Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 4 No. 48

Parshas Shoftim

Pursue Peace

"When you approach a city with the intention of fighting it, then you shall first offer it peace terms" (Devorim 20:10). This applies exclusively to a battle of conquest outside the borders of Eretz Yisroel (termed a voluntary war) states Rashi, but in the fight for the conquest of Cana'an, or the battle against Amolek (a "compulsory" war) no peace terms are offered.

The Ramban however, interpreting the Sifri which serves as Rashi's source, differently from Rashi, maintains that before attacking any enemy, they offered them peace terms, even if it was prior to a "compulsory" war. As one of his proofs, he cites the fact that Moshe sent peace terms to Sichon before engaging him in battle, despite the fact that Sichon was King of the Emori, one of the seven nations. In response, Rashi will presumably differentiate between Sichon on the one hand, whose country was not intrinsically part of Eretz Yisroel, and Eretz Yisroel itself.

The Ramban backs his opinion with a Medrash Rabba which states, "Yehoshua sent three letters (to all the 31 Kings of Cana'an) before entering Eretz Yisroel: 1. Whoever wishes to accept our peace terms, should come and do so; 2. Whoever wants to turn and flee, is welcome to do so; 3. Those who wish to fight may do so". The Yerushalmi adds: "... the Giv'onim made peace, the Girgoshi turned round and fled, the rest of the 31 kings chose to fight".

How worthy an objective peace must be, if the Torah commands us to offer the olive-leaf even to our enemies, for the sake of peace (provided they accept our peace-terms unconditionally!). Of which other good quality do we find the expression that Dovid Ha'melech used with regard to peace: "See peace and pursue it" (Tehillim 34:16).

The Da'as Zekeinim cites many examples from Chazal, to stress the importance of peace.

  1. Even Hashem Himself (whose very signature spells truth, was willing to withhold the truth from Avrohom Ovinu, when He quoted Sarah as saying, "And I am old" - failing to add that she had also said, "... and my master (Avrohom) is old" - for the sake of peace!
  2. Yosef's brothers quoted their father Ya'akov as having issued a command before his death, ordering Yosef to forgive his brothers for having sold him. Such a command had never been issued; nevertheless they saw fit to quote him accordingly - for the sake of peace!
  3. Birchas Cohanim as well as Shemoneh-esrei, conclude with the b'rochoh of peace.
  4. One greets with the word "Sholom", even a gentile for the sake of peace! (despite the fact that the word "Sholom" is one of the Names of G-d).
  5. Nobody, even a gentile, ever greeted R. Yochonon Ben Zakkai (gave him sholom) before he greeted them - for the sake of peace!
  6. Even though a deaf-mute, a fool and a small child do not possess the legal power to acquire, Chazal decreed that one may not deprive them of something which they have found - for the sake of peace!
  7. One must sustain the non-Jewish poor (in Eretz Yisroel) together with the poor, for the sake of peace!

And it is with reference to our opening possuk that the Medrash Rabbo writes: "See how great is the power of peace! Come and see how a human being who has an enemy, plans his downfall". What does he do? He goes and pays homage to someone who wields more power than his enemy to help him put the man down. Not so Hakodosh Borcuh Hu. All the nations of the world anger Him. Yet when they go to sleep, their Neshomos all ascend to Hashem, as the possuk says: "... in whose Hand are the Souls of all the living", and in the morning -turning a blind eye to their numerous misdeads -He restores each Soul to its rightful owner.

A human being, the Medrash continues, is bent upon revenge, should his friend offend him. Not so Hakodosh Boruch Hu. The Egyptians enslaved the Jewish people, forcing them to work with cement and bricks. Yet for all the harm that they caused Yisroel, the Torah writes about them: "Do not reject an Egyptian, for you were strangers living in his land" (Devorim 23) - but pursue peace!

The Medrash then brings a beautiful story to illustrate how far one must go in pursuit of peace: A woman once came home late from Shul where she had been listening to R. Meir's droshoh. Her husband, a sarcastic man, refused to let her in until she went and spat in R. Meir's face. Meanwhile, Eliyohu ha'Novi appeared to R. Meir, telling him the story and pointing out how it was due to him that the woman had been thrown out of her house. R. Meir went and sat on the steps of the Beis-Hamedrash. When the woman arrived, he feigned illness. "Does anyone know how to apply a "lachash" to a sore eye?" he announced loudly. (Lachash was a form of cure that included spitting into the sore eye.) Volunteering her services, the woman performed the necessary, whereupon R. Meir instructed her to return to her husband and tell him that she had indeed spat in R. Meir's face, just as he had instructed her.

