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

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Vol. 14   No. 44

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Tzvi Dov ben Yisroel Moshe z"l

Parshas Shoftim

Appointing a King

"Appoint for yourselves a king " (17:15).

The question arises that, seeing as the Torah not only permits appointing a king, but turns it into a Mitzvah (for Chazal have listed three Mitzvos that became obligatory once Yisrael entered the Land: appointing a king, destroying Amalek and building the Beis-Hamikdash), why did Shmuel rebuke the people when they asked for a king? And what's more, why did G-d back him up?

The Malbim explains that it was not intrinsically wrong to ask for a king. What was wrong was that they asked for a king to judge them "like all the surrounding nations", implying that they wanted a king who would issue rulings in the spirit of the nations, rather than in the spirit of the Torah, as the Torah intended.

In fact, he elaborates further, Shmuel did not suspect them of going so far. He accused them of wanting the king to take over his role as judge (albeit to judge Din Torah). And it was G-d who revealed their true intentions, when He pointed out that it was Him that they had rejected and not Shmuel, inasmuch as they even wanted the king to deviate from Din Torah as well, where necessary, as we explained.


The difficulty with this explanation is that our Pasuk issues the Mitzvah to appoint a king after Yisrael have requested a king "like all the surrounding nations" (the very words which the Malbim considers sinful), yet it does not treat it as a sin and does not seem to interpret the words in the way that the Malbim does.


It therefore seems to me, that their sin lay, not in their actual words (even though they used the expression "like all the nations "), but in the timing of their request. Shmuel was one of the greatest Shoftim of all times, and the fact that they came with their request when he was at the height of his power, suggested that they asked for a king, not in order to fulfill the Mitzvah of appointing a king, but because they were dissatisfied with Shmuel's leadership, which is basically how the Malbim explains Shmuel's personal rebuke.

What Shmuel did not see however, was the fact that their dissatisfaction was not a personal matter at all. It was not because they accused him of being unknowledgeable or incompetent, like he thought, but on the contrary, it was his knowledge and competence that troubled them, added to the fact that he was too straight and could not be bought. So they used the Mitzvah of appointing a king as a means of switching Shmuel for someone who was more prone to bribery, whom they could rely on to comply with their own plans. In fact, this is similar to the scenario described by Rashi in Devarim (1:14).


R. Bachye is of the opinion that even though appointing a king is a Mitzvah as we explained, it only became a Mitzvah when Yisrael demanded it, as indeed the Torah predicts here. As Shmuel told the people at the time, Hashem is their King, who is constantly with them and who watches over all their endeavours. So what possible advantage could there be in appointing a substitute? And that is what G-d told Shmuel, that it was not him (Shmuel) whom they rejected, but Him. Hence the Navi writes in Hoshei'a (13:11) "I will give you a king in My anger (with reference to Shaul Ha'melech [the first king], who was killed in battle) and I will take him in My fury (with reference to Tzidkiyahu [the last king], whom Nevuchadnetzar tortured, before sending him into exile and imprisoning him). And he (R. Bachye) goes on to list other kings who caused Yisrael tremendous suffering (David, who was responsible for a plague of pestilence, and Achav, who caused a three-year famine).

However, he also cites a Gemara in Sanhedrin (20b) which explains that the elders did not err in asking for a king to judge them, and that it was the people who sinned by asking for a king to fight their battles, and that was something that G-d could handle admirably, without human assistance. This conforms with Rashi's interpretation of the Gemara, though Rashi himself explains the Pasuk differently in the Navi (as we shall now see). See also Ha'amek Davar.


Rashi and the Metzudas David both ascribe Yisrael's sin to the fact that they asked for a king to judge them (like all the nations - Rashi's addition).

If we bear in mind that the Pasuk in Shoftim omits the word 'to judge us', then the Malbim is vindicated. There was nothing wrong in asking for a king to initiate a constitution and to govern them, in the way that all the other nations do. As there is nothing in such a request which suggests that the king will do anything that clashes with Yisrael's national Torah requirements. But when they asked for a king to judge them like all the nations, that suggested that they wanted a system of civil law that ran contrary to Din Torah, and that is what angered Hashem.

