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

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Vol. 17   No. 44

This issue is sponsored
l'iluy Nishmas
Betzalel ben Yitchak Yaakov z"l
whose Yohrzeit is 2 Ellul (5747)

Parshas Shoftim

Witchcraft & Prophecy
(Part 1)

(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

R. Bachye comments that the Torah lists nine abominations in the Parshah that deals mainly with a variety of forms of magic. The list begins with 'Molech', the name of a god, whom one worshipped by passing one's own son between two raging bonfires. This was by far the worst of all the listed abominations, he suggests, which explains why it is punishable by Kareis (death by the age of fifty), in contrast to all the other eight abominations, which are mere La'avin (punishable by Malkos [thirty-nine lashes]).

This is unclear however, seeing as the Torah specifically sentences a Mechashef[ah] (a witch) to death by stoning - which is even stricter than Kareis. Moreover, the author quotes the Ramban, who defines 'Mechashef'[ah] as a general term incorporating all types of magic. But if that is so, the Torah lists only eight independent cases of abominations, and not nine! And what's more, this will mean that all types of magic are subject to the death-sentence, which clashes with what R. Bachye wrote in the previous paragraph.


Rashi (18:10/11) already defines most of the nine abominations (see also, Ba'al ha'Turim). Here are the additional definitions that Rabeinu Bachye (who cites all of Rashi's definitions) adds to the list

1. 'Me'onen' - someone who is able to read the clouds (from the word 'anan' a cloud);

2. 'Menachesh' - someone who is able to read the future by looking at the wings of live birds, or by listening to their chirping;

3. 've'Chover Chaver' - He gathers 'Sheidim' (demons) to one place;


The author also explains that, by learning how to harness the celestial powers, which one can do in part by manipulating the twelve Mazalos together with the seven constellations, it is possible to effect changes that would not take place if nature was allowed to run its normal cause. And it is because G-d created the world together with the laws of nature, with the express intentions of allowing everything to take its natural course, that He commanded us to avoid indulging in any of the above abominations. And it is for the same reason that He forbade the various prohibitions that fall under the category of Kil'ayim, since they too, interfere with the laws of nature to create new species that G-d did not create.


"Sho'el-Ov", Rashi explains, is a form of magic known as 'Pitum', which entails the Ba'al-Ov conjuring up a dead person under his arm-pit, from where it proceeds to speak.

Citing a Gemara in Shabbos (152a), R. Bachye, in his third explanation, explains how, even though the Neshamos of Tzadikim are 'hidden underneath G-d's Holy Throne', they tend to visit their bodies regularly during the first twelve months after death. This is largely due to the fact that, after a person dies, his body tends to remain whole for those twelve months (though, as the author explains, the twelve-month period is mandatory, and applies, even if on the one hand, the body decomposes immediately, and even if, on the other, it has been embalmed to remain whole indefinitely).

In light of this Beraisa, R. Bachye explains, whoever masters the art of Ov, is indeed able to induce a Neshamah to decend and join its body at his or her bidding. This is only possible however, during the first twelve months after death, as we explained. Once the twelve-month period has passed, the Neshamah remains in its place - 'hidden underneath G-d's Holy Throne' and can no longer be induced to descend under any circumstances.

The episode with the Ba'alas-Ov and King Sha'ul did in fact, take place within twelve months of Shmuel's demise.


The Torah goes on to say that we have no need for magicians and diviners. Instead G-d gave us prophets to tell us whatever it is that we need to know. This in itself, R. Bachye explains, is a great advantage, since, as opposed to all other kinds of predictions, those of a prophet are not subject to error. That is why Yirmiyah ha'Navi compares prophesies to a granary full of produce that has been cleared of all straw and chaff. In fact, he explains, the Navi uses the word 'bar' (as opposed to 'Dagan' or 'Chitah'), which has connotations of 'clear' (without dross or dregs).


