If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check which may be more up-to-date

Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

 Parshas Shoftim - Vol. 2, Issue 41

V’kol ha’am yishm’u v’yira’u v’lo y’zidun od (17:13)

            When a person is convicted of a capital crime, the execution is carried out in a public manner. Rashi writes that the Sanhedrin waited until the next Yom Tov, when people would travel to Jerusalem to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel (ascending to the Temple) to carry out the execution so that everybody would hear and talk about it. This was to inspire maximum fear in the populace in the hopes that such future executions would become unnecessary.

However, the Mishnah in Makkos (7a) quotes the opinion of Rav Elozar ben Azaria, who maintains that a Sanhedrin which carries out one execution in 70 years is considered violent and bloody. If such executions were so infrequent, how were they able to accomplish the desired deterrent effect?

Rav Aharon Bakst answers that this question may be asked only by one who has become accustomed and desensitized to the loss of human life. In the times of the Beis HaMikdash, the Jewish nation understood and appreciated the value of every person and every life to the extent that one public execution in 70 years caused such a national trauma that another one became superfluous for at least that long. If we appreciated life with this proper perspective, we would be so shaken up by events like the Holocaust and the more recent tragedies in Israel that they would remain in our collective memory forever, inspiring us to proper repentance and rendering any future reminders unnecessary.


Tachin lecha ha’derech (19:3)

            A man once traveled from Israel to Europe to collect money for the poverty-stricken yeshivos of Yerushalayim. Try as he might, his heroic efforts at collecting door-to-door in the freezing European winter were largely unsuccessful. Difficult as it was, he was willing to accept Hashem’s decree, but upon hearing that a non-religious agent collecting for Zionist causes had quickly reached his target and was already on his return voyage, he became distraught and frustrated. He approached the Chofetz Chaim for an explanation to help him understand Hashem’s perplexing ways.

            The Chofetz Chaim responded by noting that the Gemora in Makkos (10b) rules that signs must be placed along the roads indicating which path accidental murders should take to arrive at the cities of refuge. Why don’t we find a similar law requiring that signs be posted pointing the way to Yerushalayim to assist those on their way to fulfill the mitzvah of ascending to the Beis HaMikdash on Yom Tov?

The Chofetz Chaim answered that the person on his way to the city of refuge, even if not an intentional murderer, is still not a moral role model to whom we want people to be exposed, as Hashem wouldn’t have caused this to happen to a completely righteous person. We therefore provide directions for him so that he won’t have to stop and interact with innocent people to obtain them.

On the other hand, the Medrash relates (Yalkut Shimoni Shmuel 1 77) that each year Elkanah and his family would ascend to the Mishkan in Shiloh and share his plans with those he encountered, thus encouraging them to join him in the mitzvah. Each time he would take a different path so as to enable all Jews to participate in the mitzvah. There are no signs pointing the way to Yerushalayim so that a person traveling there will be forced to ask the locals for directions, thereby exposing them to the righteous so that they may join them in the performance of mitzvos.

The Chofetz Chaim concluded his words of comfort by suggesting that the representative of the anti-religious causes would act as a negative influence on all those he encountered. Hashem therefore enabled him to quickly obtain the funds he sought so that he would immediately leave, sparing the upright Jews of Europe from encountering his misleading ideologies. The agent of the yeshivos, on the other hand, was a righteous person representing holy causes. Frustrating and time-consuming as it may be, Hashem specifically wanted his collection efforts to be dragged out to allow as many people as possible to meet him and become inspired from his stories of the pious Jews studying Torah in Yerushalayim!


V’zeh d’var ha’rotzeiach asher yanus shamah v’chai asher yakeh es rei’eihu biv’li da’as v’hu lo sonei lo mitmol shilshom (19:4)

The Torah requires a person who accidentally kills another Jew to flee to one of the cities of refuge. In order to be protected from the deceased’s relative and blood-avenger, he must remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol, at which point he is permitted to return to his community and family. If the king accidentally kills another person, must he flee to the city of refuge?

The Radvaz rules (2:772) that the king needn’t flee in such a case. He bases his opinion on the ruling of the Rambam (Hilchos Rotzeiach 7:1) that if a teacher is required to flee to a city of refuge, his yeshiva must come with him so that he may continue teaching them. Similarly, based on the idea that the entire power of a king comes from the people over whom he rules, if a king would be obligated to flee to a city of refuge, the entire nation would also be required to relocate and follow him there. Because this wouldn’t be logistically possible, it must be that the king would be exempt from having to flee.


V’anu v’amru yadeinu lo shafchu es hadam hazeh v’eineinu lo ra’u (21:7)

When a corpse is found in the field, the elders of the nearest city are required to bring a heifer to a valley and slaughter it with an axe. They must then announce that they didn’t spill the blood of the deceased. The pious sages aren’t suspected of cold-blooded murder. Rather, Rashi explains that they must testify that they didn’t see this wayfarer leaving their city without escorting him and providing him with food. In what way would providing a traveler with food have protected him from a would-be murderer?

The answer may lie in a humorous, if fictional, story. A proctor was administering a final exam for a large college class. After giving due warnings, the proctor announced that time had expired and all exam booklets must be brought forward, yet one student continued frantically writing.

When he brought his booklet forward a few minutes later, the proctor refused to accept it. The student bellowed, “Do you have any idea who I am,” implying that he came from a prominent family and deserved leniency. The proctor answered, “I don’t know, and I don’t care. You broke the rules, and now you’ve failed this course.” The wise student, secure in his anonymity, smugly opened the stack of exam books to the middle, stuck his book in, and quickly walked out the door.

