If you don’t see this week’s issue by the end of the week, check http://parshapotpourri.blogspot.com which may be more up-to-date
Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues
Parshas Shoftim - Vol. 3,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
Navi mikirbecha me’achecha kamoni yakim lecha Hashem Elokecha eilav tishma’un (18:15)
A biography was once written about Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin. Before publication, the manuscript was shown to the Brisker Rov for his comments and suggestions. After reading it, he commented that everything he read was accurate and appropriate to be printed except for one anecdote.
The author recounted that the Brisker Rov’s father, Rav Chaim Soloveitchik, had such respect for Rav Yehoshua Leib that he remarked regarding him, “eilav tishma’un” – you shall listen to his words. The Brisker Rov argued that an expression reserved by the Torah for a prophet of Hashem may not be used, even colloquially, in reference to a human being, no matter how great he was. Although the author insisted that the story was true, the Brisker Rov held his ground and the passage was removed.
When he was told about this incident, the Satmar Rebbe smiled and asked someone to bring him a Volume 1 of the Orach Chaim section of Shulchan Aruch. He opened it to chapter 125 and pointed to the marginal notes of Rav Akiva Eiger which are printed there. Rav Akiva Eiger quotes the opinion of the Arizal, who disagrees with the opinion of the Shulchan Aruch there, and concludes “eilav tishma’un.”
The sharp mind and phenomenal recall of the Satmar Rebbe allowed him to immediately remember where the great Rav Akiva Eiger had quoted this phrase in reference to the Arizal. Nevertheless, he suggested that this comment posed no challenge to the position of the Brisker Rov, as the Arizal was but an angel in human guise, for whom such words are fitting!
V’zeh devar harotzeach asher yanus shamah v’chai asher yakeh es re’eihu bivli 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. The Meshech Chochmah derives from a verse in Parshas Chukas (20:29) that although this law was applicable during the 40-year sojourn of the Jews in the wilderness, with the accidental killer required to dwell in the camp of the Levites, an accidental killing never actually occurred during this entire period.
The Torah relates that upon the death of Aharon, every member of the Jewish nation cried and mourned his death. Rashi explains that this was due to his tremendous efforts to make peace between quarreling parties. The Meshech Chochmah notes, however, that had there been even a single accidental murderer during this period, he wouldn’t have cried at the death of Aharon – the Kohen Gadol – but rather would have rejoiced at the event which secured his freedom!
However, the Matamei Yaakov questions this proof. It is entirely possible that there was an accidental killer who was exiled to the Levite camp but who died prior to the death of Aharon, which occurred during the last year of their 40-year sojourn in the wilderness. As such, the fact that at the time of Aharon’s death every living Jew mourned his passing doesn’t constitute an absolute indication that there were no accidental killings during this period.
V’asisem lo ka’asher zamam la’asos l’achiv
ubiarta ha’ra mikirbecha (19:19)
In the event that a set of witnesses is found to be lying and conspiring through the testimony of a second set of witnesses who claim that the first set were in a different location at the time of the alleged incident, the court punishes the first set by inflicting upon them the punishment they would have brought upon the defendant through their testimony. Rashi writes that this law only applies in the event that their conspiracy is discovered before the defendant is punished. If he has already been killed as a result of their testimony, they are no longer to be put to death.
In his commentary on Makkos (5b), Rashi explains that this law is derived from the Torah’s wording ka’asher zamam la’asos l’achiv – as he conspired to do to his fellow. A person is only considered one’s fellow as long as he is alive. Once he has been put to death, he is no longer called one’s fellow, and this law is no longer applicable. The Ritva questions Rashi’s derivation by pointing out that the Torah uses the word achiv (fellow) in reference to the dead both when discussing the mitzvah of yibum (25:6-7) and in reference to Nadav and Avihu after their deaths (Vayikra 10:4).
The Rashash (Sanhedrin 10a) defends Rashi’s explanation by suggesting that the word àçéå has two different connotations: a familial relative, and a “brother” with whom one is united through a common obligation in mitzvos. The difference between them is that while the former is appropriate after death, which doesn’t negate a familial connection, the latter is only applicable as long as both parties are alive, as the Gemora in Shabbos (30a) teaches that a person becomes exempt from mitzvos after he dies.