That's how far one goes to restore peace between two people!

(Re'ei) Adapted from the Gro

Bribery Makes Blind

"And do not accept a bribe, because bribery blinds the eyes of the wise" etc. (16:19).

And in Mishpotim, the Torah uses the word "far-sighted" ("pikchim" instead of "chachomim").

The Gro explains that a Dayan needs to be "on the ball", not only to know what the Din is, but also in worldly matters, to know the minds of people and the devious ways in which they sometimes operate.

That is why the Gemoro warns the judge in Shevu'os (30b), not to say that he will reach his decision according to the law-book, even when he senses from the witnesses' words that they are lying.

"Chachomim" explains the Gro, refers to those who are knowledgeable in Torah-law, whereas "pikchim" refers to those who are far-sighted in wordly matters. Both areas of wisdom, the Torah is warning us here, will become impaired, should one accept bribes. With this, the Gro conludes, we can also understand the Gemoro in Sanhedrin (7), where some opinions warn a judge to state his opinion only "if it is clear to him as the morning", whilst others say only "if it is as clear to him as the fact that his sister is forbidden to him". The former refers to clarity in wordly matters, the latter to clarity in Torah-law.

Tzedek on Monday, Tzedek on Thursday

"Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof". From here, the Medrash writes, we derive that Beis-din should sit every Monday and Thursday. "A strange Medrash" remarks the Gro. What the Medrash means, he explains, is that the order of the Mazolos (the signs of the Zodiak) follow a fixed pattern. At the beginning of night-time, it is "*K*a*tz*n*a*sh*, *Ch*o*l*a*m*" - Kochav on the night of Sunday (Motzei Shabbos), Tzedek on Sunday night, Nogah on Monday night, Shabsoi on Tuesday night, Chamoh on Wednesday night, Levonoh on Thursday night and Ma'adim on Friday night.

The pattern at the beginning of the days however, is "Cholam, Katznash" - Chamoh on Sunday morning, Levonoh on Monday, Ma'adim on Tuesday, Kochav on Wednesday, Tzedek on Thursday, Nogah on Friday, and Shabsoi on Shabbos morning. So the Mazel of the beginning of the night of Monday is "Tzedek", and that of the beginning of day on Thursday is "Tzedek". And what the Torah is hinting here to the judges is "Chase Tzedek and Tzedek" - the night and the day which open with Tzedek . In other words, fix the Botei Din on those two days.

The Cohanim

And the Cohanim, the B'eni Levi shall approach, because it is they whom G-d has chosen to serve Him and to bless by the Name of Hashem, and through their mouths shall be (decided) all disputes and all plagues.

The Torah has actually listed here all the five duties of the Cohanim: 1. "To serve Him" (the Avodah); 2. "To bless by the Name of Hashem" (Birchas Cohanim); 3. "And through their mouth shall be" (this is the breaking of the Eglah Arufah's neck, when the Cohanim would say: "Atone for your people Yisroel" etc.); 4. "All disputes" (the drinking of the Sotoh, by whome there is a dispute between husband and wife); and 5. "All plages" (the purification of the plague of Tzora'as).

(Parshas Shoftim) (Yeshayoh 51:12-52:12)

The Haftorah opens with the words "I am the one who is comforting you" says your G-d. Exactly what is the Novi telling us, and why does he use the double expression "Onochi, Onochi"?

The Ma'ayonoh shel Torah brings a beautiful vort from R. Meir Shapiro to explain this. He quotes a Medrash Yalkut which describes how in the days of Moshiach, G-d will turn to the gentile nations and ask them to console Yisroel. But Yisroel will protest and say, "After such a long and bitter golus, can You not find anyone to comfort us other than these goyim? We want You to console us, not the very same nations who subjugated and tortured us all these years!"

G-d will respond in the affirmative. He will tell them that if they want Him to console them, then that is what He will do.

And this entire dialogue is hinted in the opening pesukim of the first four Haftoras of comfort - Vo'eschanan, Eikev, Re'ei and Shoftim.