With this insight into the value of being part of a larger group, the Maharal explains that on a natural level, having extra food in his backpack wouldn’t have protected the traveler against armed robbers. On a spiritual level, however, it would have assisted him greatly. When a person exists in a vacuum, he is judged on the basis of his own merits, just as the student would have been had the proctor known his identity. He may be righteous and merit the performance of miracles, but the average person is not on such a level. If so, what is he to do?

The Maharal explains that when a person is part of a larger community, he is able to benefit from their accumulated merits, just as the anonymous student blended in with the rest of the class. This may protect him even if his own merits are insufficient.

When the traveler is lodging in the town, he is automatically part of the community. When he sets out on his own, he breaks this bond. Escorting him on the beginning of his journey and giving him food allows him to maintain his connection to the community even when he is traveling on his own. A town which allows a visitor to depart without cementing the connection between them is partially liable for any misfortunate that befalls him. It may have been in their power to prevent it, and the elders of the town closest to the corpse are required to testify that this wasn’t the case.

As the month of Elul begins and a person prepares for the impending judgment of Rosh Hashana, he may find comfort in the message of the Maharal. We are all “travelers” through this world. If we live in our own vacuums, we will be judged on our own merits in less than a month, a scary thought. However, if we affiliate ourselves with a community, becoming part of our synagogue and volunteering to help with communal organizations, we will benefit from their collective merits. As a result, we will enjoy an inscription for a year of health, happiness, and all good blessings!


V’atah t’vaeir hadam hanaki mikirbecha (21:9)

If a murdered body is found, the Torah requires the elders of the nearest city to perform a ritual known as eglah arufah (the axed heifer) in which they slaughter a heifer in a valley with an axe to atone for the innocent blood which was shed. Although we perform this mitzvah because the Torah commands us to do so, how does it help rectify the fact that an innocent Jew was murdered?

The Targum Yonason ben Uziel writes that after the elders properly perform this procedure, a large swarm of insects miraculously emerges from the belly-button of the dead heifer and flies straight to the house of the murderer of the unidentified corpse, at which point the Sanhedrin is able to judge him for committing this atrocity. Rav Menachem Recanati suggests an interesting hint to this concept by noting that the last letters of the words in our verse spell the word rimah – insect.

Additionally, the Seichel Tov notes that ha’eglah (the cow) has the same numerical value as  ha’toleiah ba – the bug will come. Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand how the Sanhedrin is permitted to punish someone based on the miraculous actions of the insects in the absence of the two required witnesses to the murder. However, this would be resolved according to the version of the Paneiach Raza, who writes that the bugs themselves attack the murderer and put him to death!


Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):

1)     The Gemora in Kiddushin (32b) rules that although a father and a prince may waive the honor which is due to them, a king is unable to do so. Why is this? (Sefer HaMakneh Kiddushin 32a)

2)     The Torah admonishes (16:19) judges against accepting bribes and warns that doing so will blind the eyes of the wise and twist the words of the righteous. How can the Torah refer to a judge who accepts bribes as righteous? (Toras Chaim)

3)     When the Jewish people asked Shmuel HaNavi to appoint for them a king, he viewed the request as inappropriate and it bothered him greatly (Shmuel 1 8:6). If the Jewish people aren’t supposed to be ruled by a king, why does the Torah make provisions for appointing one (17:14-15), and if it was a legitimate request, why was Shmuel so upset? (Abarbanel, Alshich HaKadosh, Kli Yakar)

4)     How was Shlomo’s son Rechavam permitted to succeed him as king (Melochim 1 11:43) when his mother was a convert, and the Torah requires that the king have only Jewish-born parents? (Shu”t Nodah BiYehudah Choshen Mishpat 1:1, Chiddushei Chasam Sofer Bava Basra 3b)

5)     One who kills accidentally is required to flee to one of the cities of refuge and to remain there until the death of the Kohen Gadol (19:4-5). In the event that he exits before this time, even temporarily, the goeil hadam – redeemer of the blood – is permitted to kill him (35:26-27). If the accidental murderer encounters the blood-avenger, is he permitted to kill him in order to protect himself, or is it considered an act of murder? (Mishneh L’Melech Hilchos Rotzeiach 1:15)

6)     A close relative of one who is killed accidentally serves as the redeemer of his blood (19:6) and is permitted to kill the unintentional murderer if he finds him outside of one of the cities of refuge. If a person is stricken accidentally in a manner which will cause him to die, may he redeem his own blood and put the killer to death before he himself dies? (Gilyonei HaShas Makkos 11b)

7)     In the event that a set of witnesses is found to be false and conspiring through the testimony of a 2nd set of witnesses who claim that the 1st set were in a different location at the time of the alleged incident, the beis din punishes the 1st set by inflicting upon them whatever punishment they would have brought on the defendant through their testimony (19:19). Why is the testimony of the 2nd set of witnesses arbitrarily believed more than that of the 1st set? (Rabbeinu Bechaye)

8)     In listing the people who are permitted to return home from the battle front, the Torah includes (20:8) one who is afraid and weak-hearted. Rashi explains that this refers to a person who is fearful that his sins will cause him to die in the battle. If somebody is wicked and has sinned but isn’t afraid of their consequences, does he remain at the battlefront or return home?

© 2007 by Oizer Alport. Permission is granted to reproduce and distribute as long as credit is given. To receive weekly via email or to send comments or suggestions, write to


Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Jerusalem, Israel