Parshas Shoftim Partners In PeaceBy Rabbi Pinchas Winston
Judges and law enforcers you must establish in all your communities which
G-d, your G-d gives to you throughout the tribes; they must judge the
people fairly. Do not pervert judgment, or show [undue] respect to people
[in judgment], nor take bribery -- bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and
perverts the words of the righteous. Justice, justice you must pursue
How serious is it to judge fairly? Well, obviously society can only be
secure for its citizens if people know that justice will be done. And,
there are very few things that profane the holy Name of G-d more than the
perversion of justice. However, the following shows how profound the effect
can be for judging fairly:
Anyone who judges justly is considered to be one in partnership with The
Holy One, Blessed is He, in creation. (Shabbos 10a)
The Gra explains that for this to be the case with respect to a judge, two
conditions must be fulfilled. First, the person must be very clear
regarding Torah matters, for obvious reasons. Second, the judge must be
someone who can distinguish when people are telling lies. Even should the
judge be a brilliant scholar, without the latter condition, he can still
err and side with the wrong claim. After all, a claimant can simply look up
the halachah in the Shulchan Aruch to see which claim works best, and state
such a claim.
The Gra explains that this is important, not just for the sake of truth,
but, also, for the sake of peace within society. For, the liar can fool the
judge, but, he can't fool the defendant, who more than likely knows the
truth. Hence, even after the judge has cast his incorrect decision, the one
who has lost the case will leave the courtroom harboring ill-feeling toward
the one who has wronged him, and, perhaps, even the judge. As we have seen
in so many cases, this makes for a very angry society, and, for people who
work "above" the law.
However, even though a liar tries to win his case, nevertheless, when
justice is done, he knows in his heart that he has not been wronged. It is
hard for him to hold a grudge against the person who has rightfully
regained that which belongs to him. If the liar can still feel anger, then,
he has bigger psychological problems than the courts can resolve, and
giving him what he wants only deepens those problems.
This is what the Gra understands in the basis for the Talmud's statement
above. For, when a judge fulfills these two conditions, and, is able to
judicate fairly, then peace comes to the world as well. For bringing peace
to creation, the judge is considered to be a partner with G-d in creation.
This concept does not apply only to judges. Anyone who brings peace to
G-d's world is seen as a "partner" with G-d in creation. If the purpose of
creation is to bring "shalom," then, obviously, doing that makes a person
a partner in the fulfillment of this goal.
Elsewhere, the Talmud writes:
Rebi Elazar said in the name of Rebi Chanina: Torah scholars increase peace
in the world Š (Brochos 64a)
To be a good judge of character and of situations, one must know Torah well
and its goals, for, in Torah lies the axioms of creation. Torah is
instructions for living, and, for maximizing the positive realization of
human potential. For, without such knowledge, then "peace" can often be
spelled incorrectly: p-i-e-c-e, because, to the unlearned mind and
untrained eye, what seemed like a peaceful solution can end up, G-d forbid,
tearing the world apart.
After you enter the land which G-d, your G-d gives to you, and possess it
and live there and say, "I will make a king over me, just like all the
surrounding na-tions," do so only with one from your brothers, a person
whom G-d chooses. You must not put a foreigner over you, who is not your
brother. (Devarim 17:14-15)
[On Succos after the Sh'mittah year, as was the halachah,] Agrippus the
king stood and received [the Torah scroll in the Temple courtyard] and read
while standing [even though sitting, for a king, was permissible], and the
Chachamim praised him. And when he arrived at the verse, "You must not put
a foreigner over you, who is not your brother," his eyes teared. They told
him, "Don't fear Agrippus Š you are our brother." (Sotah, Mishnah 7:8)
As Rashi explains, really Agrippus was not. Though his grandmother had been
Jewish ( had inter-married to the evil Herod), his own mother had come from
Herod's family, and therefore, he was not fit to be king over the Jewish
Nevertheless, he had been a benevolent and respectful ruler, showing the
proper honor to Torah (as the Mishnah above portrays) and respect for its
leaders. Unlike other rulers of his time and throughout history, Agrippus
had been able to push his own honor aside when it came to honoring Torah,
and therefore, he represented a welcome calm in the stormy world of Roman
advancement. For this reason, he was cherished by the Jewish people.
If so, then why was the Temple destroyed during his reign?