In light of this explanation, it is perfectly appropriate for the Torah to use the expression àçéå in conjunction with the mitzvah of yibum, which applies only to a person’s brother. This term is also fitting to be used in association with the deceased Nadav and Avihu when discussing them with their cousins Mishael and Eltzaphan, as this bond wasn’t broken through death.
Our verse, however, is discussing the laws of conspiring witnesses and their scheme to falsely punish “their brother,” the defendant. Since there is no familial relationship between the parties, it can only be referring to their common obligation in mitzvos. If the verse refers to the defendant as their brother, this law can only be applicable when he has yet to be punished and is still alive, thus providing a clear source for the ruling of the Gemora in Makkos, exactly as Rashi explained.
Vayosifu ha’shotrim l’dabeir el ha’am
v’amru mi ha’ish ha’yarei v’rach ha’leivav yeilech v’yashov l’beiso (20:8)
In listing the people who are permitted to return home from the battle front, the Torah includes one who is afraid and weak-hearted. Rashi explains that this refers to a person who is fearful that the sins which are in his hand will cause him to die in the battle. It is difficult to understand the use of this peculiar expression. In what way is it possible for sins to be in a person’s hand more than they are in his heart or soul? Further, one of the examples given (Menachos 36a) of such is a sin is a person who speaks between putting the tefillin on his arm and placing the tefillin on his head. Since this isn’t from the more severe sins which require Yom Kippur to effect forgiveness, why doesn’t he merely confess and repent his sin, which will effect immediate forgiveness and allow him to remain and fight?
Rav Shalom Schwadron suggests that Chazal specifically referred to the sin as being “in his hand” to hint that he has yet to relinquish his improper actions and is still figuratively holding on to them. The reason that he is unable to simply repent his actions is that he doesn’t want to! Nevertheless, although he is unwilling to admit the error of his ways and correct them, he is still intellectually cognizant of their impropriety and therefore fears the consequences of placing himself in the danger of war.
Although he recognizes that his actions are inappropriate and could lead to his death, he is still unable to release them from his hand and properly correct his ways due to the tremendous force of habit. As we begin the difficult work of honestly evaluating ourselves and attempting to improve and grow throughout the month of Elul, the first step is to understand that one of the greatest weapons in the yetzer hara’s arsenal is the power of habit, a recognition which will allow us to loosen our grips and completely release the sins from our hands.
the weekly Points to Ponder are now available!
Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) 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. Why does the Torah forbid the judge to take a bribe but not similarly prohibit the parties from giving a bribe, similar to the prohibition against lending with interest which applies to both the lender and the borrower? (Tosefes Brocha)
2) The Rambam writes (Hilchos Talmud Torah 3:1) that the crown of a Torah scholar is even greater than the crown of the king (17:15). How can this be reconciled with the ruling of the Rambam (Hilchos Melochim 2:1) that a person is obligated to show more respect to the king than to any other person, which includes even the greatest sage? (Lulei Soras’cha)
3) A king is not permitted to have more than 18 wives (Rashi 17:17). If a man was married to 19 women and subsequently appointed king, was he required to divorce one of them? (Derech Sicha)
4) 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). As all other punishments are meted out equally and uniformly, why is this one unique in that one accidental killer may have to wait decades until the death of the Kohen Gadol while another may go free in a matter of minutes?
5) 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 (21:4). They must then announce (21:7) that they didn’t spill the blood of the deceased. Rashi quotes the Gemora in Sotah (45b), which explains that the sages clearly aren’t suspected of cold-blooded murder, but rather they must testify that they didn’t see this wayfarer leaving their city and allow him to continue without escorting him and providing him food. In what way would their providing a traveler with food protect him from a would-be murderer? (Ibn Ezra, Maharal Chiddushei Aggadah Sotah 45b, Malbim, Darkei Mussar)
© 2008 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 firstname.lastname@example.org
Shema Yisrael Torah Network