Temple stood. What the
midrash means is that because the earth is a sphere, any point can be
designated as "the highest point." Har Ha'moriah deserves that
designation because it is the holiest point in the world, and it is
the place to which all people ascend to experience spiritual growth.
"The officers shall continue speaking to the people and say,
`Who is the man ha'yarei / who is fearful and fainthearted?
Let him go and return to his house, and let him not melt the
heart of his fellows, like his heart'." (20:8)
R' Meir Horowitz z"l (1819-1877; the Dzikover Rebbe) notes that
the word "ha'yarei" appears twice in the Torah - here and in Shmot
(9:20), regarding the plague of hailstones: "Ha'yarei / Whomever among
the servants of Pharaoh feared the word of Hashem chased his servants
and his livestock to the houses." What is the significance of this
A person who is afraid of everything, even his own shadow, so-to-
speak, does not fear G-d. Therefore, at first glance, we would assume
that a G-d-fearing person knows that he has nothing to fear but G-d
Himself. In reality, though, a righteous person who fears G-d does
fear something else - his own sins and their consequences.
Our Sages say that when the officers announced that whoever is
fearful and fainthearted is exempt from army service, they referred to
those who were fearful of dying in battle because of their sins. [In
particular, the Gemara singles out the sin of talking in the middle of
davening.] Our Sages' interpretation is alluded to by the two
appearances of the word "ha'yarei." Do not think that the fearful
person in our verse is one who does not fear G-d. Rather, he is
fearful because he fears G-d.
"They shall speak up and say, `Our hands have not spilled
this blood, and our eyes did not see'." (21:7)
These words were said by the elders of a city in proximity to
which a corpse was found. Our Sages ask: Would we think for a moment
that the elders murdered a hapless traveler? Rather, the elders are
saying: We did not see this traveler. Had we seen him, we would have
given him provisions for the road, which might have saved his life.
R' Chaim Yosef David Azulai z"l (Chida; died 1806) quotes a
certain R' Ephraim who notes that the Hebrew words "lo shafchu" are an
acronym for "Levayah / accompaniment, achilah / food, shetiyah /
drink, parnassat kol ha'derech / provisions for the whole way."
R' Yaakov Filber shlita (one of the leading interpreters of the
writings of R' Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z"l) writes in his
introduction to the latter's work on teshuvah that the chassidic
rebbe, R' Zusia of Annipol z"l (died 1800), is reported to have said:
The word "Teshuvah" (tav-shin-vav-vet-heh) is an acronym for the
* "You shall be wholehearted (tamim) with Hashem, your
G-d" (Devarim 18:13);
* "I have set (shiviti) Hashem before me always"
* "You shall love (ve'ahavta) your fellow as yourself"
* "In all (be'chol) your ways, know him" (Mishlei 3:6);
* "Walk humbly (hatznea) with your G-d" (Michah 6:8).
(Be'urim U'mekorot L'orot Ha'teshuvah p.30)
Letters from Our Sages
The following letter was written by R' Shimshon David Pinkus
z"l (rabbi of Ofakim, Israel; died 2001) in response to a
question from a yeshiva student. R' Pinkus' response
contains a message for every person who is concerned with his
or her own spiritual growth.
To a beloved young man who is unknown to me, shlita:
I read your letter, and although I am not competent to offer
advice or tell you what to do, I will write what appears to be correct
in my humble opinion. First, I will summarize what you wrote.
It appears that you are striving mightily to grow in Torah study
and fear of Heaven. You are doing all you can, and have, in fact,
already expended all the effort that is expected of you. Now you are
at a stage where you need assistance from the outside. The reason for
this is simply that your goals are so lofty and awesome, i.e., you
aspire to attain Torah and to develop an inner drive to continue your
growth. Attaining these goals is simply above man's capabilities, and
although man certainly is required to make an effort, a time comes
when outside assistance must be sought.
Therefore, I will give you a name and address to which you should
turn, and there you will find assistance.
His name is "Hashem."
He is very powerful, for He created everything. I have inside
information that He has a great love for you personally, and He is
pining away for your call.
You will have no trouble finding His address, for He is
everywhere --literally. Even this minute, as you are reading this
letter, you can turn to Him.
I write this because many people believe that G-d is found only
though prayer, mitzvot and special regimens for spiritual growth. Of
course, He is in all of those "places," but those are not the primary
places to find Him. The main thing to know is that G-d is a real and
living being with whom it is possible to form a personal relationship.
No one who has tried this has ever been disappointed.
This is so simple and practical and therefore so beneficial. The
key is to have a simple personal connection in which you tell Him your
problems and ask Him again and again to help you.
If someone gives you different advice, it will be a pity on the
effort that you expend following it. Go straight to the One who can
really help, grab hold of Him and do not let go. Do not be silent
until you have attained whatever you desire.
Signed with great respect for a ben Torah who is truly seeking,
but unfortunately does not know where to look,
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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