It was taught in the same of Rebi Nosson: At that moment the Jewish people
became liable to destruction because they flattered Agrippus. (Sotah 41b)
From here we see the powerfully negative force of flattery. In fact, the
Talmud finishes this passage with the following warnings:
Rebi Elazar said: Even the fetuses in the womb curse the person who
flatters Š Any person who flatters falls into Gehinnom; anyone who flatters
someone will eventually fall into his hands, and, if not his hands, the
person's son's hands, and if not, him, then, the son's son's hands Š (Sotah
41b) Š Four groups do not receive the Divine Presence: Scoffers,
Flatterers, Liars, and those who speak loshon hara Š (Sotah 42a)
Flattery seems to be more of serious offence than the world would like to
acknowledge. However, like the story of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza, which
finishes with the unlikely words:
See how great is the power of embarrassment, since, The Holy One, Blessed
is He, help Bar Kamtza to destroy His House and burn His Courtyard! (Gittin
-- flattery must represent an outside symptom of something terribly wrong
on the inside.
What is the destructive effect of flattery, even if what is said is really
true? To begin with, it inflates the ego of the person being flattered. It
focuses a person on what they do well, which can cause them to stumble and
feel responsible for talents that are really from G-d. Flattery is not the
most effective way to promote humility in people.
Why do people flatter in the first place? Usually flattery is a way to
soften a person's attitude toward the flatterer, to make the person being
flattered feel good about doing that which they are about to be asked to
do. This type of flattery gives more power to the person from whom they
need help than to G-d Himself, who determines what will happen and when.
Sometimes, people flatter to causes a similar reaction from the other
person -- flattery for the sake of receiving flattery. If G-d feels we are
praiseworthy, the praise will come our way, at some time or another, and
usually when we least expect it. Praise for the right person, at the right
time, and in the right way is not only acceptable, it can be godly, for,
even G-d praised Noach and Moshe Rabbeinu.
Flattery, on the other the hand, is praise for non-altruistic reasons. It
is used to bend reality to our will, despite what G-d determines is best
for us and the world. Sometime a person may have no choice but to flatter,
for, even the Talmud says that flattery of an evil person is permissible.
But, if we are already having to deal with "evil people," then, it means
that Heaven is already unpleased with the way we live with Hashgochah
Pratis, with the way we place too much hope in false "powers."
When you come to the land which G-d, your G-d gives to you, do not learn
about the disgusting ways of the nations. No one among you may pass their
child through fire, use divination, divine auspicious times, divine by
omens, or practice witchcraft; use incantations, consult mediums or
oracles, or communi-cate with the dead. (Devarim 18:9)
Mitzvah #510 in Sefer HaChinuch comes from this posuk, and, it is the
mitzvah not to divine, which means that:
"Š a person concentrates intensely in order to use one of the kinds of
mental ability that all the expert [psychics] use, so that they can predict
the future; indeed, it comes true for them, since the power of the mind and
their ability to use it are strong."
The Hebrew word for "diviner" is the word "kosem," which, you may have
recognized as the same word we use today for a magician. Even though today,
the vast majority of the Western population (probably due to science), do
not believe that much in the supernatural (in any obvious way), many know
that supernatural "powers" exist. Certainly to believe in G-d and the soul
is to believe in a supernatural reality.
As the Torah, the Talmud, and all the seforim since then emphasize, all
power belongs to G-d and ONLY G-d. However, for the sake of free-will, G-d
has allowed creation to make possible the ILLUSION that men can have power
independent of G-d. It is a phenomenal and extremely dangerous illusion,
for the person taking advantage of it, and the people he may impact.
Hence, we may ask the question: Is it permissible to perform magic
according to the Torah?
The answer is yes, providing, as the rabbis have make clear, the magician
himself declares that all he does is merely a "trick" -- "sleight of hand,"
as it is called -- and, actually reveal one of his secrets to the people
for whom he is performing. A magician, according to halachah, must come
only to entertain, not to delude anyone into ascribing power to anyone
other than G-d.
This doesn't apply only to magicians and the like; it applies to anyone in
whose hands G-d has entrusted abilities to work wonders, including doctors.
Certainly it includes people who heal using what appears to be "psychic"
powers, or, have an uncanny ability to make accurate predictions regarding
There is a story in the Talmud that sums up the attitude we are supposed to
have regarding this matter. It is a story that involves the famous Rebi
Chanina ben Dosa, for whom miracles constantly occurred. According to the
Talmud, a "real" witch once fell by his feet and uttered a curse against
him. Rebi Chanina responded with the all-important phrase: Ain ode Milvado
-- There are none other than G-d.
