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Parshas Shoftim - Vol. 10, Issue 44
Compiled by Oizer Alport
The Torah commands us that when a matter of judgment is in doubt, we should go to the judge who will be in those days, so that he can instruct us regarding the proper course of action. Rav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin points out that the expression "who will be in those days" appears superfluous, as it's obviously impossible to consult a leader who is no longer alive. Why does the Torah stress this point that seems so self-evident?
Rav Henkin explains that this phrase is not intended to specify that one must approach a living Rav for a ruling, but rather it is meant to emphasize the importance of selecting a judge who is in touch with his generation and attuned to their unique struggles. Just as the tools of conventional warfare have evolved throughout the generations and nobody would dare attempt to fight a war today using bows and arrows, so too the yetzer hara (evil inclination) adopts new techniques and strategies in each generation, and it is therefore incumbent upon our leaders to be familiar with the struggles faced by their contemporaries.
This explanation can help us appreciate an insight of Rav Levi Yitzchok of Berditchev. Whenever the Gemora is unable to answer a difficult question, it responds Teiku (e.g. Berachos 8a). Although this literally means that it will be left as an unresolved question, the commentators explain that Teiku is also an acronym for Tishbi y'taretz kushyos v'eebayos - when the Tishbi (Eliyahu HaNavi - Melochim 1 17:1) comes to herald the impending redemption, he will also resolve and rule on all of the unanswered questions and difficulties that perplexed the Sages of the Gemora. Why was Eliyahu specifically selected for this task, as opposed to any of the other great Torah scholars from throughout the generations?
Rav Levi Yitzchok explains that Eliyahu is unique in that he ascended to Heaven alive and never actually died (Melochim 2 2:11). As such, he is still alive in every generation, which renders him uniquely suited to answer all of the challenging questions that presented themselves throughout the centuries, since he lived through each of those generations and is attuned to their particular issues and struggles.
My dear cousin Shaya Gross z"l adds that although this thought is directed toward Torah leaders, it is equally applicable to parents. The technologies, philosophies, and challenges with which today's parents grew up are vastly different than those confronting their children. Just as the Torah instructs us to choose leaders who are in touch with the prevailing issues, so too must parents recognize and become familiar with the temptations faced by today's youth, in order to be able to relate to their children and assist them in overcoming their unique spiritual challenges.
A biography was once written about Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin. Before publication, the manuscript was shown to the Brisker Rav 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 Rav'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 Rav 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 and confirmed by witnesses, the Brisker Rav 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 Rav, as the Arizal was but an angel in human guise, for whom such words are fitting.
Parshas Shoftim discusses the laws of going to war. Before the actual battle begins, several categories of disqualified soldiers are removed from the army and sent back to their homes. One of these groups is described as those who are afraid and fainthearted. To whom does this refer? Rashi quotes the opinion of Rav Yossi HaGlili, who maintains that it refers to somebody who is afraid of the sins that he has committed, which could cause him to die in battle. The Gemora (Sotah 44a) elucidates that this applies even to relatively slight transgressions, such as speaking while donning tefillin. The Kotzker Rebbe notes that this opinion seems difficult to understand. Human beings are by definition imperfect. Was there even a single soldier who had not committed such a minor sin even once in his lifetime? According to Rav Yossi HaGlili, how was it ever possible to assemble a Jewish army to fight in battle?
The Kotzker Rebbe answers by pointing out that Rav Yossi HaGlili chose his words very carefully. He didn't say that somebody who has committed a sin is exempt from battle, but rather somebody who fears his sins. All humans slip up from time to time and do things that they regret. However, when this occurs, the correct approach is to repent one's actions and move on. Being afraid of one's sins is an unhealthy response and is a sign that the person is wallowing in guilt instead of confronting his mistakes and engaging in sincere introspection and self-improvement. The Torah reveals to us that such a person will be lacking the self-confidence he needs in order to fight successfully and will be a detrimental influence on his comrades, and he is therefore sent home from the battlefront.
As we begin to examine our ways in the month of Elul in preparation for the impending Day of Judgment, it behooves us to remain cognizant of this important message. Rather than becoming depressed by our shortcomings and afraid of our misdeeds, we should recognize that they are what make us human, and we should instead work maturely and productively to correct and uproot them.
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Parsha Points to Ponder (and sources which discuss them):
1) It is forbidden to plant a tree anywhere on the Temple Mount (Rashi 16:21). Is it permitted to plant a tree next to a synagogue? (Hagahos Rav Akiva Eiger Orach Chaim 150, Shu"t Maharam Schick 79, Shu"t Binyan Tzion 9, Shu"t Maharsham 1:127, Torah L'Daas Vol. 8)
2) A person who kills another Jew accidentally must to flee to an Ir Miklat (city of refuge) and remain there until the kohen gadol dies (19:4-5). The Gemara in Makkos (9b) rules that two Torah scholars must escort him to the Ir Miklat in order to protect him from the go'el hadam should they encounter one another before the murderer reaches the safety of the city of refuge. Why did they send two Torah scholars instead of two strong men, who would presumably be more successful in protecting him from the angry blood-redeemer? (V'Ha'Ish Moshe)
3) When a corpse is found in the field, the elders of the nearest city are required to announce that they did not spill the blood of the deceased (21:7). Rashi 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)
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