* * *

Parshas Pearls
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

Did G-d Command that?

"And he goes and worships other gods, the sun and the moon which I did not command (asher lo tzivisi)" (17:3).

Why does this need to be said, asks R. Bachye? Who would think that G-d would command us to worship other gods?

The answer, he says, lies in the fact that those who worship the celestial bodies actually believe that they are honouring G-d with their actions. After all, these celestial bodies are G-d's servants who are doing his bidding, and when someone pays homage to the servant of the king, it is as if he paid homage to the king himself (See Rashi Lech-L'cha 15:18). So the Torah sees fit to preclude - totally, this kind of worship, however sincere one's motives may be. G-d simply does not want us to pay Him homage in this way.

Alternatively, the author adds, one can simply translate the words 'asher lo tzivisi' as if the Torah had written "asher tzivisi be'lo" - which translates as "which I commanded not to worship", and it refers to the Pasuk in the Aseres ha'Dibros "Do not prostrate yourselves before them ".



" to stand and serve in the Name of Hashem" (18:5).

Whenever the Torah uses a derivative of the word "Shem", R. Bachye explains, it is referring to the Midas ha'Din (the Shechinah), and, he adds, this is also the opinion of Unklus.

"Be'Shem Hashem", the author explains, represents Rachamim be'Din, which is inherent in Hashem's Name of forty-two letters. And this explains why a. the Kohen Gadol pronounced this Name when he made Viduy on Yom Kipur, which the Ramban describes as 'Rachamim ba'Din', and b. why this Parshah contains forty-two words (as does the first B'rachah of the Amidah).


Eidim Zomemin

"And you shall do to them as they planned to do to their brother" (19:19)

Rabeinu Bachye asks why, when the second pair of witnesses testify that the first pair were with them, the Torah believes them? Seeing as one believes two witnesses against all other forms of testimony, on what grounds do we reject the testimony of the first pair in favour of the second, who claim that they were with them, despite the fact that they deny the allegation outright?

Following in the footsteps of the Ramban, the author attributes the reason for this to the fact that the second pair of witnesses are not refuting the first one's testimony, in which case it would have the Din of two against two. They are, in fact, testifying on something that they did, and it is obvious that the first witnesses are not believed to proclaim their innocence, any more than they are believed to testify that they did not break Shabbos, in face of two witnesses who testify that they did.


Moving the Borders

"Do not move the borders of your friend" 19:14).

When speaking about 'Masig G'vul', one generally refers to encroaching on somebody else's business or some other venture of his. However, this is merely an offshoot of the basic Mitzvah. R. Bachye cites a difference of opinion between Rashi and the Ramban as to how to explain the Pasuk literally. Rashi, he says, explains that it is a prohibition to move back the marker that defines the border between one's own field and that of one's neighbour.

Whereas according to the Ramban, it refers specifically to changing the borders of the property allotted by the princes of the tribes, to the families of their respective tribes when they distributed Eretz Yisrael among the twelve tribes. And when the Pasuk continues "which the early ones marked out", it is referring to Elazar ha'Kohen and Yehoshua bin Nun.


R. Bachye himself suggests that the Torah incorporates a prohibition against believing in evolution. Because someone who denies that G-d created the world, moves back the border of the date of the creation as it were, which G-d fixed as the beginning of time. And the "early ones" referred to by the Pasuk are the Avos (Avraham, Yitzchak & Ya'akov), who constantly testified on the event of the creation, and admitted that it took place; and to Moshe Rabeinu, who proved the truth of prophecy and who played a major role in the giving of the Torah (both of which automatically discount evolution). And this is the gist of what the Torah writes in Ha'azinu (32:7) "Ask your father and he will relate it to you, your grandfathers and they will tell you!"


When G-d is on Our Side

"For Hashem your G-d who goes with you; He is the One who fights your enemies on your behalf, to save you" (20:4).

This means, R. Bachye explains, that He saves you totally from all harm, to ensure that not one Jewish soldier falls in battle.