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Parshah Pearls

Appointing Dayanim Over Oneself

"Appoint judges and law-officers for yourself ... and they will judge the people righteously" (16:18).

Those who sit on the committee to appoint the community leaders may well be tempted to think that having been instrumental in their appointment, they are not bound by their rulings and decisions.

And it is precisely to forestall such thoughts, says the K'li Chemdah, that the Torah adds the word "for yourselves". Remember, the Torah is warning the committee members, that the leader of the community is your leader too, and you are bound by his rulings and teachings, just like everybody else. And what's more, he explains, the Torah concludes "and they will judge the people righteously". It is only when the people see that you respect the leaders and obey their commands, that they will follow your example, enabling the judges to do their job properly.


The Rabbanut

"Do not plant a tree for idolatrous purposes next to the Mizbei'ach of Hashem " (16:21).

Chazal extrapolate from here that if someone appoints a Dayan (a judge) who is unworthy of the position, it is as if he had planted an idol-worship tree beside the Mizbei'ach.


The Chochmas Chayim cites R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld's vehement opposition to the fact that, already in his time, the office of the Chief Rabbi was about to be placed under the auspices of the Histadrut ha'Tziyonut. His objection was based on the fact that the former was connected to an organization which was the very antithesis of the ideals represented by the Rabbananut, and that his livelihood would be determined by the latter.

Among other things, the Rav referred to the incident recorded in Sh'mos, where Miriam sought permission to fetch a Jewish nurse to feed Moshe, because, says the Gemara in Sotah (12b), Moshe refused to feed from any of the Egytian nurses whom Bisyah had summoned to feed him, on the grounds that he was destined to speak with the Shechinah ... .

The Torah indicates here, says R. Yosef Chayim, that, although it is Halachically permitted for a Jewish baby to feed from a non-Jewess (as the Shulchan Aruch rules in Yoreh De'ah ([155:1]), a mouth that is destined to speak with the Shechinah should avoid doing so.

How much more so must Jewish Dayanim (about whom David Hamelech wrote "G-d stands in the congregation of Yisrael", and about whom Chazal have said 'When three Dayanim sit in judgement, the Shechinah sits with them' and that a Dayan who judges truthfully, becomes a partner with Hashem) steer clear of any connection with sponsors who are totally secular in character! How can these judges expect to garner Divine Assistance when they are so strongly rooted to a body that is basically heretical? Partnership that unites the judges of Yisrael with people who uproot Jewish law, and that is bent on destroying everything that we accepted on Har Sinai is not only a paradox, it threatens to demolish the very institution that it claims to be upholding. It makes a mockery of the Rabbanut!

History, the Chochmas Chayim concludes, has justified R. Yosef Chayim's objection, proving the accuracy of R. Yosef Chayim's words down to the last letter.


Turning Sin into a Halachah

" and you shall destroy the evil from Yisrael and all of Yisrael will hear and be afraid" (17:13).

The Akeidas Yitzchak ascribes the severity of the punishment of S'dom in its time to the fact that they did not sin merely because they succumbed to the Yeitzer ha'Ra - that would have placed them on a par with most sinners, to whom Hashem is inclined to give a chance to repent on their evil ways. But because they turned their evil practices into law (in S'dom, if one does such and such, then the law is such and such). Once sin becomes an accepted principle, the chances of Teshuvah are very low indeed.

And it is for precisely the same reason, explains R. Yosef Shaul Natanson, that the Torah is so strict with a Zakein Mamrei (a rebellious elder), who, in similar fashion, has turned his sin into a Halachah (or should we have said - the Halachah into a sin?).


The Ways of the Yeitzer-ha'Ra

"He shall not increase for himself horses, so as not to return the people to Egypt (who sold the best horses), in order not to increase a horse" (17:16).

Such is the way of the Yeitzer-ha'Ra, explains the Chafetz Chayim; he gains entry by offering large dividends, because he knows that if the stakes are low, we will not be tempted by his wicked offers. So he comes along with proposals that are attractive and difficult to resist. Once he has us in his clutches however, he has no difficulty in tripping us up, even for the smallest of stakes, as Chazal have said, 'Once a person has sinned one time, two times, he considers the issue to be permitted'; he is no longer capable of standing up to the Yeitzer-ha'Ra under any circumstances.