Rashi explains that it was not that Rebi Chanina thought that these words
would completely protect him against the witch, who, like Bilaam before
her, had quite a track record of successful curses. Rather, Rebi Chanina
was declaring: Even should your words result in something, it is not
because you have any power, but, because G-d wants me cursed, and you are
merely the "messenger" for such a curse.
Keeping this in mind will help make sure that we serve our Master -- The
Holy One, Blessed is He -- and not His messenger, be he or she a good one
or a bad one.
Happy are those whose way is pure, who walk with the Torah of G-d.
So begins the longest tehillah in the entire book of Tehillim -- 176 verses
in total, and we're going to go through each one in detail. Just kidding.
In this week's parshah the following mitzvah is found:
You shall be pure with G-d, your G-d (Devarim 18:13). There is a
disagreement between the Rambam and the Ramban as to whether this mitzvah
is actually one of the 613 Mitzvos themselves, the Rambam saying that it
is. However, the Ramban (and Rashi seems to concur) says that this
directive is really addressing our attitude toward Hashgochah Pratis. Says
"Walk with G-d with perfect trust and rely only upon Him for salvation. Do
no investigate the future, but rather, be willing to accept all occurs to
you with a perfect heart Š" (Rashi, Devarim 18:13)
This is something that Iyov had problem doing, which is why he put into
question the whole issue of individual providence. In the end, G-d Himself
set Iyov straight, who regretted ever doubting G-d's involvement in the
affairs of mankind in the first place. It is true: all that G-d does is
fair and just and for the good of mankind.
It is only human to run away from suffering. However, it is also only human
to suffer, at least since Adam forced the issue and had us ejected from Gan
Aiden, and, at least until Moshiach comes and ends history as we know it.
Some suffer more, some less, but all suffer at some point in their lives,
and, the essential difference one person and the next is his attitude.
A person who has perfect faith in G-d will drive a disbeliever nuts. The
serenity of the man of faith will seem like it is ill-begotten, as if the
person "cheated" or something. This is because Divine Providence does not
always make sense to man, and, for some, this is reason for intellectual
doubt. G-d's Providence, these people demand, must make sense to us if it
is to be real to us.
Wrong, and a clever ruse of the yetzer hara. Such an attitude rarely leads
to a clearer understanding of how G-d interacts with man, but rather, with
a less clear understanding. Eventually, it usually results in a redesigning
of G-d in the image of man, a confused world, and a lack of true serenity
Praiseworthy are those who value His testimonies, and they seek Him with a
complete heart. (2) Indeed, they do no wrong, for, they walk in His ways. (3)
Indeed, such righteous people live on a whole different spiritual plane all
together. To the inexperienced, it is hard to believe. They see the Tzaddik
-- he looks only human, maybe even frail somewhat. But, the moment you talk
to such people, their mouths and minds betray their true spiritual
greatness, and somehow, they seem able to rise above the pettiness of
materialism and short-sighted living habits. They seem "tapped into" some
higher force of living Š called G-d.
The Talmud refers to this psalm as the "Repetition of Eight" (Brochos 4b),
because it contains the Aleph-Bais eight times. In other words, whereas in
some psalms each verse begins with a different letter of the Aleph-Bais, in
this one, the first eight stanzas begin with the letter "aleph," the next
eight begin with the letter "bais," and so on.
It is very common to include this tehillah as one of those said fervently
for the recovery of a very ill person. However, the entire psalm is not
necessarily recited but, rather, only the verses that begin with the
letters of the person's name are said, in the order of the proper spelling.
All illness and tragedy in history is the result of one thing only: Hester
Panim -- the need for G-d to direct history from behind the scenes. This is
in order to allow us to use our free-will to choose to remove the veil over
G-d's hand, in order to reveal His Providence. Here is how Dovid HaMelech
Let Your hand be ready to assist me, for, I have chosen your commandments.
I am driven for Your salvation, and Your Torah is my "plaything." (174)
Let my soul live and it shall praise You, and let Your judgments help me. (175)
I have strayed like a lost sheep -- seek out Your servant Š for I have not
forgotten Your commandments. (176)
It may have taken 176 verses to say it, but it was worth waiting: We are
the sheep, G-d is our shepherd, and, happy and praiseworthy is the man who
find himself worthy of being recovered by his Master, the Master of the