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

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Vol. 5 No. 45

Parshas Shoftim

The Truth, The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

In a day and age, when promises are broken as easily as matchsticks, and when people have no qualms about fabricating lies, the opening pesukim of this Parshah convey a powerful and relevant message. The Parshah opens with the appointment of judges, whom the Torah not only cautions to pass honest judgement, but exhorts not to twist the law, not to favour either of the two parties (by offering him preferential treatment - irrespective of his status or circumstances), nor to accept bribery (in any form - financial, verbal or even by way of a favour).

Nor is the Torah's stress on honesty and integrity confined to the judges. When the posuk writes "tzedek tzedek tirdof", it is speaking not to the judges, but to the litigants. In their search for the truth, which, when all's said and done, is what litigation is all about, the Torah instructs them to seek it at the hands of a superior Beis-din, rather than at the hands of three people, in order to arrive at the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.


Later in the Sedra, the Torah inserts the Parshah of false witnesses who, in certain cases, are even punishable by the death-penalty. In Ki Seitzei too, the Torah, among other issues of falsehood, deals with a false prophet, who fabricates a prophecy that was not revealed to anyone, or that was revealed to another prophet, but not to him (both of whom are guilty of the death-penalty); and it also inserts the Parshah of false weights and measures, as a result of which Amolek, the enemy, attacks. Indeed, the opening pesukim of Shoftim (16:20) connect our rights to Eretz Yisroel to the principle of honesty and integrity.


In addition to the title 'the Torah of kindness' (the characteristic of Avrohom), the Torah also bears the title 'the Torah of Truth' (the characteristic of Ya'akov, 'the chosen of the forefathers'), as is broadly hinted in the last letters of the first three words ("Bereishis boro Elokim") and of the last three words ("boro Elokim la'asos") of the creation, both of which spell 'emes' - the truth. Why the last letters and not the first? Because G-d's seal is 'emes', as Chazal have taught us.

G-d Himself is also the epitome of truth, as the prophet Yirmiyohu wrote (a statement which we echo at the end of the Shema). Indeed, one of the thirteen 'traits' of Hashem is 'emes'. Seeing as G-d and the Torah are both described as 'emes', it is only fitting that Yisroel (the third member of that great triumvirate), should also strive to attain the title of ‘Emes’, by striving for the highest levels of honesty and integrity. By doing so, they will also fulfill the mitzvah of going in His ways -'just as He is honest, so too should you be honest'.


Interestingly, falsehood is the only characteristic from which the Torah warns us to keep far away (Sh’mos 23:7). Presumably, this is because, as we wrote earlier, it is the antithesis of G-dliness, destroys the foundation on which Torah rests, and carries with it the most drastic consequences. Honesty and integrity, on the other hand, are the basis of everlasting life, as we say each day in 'u'Vo le'Tziyon go'eil' - ' and He gave us a Torah of truth and planted in our midst everlasting life'.

Parshah Pearls
Parshas Shoftim
(Adapted from the Chofetz Chayim)
Bribery Blinds

"Because bribery blinds the eyes of the wise." (16:19)

So influential is bribery, that it has the power to blind the eyes, not just of a man whom we think is wise, explains the Chofetz Chayim, but even of a person whom Hashem considers wise.


Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman explains how it is that the Torah expects, even demands, from a thirteen year old boy and a twelve year old girl, to believe in G-d and to observe all the mitzvos, when there are many older and more knowledgeable people who did not attain this level.

(Aristotle, for example, one of the wisest of men, did not believe in G-d for the majority of his life.) Aristotle, and people like him, did not believe in G-d, not because it was beyond their comprehension to do so, says Rabbi Elchonon, but because they acquiesced to bribery. They were bribed by their own desires, he points out - and when a person is bribed, he becomes blind - his wisdom is impaired, as the Torah explicitly writes, and he is incapable of seeing the truth. It is not a matter of wisdom, but one of controlling one's desires and impulses. Had Aristotle made the effort to restrain his desires, he would have had no problem in believing in G-d, and would have performed the duties that were expected of him - and a thirteen year old boy is capable of doing likewise.


The Tribe of Levi - And the Torah Scholars

"The Cohanim, the Levi'im, the entire tribe of Levi, shall not receive a portion or an inheritance with Yisroel" (18:1)

It is because the tribe of Levi were precluded from receiving any regular portion in Eretz Yisroel that the other eleven tribes were obliged to give them T'rumos and Ma'asros from their crops. It is only correct, explains the Chofetz Chayim, that Yisroel provide them with the portion that is rightfully theirs, in exchange for their services rendered on behalf of Yisroel in the Beis ha'Mikdosh. (Presumably, had they received an equal portion in the land, then they would have received their needs in exchange for their services directly from G-d - and not from Yisroel. ) Nowadays, when the tribe of Levi no longer serves in the Beis ha'Mikdosh, the Chofetz Chayim continues, it is the Torah-students who take their place (they serve the rest of Klal Yisroel by studying G-d's Torah, forfeiting, in the process, the many pleasures of this world. It is therefore only fair and correct that the rest of Yisroel provide them with their needs, the portion that is rightfully theirs (see Rambam, end of Hilchos Shmitah).


Be Tomim

"Be tomim with Hashem your G-d" (18:13). Rashi explains this to mean that one should not delve into the future, but trust in Hashem and accept all His decisions with love and with Temimus (trustingly).

