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Parshas Shoftim - Vol. 4,
Compiled by Oizer Alport
V’kol ha’am yishme’u v’yira’u v’lo yezidun 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 to carry out the execution until the next Yom Tov, when people would travel to Yerushalayim to fulfill the mitzvah of aliyah l’regel (ascending to the Temple), so that everybody would hear and talk about it. This was to inspire maximum fear in the populace in the hopes that 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 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 the proper perspective, we would be so shaken up by events like the Holocaust and recent tragedies in Israel that they would remain in our collective memory forever, inspiring us to proper repentance and rendering 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. Unfortunately, try as he might, his efforts at collecting were largely unsuccessful. Disappointing as it was, he was willing to accept Hashem’s decree. However, upon hearing that a non-religious agent collecting for Zionist causes had quickly reached his goal and was already on his return voyage, the man 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 road indicating which path accidental murders should take to arrive at the cities of refuge. He questioned why we don’t find a similar law requiring that signs be posted pointing the way to Yerushalayim for those on their way to fulfill the mitzvah of ascending to the Beis HaMikdash on Pesach, Shavuos, and Sukkos?
The Chofetz Chaim answered that a person on his way to a city of refuge, even if he is not an intentional murderer, is still not a moral role model to whom we want people to be exposed. 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 to obtain them by interacting with innocent people.
On the other hand, the Medrash relates (Yalkut Shimoni Shmuel 1:1 77) that each year Elkanah 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 ascending there will be forced to ask the locals for directions, thereby enabling them to become exposed to the righteous and 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, thus sparing the upright Jews of Europe from encountering his misleading ideologies. The representative of the Israeli yeshivos, on the other hand, was a righteous person representing holy causes. Frustrating and time-consuming as it was, Hashem specifically wanted his collection efforts to be dragged out so as 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’atah t’vaer ha’dam ha’naki mikirbecha (21:9)
If a murdered body is found in a field, 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 cow in a valley with an axe to atone for the innocent blood which was shed. How does this procedure help rectify the fact that an innocent Jew was murdered?
The Targum Yonason ben Uziel writes that after the elders properly perform this ritual, a large swarm of insects miraculously emerges from the belly-button of the dead cow and flies straight to the house of the murderer of the unidentified corpse. At this 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 – which speaks of removing the innocent blood from your midst – spell the word “rimah” (insect). Additionally, the Seichel Tov notes that “ha’agalah” (the cow) has the same numerical value as “ha’toleah ba” – the bug will come.
Nevertheless, it is difficult to understand how the Sanhedrin is permitted to punish a person based solely 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 Sanhedrin (21b) recounts that Shlomo HaMelech, the wisest of all men, tested two of the Torah’s prohibitions (17:16-17) regarding kings, confident that because the Torah gives the reasons for the laws that he would be able to protect himself from slipping. He had many wives and horses, sure that they wouldn’t turn his heart astray and make Jews return to Egypt, but the Gemora records that he failed on both counts. How could the wise Shlomo make such a simple mistake as to think that he could “outsmart” the Torah and find loopholes in the reasons for its mitzvos? (Zahav Sh’va, Mishmeres Ariel)
2) Was the Sefer Torah which the king took with him wherever he went (17:18-19) a complete Sefer Torah, and if not, what was contained therein? (Targum Yonason ben Uziel, Daas Z’keinim, Sifri, Rashash Sanhedrin 21b, HaDrash V’HaIyun, Shu”t Avnei Cheifetz 80:6)
3) 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 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 this considered an act of murder? (Mishneh L’Melech Hilchos Rotzeach 1:15)
4) The Torah instructs (19:8-9) that in the Messianic era, when Hashem will expand the boundaries of the land of Israel, 3 additional cities of refuge should be set aside for unintentional murderers. Regarding this period, Yeshaya HaNavi prophesies (2:4) that nations won’t pick up swords against one another, and no longer will they practice war. If even non-Jews will live completely peaceful existences at that time, certainly that will be the case among the Jews, so why is there a need for additional cities of refuge to which murderers may flee? (Chida, Baalei Bris Avrom, V’HaIsh Moshe, M’rafsin Igri, Otzar HaYedios Vol. 2)
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