That is why the Torah first warns the king not to increase his stable by purchasing many horses, however lucrative the deal may appear. Because once he does that, he will find himself going down to Egypt even to purchase just one horse, even though it is hardly worth the effort.


Everything is in the Torah

"And it (the Seifer-Torah that he has written) shall be with him, and he shall read in it all the days of his life" (17:19).

Indeed, says the Chasam Sofer, the king (as well as every other Jew), will find that the Torah provides solutions to all situations and all circumstances, on any day of his life.


Going Back Home - in Two Stages

" who is the man who built a new house and did not consecrate it? He shall go and return to his house lest he die in the course of the war, and somebody else will consecrate it" (20:5).

Chazal say that the three men described in the current Pesukim do not actually go home. They merely move from the front lines and join the supply line, which sends food and supplies to the soldiers.

What the Pasuk therefore means, says the Meshech Chochmah, is that he must "go" immediately from the battle-front to the supply lines, so that he will survive the war and be able to return home after the war ends.


Don't Cut Your Nose to Spite Your Face

"Do not destroy its trees ... because you will eat from them" (20:19).

When an attacking army sees that there is no other way of defeating its enemy, it will employ any strategy that will weaken them. Sometimes this entails destroying its source of food to facilitate its defeat, the Seforno explains.

When K'lal Yisrael fight a war, they know that, with Hashem's help, they are bound to win and to capture their land. That being the case, what point is there in destroying the enemy's source of food, when it is only a matter of time before that very source of food will become theirs? In any event, it makes little difference to Hashem what strategy one employs, in which case, one is better off using strategies that will not be self-detrimental in the long run. And destroying trees from which one will be able to benefit later seems to be a matter of cutting one's nose to spite one's face.


The Avnei Azel comments that, according to the Seforno's explanation, the prohibition of destroying fruit- trees in battle is confined to battles that are fought in Eretz Yisrael, or at least to lands that one intends to capture and inhabit. That explains why, in Melachim (2 3:19), Elisha ordered Yisrael, before attacking Mo'av, to destroy all their fruit-trees, an order which appears to contravene the Halachah that we are discussing.

Only there, they were not fighting with Mo'av to capture their land, only in self-defense, because Mo'av had attacked them. Consequently, since they had no intention of capturing Mo'av's land, there was no prohibition against destroying their fruit-trees.


The common answer to the question however, says the Avnei Azel, is that of Rashi, who explains that the Isur of not destroying their fruit-trees did not apply to Amon and Mo'av, just as the Mitzvah of offering peace-terms before attacking one's enemies (mentioned a few Pesukim earlier) did not apply to them, as the Torah writes in Re'ei (13:7) "Do not seek their peace and their goodness".

* * *


"Just as you are not permitted to set up a Matzeivah, so too are you not permitted to appoint as a community officer a wicked man whom Hashem has distanced" (17:22).


"Only, he shall not possess more than two horses, in case the princes ride on them, become conceited, and become idle from Torah, in which case they be sent into exile to Egypt, and Hashem said to you, 'Do not go back on that journey again!' " (17:16).


"And it will be if he follows the Mitzvos of the Torah, he will sit in safety on the throne of his kingdom; then the elders shall write him this Parshah of the Torah on a scroll, from before the Kohanim who are from the tribe of Levi" (17:18).


"And they shall not receive an inheritance of fields and vineyards among their brethren, the twenty-four gifts of Kehunah, which Hashem gave them, that will be their inheritance" (18:2).


"The first of your produce, your wine and your oil, and the first of your wool (sufficient to manufacture a belt) you shall give him" (18:8).


"You shall be complete in the fear of Hashem your G-d" (18:13).


"And the officers shall speak with the people and say 'Who is the man who built a new house and did not affix a Mezuzah to inaugurate it? Let him return to his house, in case sin causes him to die in battle, leaving another man to inaugurate it" (20:5).