However, the Chofetz Chayim adds, the Torah clearly writes that this applies only to one's dealings with Hashem, (whom one can trust implicitly). When it comes to dealing with one's fellow-men, one needs to be astute, and extremely cautious - like we find with Ya'akov Ovinu, whom the Torah describes as an "ish tam", yet he handled his brother Eisov with great cunning. The Chofetz Chayim once received a complaint from a number of Torah scholars, who tried to open a business, but who subsequently lost all their money to dishonest clients, who cheated them out of their last penny.

He responded with this very posuk. Having learnt as bochrim to go with Hashem with Temimus, they made the bitter mistake of believing that they must deal with their fellow-men with temimus, too. That is precisely why the Torah writes "Be tomim with Hashem, your G-d" - but not with your fellow-man! With him you must deal carefully and wisely.

THE MITZVOS OF TODAY (Adapted from the Seifer ha'Mitzvos ha'Kotzer of the Chofetz Chayim)

The Mitzvos Asei

48. To shecht an animal, tame or wild, and a bird from whose meat one intends to eat - as the Torah writes in Re'ei (12:21) "And you shall slaughter from your cattle, and from your sheep" etc. "like I commanded you". This teaches us that Moshe Rabeinu was commanded the laws of shechitah - orally: on the esophegus and the windpipe, on the law of shechting the majority of one of them by a bird, and of both of them by a animal, and on the laws of stopping (in the middle of the shechitah), pressing the knife vertically (instead of horizontally), shechting the pipes from underneath, cutting outside the designated area and tearing out the pipe (instead of cutting it), all of which invalidate the shechitah.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to males and females alike.


49. To cover the blood of the bird or of the wild animal (e.g. a deer) - as the Torah writes in Acharei Mos (17:13) "And he shall spill its blood and cover it with dust". One must place the dust underneath the blood (i.e. before the shechitah) and on top of it (after the shechitah has been completed), because 'be'ofor' implies dust underneath and dust on top. Covering the blood is not part of the mitzvah of shechitah, and need not necessarily be performed by the shochet.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


50. To honour a Cohen - as the Torah writes in Emor (21:8) "And you shall sanctify him". This means that one should sanctify and prepare him to be fit and ready to bring the sacrifices. One should also honour him by giving him precedence in all matters - to be called up to the Torah first, to be offered the first right to bensch after eating and to help himself first from the serving-dish, etc. The obligation to sanctify him applies even against his will, as it is written "And you shall sanctify him", even by force, if necessary (and applies for example, to a Cohen who marries a woman who is forbidden to him, e.g. a divorcee, whom he is obliged to divorce). Even if a Cohen is blemished, and therefore unfit to perform the service in the Beis ha'Mikdosh, we are nevertheless obliged to honour him.

This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


51. To give the right foreleg, the cheeks and the stomach of every shechted animal to the Cohen - as the Torah writes in Shoftim (18:3) "And he shall give to the Cohen the (right) foreleg, the cheeks and the stomach": the foreleg from the calf, comprising two limbs joined to each other; the cheeks - from the jaw until the throat, including the tongue. One is not permitted to boil it or to strip it, but gives it to the Cohen with the skin and the wool still attached; and the stomach together with the 'cheilev' (tallow) that is on it and the fat that is inside it. It is however, the accepted custom for the Cohanim to leave the 'cheilev' for the owner (who may then sell it to a non-Jew, or feed it to his animals).

The Cohen is permitted to sell the 'Mattonos' or to feed them to his dog, since they have no sanctity at all. He may also authorise a Yisroel who is currently hard-up to receive them. Nowadays (in Chutz lo'Oretz) the custom is to follow the ruling of Rebbi Ila'i (Chullin 136a) - and not give 'Mattonos' to the Cohen. There are however, some righteous individuals who are strict and give it nonetheless, and that is the correct thing to do in order to fulfill this mitzvah. This mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times, to men and women alike.


About the Mitzvos

The Reward - Commensurate with the Effort

Two people can perform exactly the same mitzvah, simultaneously, yet, for a variety of reasons, the reward that each one receives will differ vastly. This might be because the one performed the mitzvah with joy, the other without, as we discussed last time. But it might also be because the one found the mitzvah easy to perform, the other difficult. And here too, we can divide this into an number of areas of difficulty. Perhaps it was a monetary issue: the one did not have to pay or could afford to pay with ease, the other had to pay a large sum of money and could not afford it; the one had time on his hands, the other was extremely busy. And it could even be purely a matter of inconvenience - the one is physically handicapped or due to all sorts of circumstances, he finds the mitzvah difficult to perform, the other one has no problem with it. In all these cases, the one who has the problem with the mitzvah will receive a greater reward than the one who does not. That is what Chazal mean when they say 'Lefum tza'ara agra' (Pirkei Ovos, end of Chapter 5) - 'The reward is commensurate with the effort'.


Nor is the principle of 'Lefum tza'ara agra' confined to the performing of mitzvos - in fact, it applies equally to the study of Torah and to working on one's character-traits (as the Tiferes Yisroel explains). Most people tend to be put off by difficulties; they are quite willing, when under pressure, to give davening in Shul a miss, to give up a shiur 'just this once', or to feel frustrated about a character flaw that seems a bit too much to handle.

But someone who wants to grow in his Yiddishkeit, someone who truly appreciates the real value of Torah and mitzvos, will not be deterred by problems that are somehow surmountable - however remotely. On the contrary, he sees those problems as a challenge, and redoubles his efforts to overcome them, because he knows that 'the reward is commensurate with the effort'. And besides, he finds the extra effort on behalf of the G-d who is constantly performing acts of kindness with him, intrinsically rewarding and fulfilling.


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