When nations go to war, he explains, even the ultimate victor inevitably loses many of its soldiers. Not so Yisrael! When they fight a Milchemes Mitzvah, they are not only bound to win, but they are assured that every soldier will return from the battlefield unharmed, as we learned in the battle against Midyan (in Parshas Matos).

That explains, he says, why Yehoshua cried out to G-d, when, in the battle against Ay, thirty-six men (which in reality, was only Ya'ir ben Menasheh [who was equal to the majority of the Sanhedrin]) fell in battle.


Finding the Murderer

"Atone (Kaper) for your people Yisrael whom you redeemed " (21:8).

They deliberately took the young calf to a valley which had never been worked, R. Bachye explains, in order that it should have no inclination to leave. Once there, the Kohanim would set about striking the animal on the back of its neck, to induce it to leave nonetheless. If it refused (a sign that Yisrael were not worthy of the miracle that we will relate shortly), then, following the declaration of innocence from the elders of the nearest city (see Rashi), they would break its neck with a hatchet, and the Kohanim would declare "Atone (Kaper) for your people !"

If however, Yisrael were worthy, then the word "Kaper" took on connotations of 'reveal!', a request for the calf to reveal the location of the murderer. The calf would then make its way out of the valley, followed by all those who were gathered there, and it would lead them straight to the murderer, whom they would promptly put to death (see also Targum Yonasan).

* * *


"A prophet from your midst from among your brothers you shall establish like me (komoni)" 18:15.

The Gematriyah of "Komoni", says the Ba'al ha'Turim, is equivalent to that of 'Onov', the only attribute of Moshe Rabeinu, which the Torah mentions specifically by name.


"I will set up a prophet for them (Novi okim lahem)" (18:18).

The Gematriyah of 'Novi okim lahem' is equivalent to that of 'Yirmiyahu', who resembled Moshe in that he rebuked B'nei Yisrael just as Moshe did.


"And he shall flee to one of these towns (he'orim ho'eil)" 19:11.

The word "Eil" also means 'strong', in keeping with the Halachah that the cities of refuge had to be well fortified, to protect the inhabitants from the go'alei ha'dam (the next of kin of the 'murderer's' victims) from attacking the town in an act of revenge against the 'murderers' who had killed their relatives.


"Do not move back the borders of your friend's field" (19:14).

The Torah juxtaposes the Parshah of moving borders next to that of a murderer be'Shogeg, comments the Ba'al ha'Turim. This is to teach the aforementioned Go'el ha'Dam, that although he has permission to kill the 'murderer', he is not permitted to take his property (in the way that King Achav did, after wrongly killing Navos).


"A hand for a hand, a foot for a foot. When you go to war " (19:21 20:1).

The juxtaposition of these two Pesukim teaches us that a man with a missing limb is forbidden to go to war.


"And the officers shall continue to speak to the people and they shall say "Who is the man who is afraid" let him go and return to his house ").

The same word appears in the Pasuk in Vo'eiro (9:20) "Whoever was afraid of the Word of G-d hurried his livestock and servants into the houses" (20:8). The Ba'al ha'Turim cites this connection as a support for those who attribute the fear in the current Pasuk to the fear of sin (rather than to fear of something physical (see Rashi).


"If one finds a corpse " (21:1).

The Torah juxtaposes this Parshah next to that of war, the Ba'al ha'Turim explains, because it is in war-time that one tends to find corpses.


". and they shall measure the distance to the cities that surround the corpse (asher sevivos he'chalal)" (21:2).

The letters of the word "asher" spell 'Rosh', and the Gematriyah of the words "asher sevivos he'chalal" is equivalent to that of 'be'rosho shel harug' (from the head of the dead man). This hints at the opinion in Sotah (which is Halachah) that one measures from the nostrils (via which G-d breathed life into Adam and via which life leaves a person's body) - as opposed to the opinions which maintain that one measures from the navel or from the neck.