(And the two following instances Targum Yonasan explains in similar fashion - that if the soldier does not return, perhaps the sin of not redeeming his fourth-year fruit ['Neta Revai'] and of not rejoicing with his new wife for the first year respectively, will cause him to die in battle).

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(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Please bear in mind that the rulings in this article reflect the opinion of the Seifer ha'Chinuch and are not necessarily Halachah.

Mitzvah 455:
Not to Subtract from the Mitzvos or from their (Traditional) Interpretations

It is forbidden to detract from anything that our perfect Torah commands us, as the Torah writes in Re'ei (13:1) " and do not subtract from it". What is the definition of this Isur? The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (25b) explains that, according to R. Eliezer, if the blood of a Korban that requires one sprinkling on the Mizbei'ach got mixed up with blood that requires four sprinklings, it must be sprinkled four times, whereas R. Yehoshua maintains that it must be sprinkled once; because to sprinkle four times may entail transgressing 'Bal Tosif'', by performing a sinful act ('Kum va'Asei'); whereas sprinkling once may entail transgressing 'Bal Tigra', which is preferable, because then at least one will not have performed a sinful act in the process ('Shev ve'Al Ta'aseh'). This gives us a clear indication of the meaning of 'Bal Tigra'.

A reason for the prohibition is the same as the one the author gave in the previous Mitzvah ('Bal Tosif), to which it is parallel in all other issues concerning it, too.


Mitzvah 456:
Not to Erect A Matzeivah

It is forbidden to erect a Matzeivah (a Mizbei'ach of one stone) anywhere, as the Torah writes in Shoftim (16:22) "And you shall not erect a Matzeivah, which Hashem hates".

The Rambam defines the Matzeivah which the Torah forbids as a tall structure of stones or of earth, like that which the idolaters were accustomed to build, and to gather on top of it for their evil acts of idol-worship. That is why the Torah distanced us from emulating their practices. And the Torah forbids it, even if our intention is to serve G-d in that way, in order to distance us and to remove every vestige of Avodah-Zarah from before our eyes and from our thoughts, like the author, citing the Rambam, wrote in the previous Mitzvah (not to plant trees in the Beis-Hamikdash.) This does not apply to building a Mizbei'ach, about which the Torah specifically writes in Ki Savo (26:7) "Using complete stones you shall build the Mizbei'ach"; only the Mizbei'ach must be built in its fixed location in Yerushalayim.

This Mitzvah has very few Dinim. It applies everywhere and at all times. Someone who contravenes it and erects a Matzeivah with the intention of sacrificing on it, even to Hashem, is subject to Malkos.


Mitzvah 494:
Not to Offer Up a Blemished Animal

We are commanded to refrain from bringing a Korban consisting of a blemished animal, even if the blemish is merely a passing one. It is in this connection that the Torah writes in Parshas Shoftim (17:1) "Do not sacrifice to Hashem your G-d an ox or a lamb which possesses a blemish ", which the Sifri explains with reference to a passing blemish.

A reason for the Mitzvah the author already explained in a number of places (including Mitzvah 277 [the prohibition of bringing a blemished animal into the precincts of the Beis-Hamidkash] and 287 [that of not making a blemish on an animal]). Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah such as the differences between a permanent blemish and a temporary one, in that the latter can be redeemed, and it is even a Mitzvah to do so, as we explained in Parshas Re'ei (in Mitzvah 441). The former on the other hand, may neither be brought on the Mizbei'ach nor redeemed; one simply has to wait until either the blemish passes and sacrifice it or until the animal obtains a permanent blemish and redeem it The author already elaborated a little regarding fixed blemishes and the number of blemishes that fall under this category, in Mitzvah 287 Examples of passing blemishes are a wet boil, chazazis (a type of disease, as long as it is not an Egyptian Chazazis) and a runny eye, and other Dinim are all discussed in Maseches Bechoros and in the Rambam (Hilchos Isurei Mizbei'ach).

This Isur applies only in the time of the Beis-Hamikdash, when we are able to bring Korbanos, and it pertains both to Kohanim and Yisre'eilim, men and women (all of whom are eligible to Shecht Korbanos). Likewise, they will be Chayav even if they sacrifice a blemished animal illegally.

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