Judges, Kings, Workers & Scholars
Volume 25, No. 48
Rabbeinu Nissim z”l (14th century; Barcelona, Spain) writes that, unlike
other nations, the Jews have a dual judicial system. Every nation has laws,
whose purpose is to make civilized life possible, and each nation has a king
or other official who appoints judges to enforce those laws. In our
parashah we read that Bnei Yisrael, too, are commanded to appoint a king.
The parashah begins, however, with the command to maintain a bet din (later
called a Sanhedrin) and a system of courts (independent of the king, since
they are mentioned before the mitzvah to appoint a king is taught). This is
a reflection of the dual legal system which the Torah contemplates. The
Gemara teaches that even if a defendant is not found guilty by the
Sanhedrin--which, we are taught, went to any lengths to avoid executing a
criminal--the king could apply a stricter form of justice and have the
defendant killed anyway, if “law and order” so required.
The laws which the Sanhedrin is enjoined to enforce have a different purpose
than the laws that the king enforced--to foster the spiritual growth of the
Jewish people. It is clear that such is the purpose of the chukim--laws
which we do not immediately understand--such as Parah Adumah and kashruth.
It does not seem that “civilization” is furthered by these mitzvot. It is
important to realize, however, that even the “logical” mitzvot (e.g.
honoring parents and not stealing) are intended to fulfill our spiritual,
and not only our societal, needs. If such were not the case, their
enforcement would be the sole province of the king, not the bet din.
(Derashot Ha’Ran #11)
“So that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren and not
turn from the commandment right or left, so that he will prolong years over
his kingdom, he and his sons amid Yisrael.” (17:20)
R’ Hillel Lichtenstein z”l (rabbi of Kolomea, Galicia) writes: We learn in
Pirkei Avot, “If his fear of Heaven precedes his wisdom, his wisdom will
persist.” Fear of Heaven is the foundation for remembering one’s Torah studies.
This may be alluded to in our verse, R’ Lichtenstein writes. Our Sages say
that if one is haughty, his wisdom will be forgotten. And, there is an
expression in the Gemara, “Who are royalty? Torah scholars!” Thus, our
verse could be read: If one is not haughty and one does not deviate right or
left from the mitzvot, i.e., he has fear of Heaven, then he and his
descendants will remain royalty, i.e., Torah scholars. (Shiyarei Maskil 1:4)
“According to all that you asked of Hashem, your Elokim, in Chorev on
the day of the assembly, saying, ‘I can no longer hear the voice of Hashem,
my Elokim, and this great eish / fire I can longer see, so that I shall not
Rabbeinu Machir z”l (Spain; 14th century) writes: It is important to
understand that the Torah uses the word “eish” / “fire” to describe many
different phenomena. For example, the eish that descended from Heaven to
the altar must have been different from our fire, since it never went out
(see Vayikra 6:6). Our Sages say that when the eish on the altar consumed
the sacrifices, it took the form of a lion. The fire with which we are
familiar obviously would not do that.
Likewise, at the Giving of the Torah, an awesome fire was seen which
inspired dread in those who saw it, as our verse relates. Our Sages say
that this is the fire that gives life to the souls of tzadikim, as it is
written (Devarim 4:4), “But you who cling to Hashem, your Elokim--you are
all alive today.”
R’ Machir continues: Just as there is eish which is destructive, so there is
eish which is non-destructive. The eish which Moshe Rabbeinu saw at the
sneh / “Burning Bush” was of the latter type.
Finally, the Talmud Yerushalmi (Shekalim 6:1) states that the Torah was
given to Moshe as black eish on white eish.
Therefore, writes R’ Machir, one should not wonder at the expression, “The
eish of Gehinom.” [Of course, it does not refer to fire as we know it.]
(Avkat Rocheil II ch. 28)
R’ Yosef Gikatilla z”l (1248-1310; Spain; author of the kabbalistic work
Sha’arei Orah) writes: Based on our verse we can understand the statement in
the Pesach Haggadah, “‘With great awe’ (Devarim 26:8) – this alludes to the
revelation of the Shechinah.” If the revelation at Har Sinai was so
frightening to that holy and pure generation, certainly when Hashem reveals
Himself to ordinary people it will cause great awe, dread and trembling.
(Haggadah Shel Pesach Tzofnat Paneach)
“Who is the man who has built a new house and has not inaugurated it? .