The Haftorah of Vo'eschanan begins with the words "Nachamu, nachamu ami" - Be comforted My people, says Hashem (the implication being that the comforting will be done by others, not by Hashem Himself).

The Haftorah of Eikev continues: "But Tziyon said, "G-d has forsaken me, and G-d has forgotten me" (because He does not want to comfort me personally).

The Haftorah of Re'ei commences with "The impoverished, miserable one who cannot be consoled" (because she will not accept her consolation from the ones who caused her such anguish).

And the opening possuk of the Haftorah of Shoftim concludes "I am the one who is comforting you!. See now, that is what you asked for and that is what I am doing," G-d tells them.

The above explanation also solves the problem of the seemingly superfluous word "Hu" used in the opening phrase. Yeshayoh might just as well have written "Onochi, Onochi menachemchem", instead of "Onochi, Onochi Hu menachemchem". But according to the Lubliner Rov's explanation, this is now resolved. Due to the historical background of the possuk, the Novi is not just saying "I am consoling you," but "I am the One who is consoling" (and not the gentiles), "the One who" is translated as "Hu".

Another answer to this latter question is also quoted in the Ma'ayonoh shel Torah in the name of the Tzavrei Shollol: Chazal comment on the possuk at the end of Beshalach, "Because the Hand is against the Throne of G-d ('Keis Koh'), G-d will do battle with Amolek" etc. G-d's Name will not be complete (the Name "Koh" is an incomplete version of His full Name - the "vov" and the "hey" are missing) nor will His throne be complete ("Keis" is missing an aleph) until Amolek has been destroyed. In other words, there are three letters missing from the two words - "aleph", "vov" and "hey". And these letters are hinted in the possuk "Because Hashem has chosen Tziyon. He desires ("ivoh" - formed from the three above letters) to make His dwelling there" (Tehillim 132:13) - a possuk which we quote every morning in "Yehi Ch'vod".

And that is what the Novi is telling us here "Onochi, Onochi Hu (spelled "hey, vav, aleph" menachemchem". "I personally will console you. I will console you by destroying the forces of evil - epitomised by Amolek, and then the Hey, the Vov and the Aleph will once again be reinstated.

Chapter 52 begins with the words "Arouse yourselves, arouse yourselves, cover yourselves with strength, put on the clothes of your glory Yeroshalayim the holy city, because the uncircumcised and the one who is impure, will no longer come against you".

Rashi in possuk eleven, writes that this entire prophecy refers to the final golus, and the Redak agrees with him. That is why, he explains, the uncircumcised one is referring to Edom, and the impure one to Yishmoel (the Arabs, who pretend to be pure by immersing their bodies, but who are impure by virtue of their evil deeds). He elaborates how these two nations have laid claim to Yerusholayim since its destruction, each one capturing it from the other. The Novi is telling us here how all that will come to an end with the termination of this golus, when no foreign power will ever take Yerusholayim again. That is why he continues "Shake yourself from the dust, Jerusalem the captive" etc.

Because so says Hashem, "You were sold free of charge (not for money but because of your sins - Redak), and you will be redeemed not for silver (but through teshuvah). This too, confirms what we wrote above, that this chapter deals with the final golus, for Chazal have said that we will be redeemed on the merit of teshuvah, as becomes evident with the ever-increasing number of ba'alei Teshuvah today on the world scene today.

"Therefore My people will know My Name, on that day, because it is I who am saying to you "Here I am". This conforms with what we wrote earlier, that Hashem consoled Yisroel personally, and not through the gentile nations. It is also reminiscent of the possuk that we quote so often, which refers to the times of Moshiach: "On that day, Hashem will be One and His Name One" - and Rashi explains this possuk in a similar fashion. The Redak actually quotes that possuk to explain the following one "How beautiful on the mountains, are the feet of the one who brings good news, who tells of peace, who gives news that is good, who informs of salvation, he says to Tziyon - Your G-d has become King."

The final possuk in the Haftorah reads "Because (unlike your exodus from Egypt) you will not go out in a hurry (since there is no-one throwing you out), nor will you flee (because there is nobody chasing you). Because Hashem is going in front of you (so you follow Him at the pace that He leads you), and the G-d of Yisroel goes behind you (so you will have no need to fear pursuit).

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