* * *

(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 130:
To Return a Stolen Article

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah The Gemara says in Sanhedrin (57a) that the minimum value of a stolen article that must be returned is a P'rutah. Someone who steals less than that is not obligated to return it, though he has transgressed the La'v of "Lo Tignovu", as the author will explain in the La'av of "Lo Sigzol" (in Kedoshim [which one has also transgressed]). The reason for this is because Yisrael who are the children of Avraham, Yitzchak and Ya'akov, are generous by nature, and even the poorest of them will forego such a small amount, thereby removing the thief's obligation to return the article. Therefore the Gemara in Bava Kana (105a) rules that whereas on the one hand, someone who steals three bunches of vegetables worth three P'rutos whose price has subsequently dropped to two, remains obligated to return the third one, even after having returned the first two; on the other hand, if he steals two bundles worth one P'rutah, once he has returned one of the bundles he is absolved from returning the second, - even though he remains guilty of theft. This is based on the principle that, in these matters, we go after the price of the article at the time of the theft - in the first case, the remaining bunch of vegetables was worth a P'rutah when it was stolen; in the second case, it was not.

The Dinim of Yi'ush (despair) and Shinuy (the change of ownership) are many, says the Seifer ha'Chinuch. However, the gist of the Halachah according to the Gemara appears to be as follows - As long as the article remains in the domain of the Gazlan or even of his children, and has not changed its form, even if we know for sure that the owner had given up hope of receiving it (i.e. where he was heard to declare that the article is lost and that he will never get it back, [as the Gemara explains in Bava Metzi'a 23a]), the Torah requires the Gazlan to return the article to the owner as it is - even if it has improved in quality and is now worth more than it was when he stole it. This is why the Torah writes in Parshas Vayikra "and he shall return the article *that he stole*" (which is superfluous), which Chazal interpret to mean 'as long as it remains unchanged from the way he stole it'. Chazal however, decreed that if the article increased in value after the owner has despaired from receiving it, then the Gazlan is permitted to keep it (and to pay the owner its value instead) as much as it was worth at the time that he stole it, plus the value of the improvement. This is something which they have the authority to do, since whatever concerns money-matters, they are entitled to do as they see fit, even if it clashes with Torah law. This in turn, is based on the well-known principle 'Hefker Beis-Din Hefker', which gives Beis-Din a mandate to declare anybody's property Hefker Regarding the Dinim of the stolen article itself; to what lengths the Gazlan must go in order to return the actual article to the owner; The Gemara in Bava Kama (103a) rules that, strictly speaking, the Gazlan is obligated to take a stolen article that is worth a P'rutah back to the owner, even as far as Medes if necessary (irrespective of the trouble and the expense involved). However, to encourage the Gazlan to return it, the Chachamim decreed that to ease the burden there where the expenses are high, he is permitted to take the article to the local Beis-Din, to give them the name of the owner, and to leave it there for Beis-Din to return to the owner at their convenience The Din of someone who steals a beam and builds it into his house of someone who steals in a residential area and who wants to return it in a desert of someone who steals and then declares the article Hekdesh or of someone who steals a lamb and it grows into a ram of a stolen article that rises in price, but has not been intrinsically improved (which is not included in the Takanah permitting the Gazlan to retain it and to pay money instead, which is the case where the Gazlan improved the field - provided the owner made Yi'ush), but must be returned to the owner and the Din of someone who grabs somebody else's slave and works with him or who grabs his ship and of someone who squats in his friend's courtyard without permission, and all other Dinim connected with a Gazlan, are discussed in the last chapters of Bava Kama.

This Mitzvah applies everywhere to men and women. Someone who contravenes it, who steals and does not return what he stole has negated this Asei, besides the La'av that he transgressed at the time that he stole it. Woe to the person who is able to rectify what he did wrong and fails to do so before he dies.

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