. . Who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it? . . . Who
is the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her?” (20:5-7)
R’ Moshe Sofer z”l (1762-1839; “Chatam Sofer”; rabbi and rosh yeshiva in
Pressburg, Hungary) writes: The order of these verses implies that one
should first build a house, then establish a means of earning a livelihood,
and then get married. However, Rambam z”l (Hil. Dei’ot 5:11) writes that
one should have a means of livelihood before building a house. Commentaries
explain that Rambam bases himself on the verse in the kelalot / curses
(Devarim 28:30), “You will betroth a woman ... ; you will build a house ...
; you will plant a vineyard ...” Since the first part of this verse clearly
is out of order, as it places marriage before a livelihood, the rest of this
verse must be out of order too. (This is because the kelalot reflect a
topsy-turvy view of the world.) Therefore, Rambam infers that the correct
order is livelihood-house-marriage.
Chatam Sofer continues: While we now understand the source for Rambam’s
ruling, this seems to contradict our own verses, which place building a
house before earning a livelihood. He explains:
There appears to be a disagreement between Sages of the Mishnah whether one
should work for a living (Rabbi Yishmael’s opinion) or should devote all his
time to Torah study (Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Nehorai’s opinion).
In fact, Chatam Sofer writes, they cannot be arguing; after all, Rabbi
Yishmael supports his view from a verse (Devarim 11:14), “You will gather in
your grain, your wine, and your oil.” Rather, everyone agrees that the
ideal use of one’s time is to study Torah. However, Rabbi Yishmael says,
for the sake of the honor of Eretz Yisrael, one must farm the land. Indeed,
we find that Boaz (in Megillat Rut) and the prophet Elisha were farmers.
This was not because they did not have faith that G-d would support them
while they studied Torah. Rather, the honor of Eretz Yisrael requires that
we develop it, not only with farming, but with all types of trades and
industry. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and Rabbi Nehorai, on the other hand, are
talking about when we are dispersed in the exile. In that case, when one
cannot perform the mitzvah of Yishuv Eretz Yisrael, one should devote
himself to Torah study.
With this, the apparent contradiction between our verses and the kelalot can
be reconciled. Our verse is not speaking of planting a vineyard for
purposes of earning a livelihood, but only for the mitzvah of settling Eretz
Yisrael. In that case, building one’s own house comes first [because one
must take care of his basic needs before devoting himself to performing
mitzvot]. In contrast, the verse in the kelalot is speaking of when we are
not doing Hashem’s will and therefore are exiled. In that case, we will
have to make working for a living a priority. [According to Chatam Sofer,
Rambam is not describing the ideal situation but only our present reality.]
R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (Rambam; 1135-1204) writes: “If one transgressed any
mitzvah in the Torah, whether an affirmative commandment or a negative
commandment, whether intentionally or unintentionally, when he repents and
returns from his sin, he must confess before G-d, He is blessed.” (Hil.
R’ Moshe Leib Shachor z”l (Yerushalayim; 1894-1964) writes: It appears from
Rambam’s language that one must confess unintentional sins, but not
unavoidable sins. [One commits an “unintentional” sin / “shogeg” when the
act itself was premeditated, but the actor did not know it was a sin--for
example, he performed an act that is prohibited on Shabbat because he forgot
that day was Shabbat or he forgot the laws of Shabbat. An example of an
“unavoidable” sin / “onnes” might be, depending on the precise
circumstances, oversleeping and failing to recite the morning Shma before
the halachic deadline.] However, writes R’ Shachor, this is not necessarily
so. The Gemara (Bava Kama 28b) states: “The Merciful One exempted an
‘onnes’ [from punishment].” This implies merely that he is not punished,
but that he has sinned to some degree. Indeed, the Yom Kippur vidui does
include a line, “For a sin that we have committed before You through onnes
or through ratzon / desire.”
Why must a person confess (and repent for) an onnes? R’ Shachor offers
First, one must examine his deeds and determine whether the sin truly was
unavoidable. Perhaps if one had had greater fear of Heaven, he would have
found a way to avoid the seemingly unavoidable sin. For this alone, a
person should be heartbroken!
Second, even if the sin began as unavoidable, one might have enjoyed its
continuation. This happens because the soul becomes “clothed” in sin even
when the sin is unavoidable. Perhaps, R’ Shachor adds, this is why the text
of the vidui pairs sins committed “through onnes or through ratzon.”
Third, one can only claim exemption from punishment for an onnes if he would
not have sinned anyway. If one was not inclined to perform the mitzvah
anyway, he cannot blame his sin on onnes. [For example, a person who does
not recite Shma on time even when he is awake cannot excuse himself by
saying that he overslept.] (Koach Ha’teshuvah)
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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