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

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Vol. 18   No. 49

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

Parshas Shoftim

A Jewish King
(Adapted from Rabeinu Bachye)

Even though the Torah allows us to have a king like the other nations, says R. Bachye, we must make sure that he does not follow in their footsteps. In a show of power, other kings amass horses, wealth and wives (which he will discuss shortly), which becomes a major issue, perhaps even an obsession, that they equate with sovereignty.

A Jewish king, on the other hand, is expected to consider Torah and its development to be his main objective, whilst the above things are no more than tools to enhance it. That is why on the one hand, the Torah restricts the number of horses, money and wives that he is permitted to have, to no more than his basic needs; and on the other, it commands him to keep a Seifer-Torah with him at all times and to read it and consult it at every twist and turn, adding - "so that he should learn to fear G-d" (a Mitzvah that is incumbent upon him just as it is upon every Jew).

Finally, in the knowledge that the wealth and power that other kings wield causes them to become vain and conceited, the Torah concludes that the above restrictions will ensure that the Jewish king "will not consider himself superior to his brethren", and that if he behaves in this way, 'he will live long' in his exalted position as king of Yisrael.


Elaborating further on the three above-mentioned prohibitions, the author explains that the reason for the prohibition not to own too many horses (only what he actually needs to ride on, no spares), is to avoid sending agents to Egypt to live (as the Pasuk specifically states), since that is where the best horses were to be found. The prohibition of not having too many wives (which means more than eighteen, as we learn from David ha'Melech) is out of fear, that (like Chavah did to Adam), they might turn his heart away from serving G-d - in the way that a king should serve G-d. Whereas too much money (more than he needs to entertain the sometimes numerous guests that turn up at the royal court, as well as to pay his many soldiers and courtiers), is to prevent him from haughtiness, as the Torah specifically writes (and as we discussed earlier) - and to enable him to place his trust in G-d, rather than in his money.

(One can perhaps add that they also symbolize the three things that take a person out of this world, as we have learned in Pirkei Avos - jealousy (too much money), lust (too many wives) and kavod (too many horses [see opening Pasuk in the Shirah in Parshas Beshalach]).


We mentioned earlier how R. Bachye connected the prohibition of too many horses to that of going to live in Egypt, and he attributes this in turn, to the evil practices and lifestyle of the Egyptians, to which the Torah refers on a number of occasions. And he cites an opinion which, like the Riva (see Parshah Pearls, 17:16) vindicates the many communities that have always lived there, by confining the prohibition to moving there from Eretz Yisrael, but not from other locations. He himself however, maintains that the prohibition was only temporary (presumably in the time of the kings), but not to later generations.

The footnote explains that, if that is so, the Pasuk in Beshalach "for as you see Egypt today, you will never see them again" is a promise, and not a command.

But, he points out, this clashes with the Yerushalmi (which we quoted in Parshah Pearls) which cites three Pesukim (including the Pasuk there and the Pasuk here) which command Yisrael not to return to Egypt.

Furthermore he cites commentaries who also query R. Bachye from the Gemara in Succah (51b). The Gemara there explains that the community of Alexandria was wiped out (by Alexander [the Great] Mokdon) because they contravened the prohibition against living in Egypt.

He suggests that perhaps Rabeinu Bachye follows the opinion of the Gemara in Gitin (57a), which attributes the destruction of the Jewish town of K'far S'chanya in Egypt, in spite of the righteousness of its inhabitants, to their failure to mourn over the destruction of Yerushalayim (and not to the fact that they transgressed the prohibition of living there).

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Riva)

When Right Is Left

"And do not turn from whatever they tell you, right or left!" (17:11).

Rashi explains that even if the Chachamim declare that right is left and left is right, one should do as they say; how much more so when they tell you that right is right and left is left.

Rashi cannot mean that if a Chacham errs and rules that something that is Tamei is Tahor or something that is forbidden is permitted, then one must follow his instructions, says the Riva. That is simply not Halachically correct.

What he must therefore be referring to is the various decrees that Chazal sometimes issued which negate Torah-law. So that 'right which is left', for example, refers to the Chachamim's prohibition of blowing the Shofar on Rosh Hashanah that falls on Shabbos; and 'left which is right', to the cases of semi-close family relations which the Chachamim forbade to intermarry (known as 'Sh'niyos la'Aroyos), even though the Torah, by implication, has permitted it.


A Zakein Mamrei & a ben Sorer u'Moreh

"And all of Yisrael shall hear and be afraid, so that they will not sin again" (17:13).

This Pasuk is written with reference to a Zakein Mamrei (a rebellious elder), and it teaches us, says Rashi, that Beis-Din wait until Yom-Tov, when everybody gathers in Yerushalayim, and carries out the death -sentence then.

The Riva queries Rashi however, from Parshas Ki Seitzei, where, to explain the very same expression (that the Torah uses in connection with a ben Sorer u'Moreh [a rebellious son]), Rashi writes that the Beis-Din have to announce that the culprit is being put to death in such-and-such a Beis-Din (and not necessarily in Yerushalayim), because he rebelled. Why the difference, he asks?


And citing the Ram from Coucy, he answers that whereas the Zakein Mamrei had to be put to death specifically by the Sanhedrin in Yerushalayim, the ben Sorer u'Moreh did not.

He queries this answer however, from the Gemara in Sanhedrin, which describes how the Beis-Din would write down the P'sak sentencing the Zakein Mamrei to death, and send to it to all the towns throughout the country, so that all of Yisrael should get to know about it. In that case, it would no longer have been necessary to wait for Yom-Tov to kill him?

And he answers that the Gemara in Sanhedrin follows the opinion of Rebbi Yehudah, who learns from the words "and all Yisrael shall hear and be afraid" (as opposed to ' see and be afraid') that it was sufficient to send the message all over the country, without necessarily putting him to death in Yerushalayim. Whereas Rashi's explanation follows the opinion of the Rabbanan, who disagree with Rebbi Yehudah.


Going Back to Egypt

"Only he (the king) shall not increase horses. So that he shall not return the people to Egypt and G-d told you that you shall not continue to go on this way again!" (17:16).

The Yerushalmi explains that although one is not permitted to return to Egypt to reside there, one is permitted to return there to do business and to capture the land.

The Riva therefore expresses surprise at many Jewish communities that sprung up in Egypt over the ages, and he specifically mentions the Rambam, who went to live there too.

To answer the question, he initially cites the well-known fact that Sancheriv mixed up nations by moving them from place to place, so that none of the numerous nations that he conquered lived in their host countries. And he quotes Rebbi Akiva, who told Menimin (an Egyptian convert) that this list included Egypt.

Consequently, the inhabitants of Egypt were no longer the original Egyptians, to whom the Torah's prohibition applied. However, the Riva adds, Raban Gamliel and Rebbi Yehoshua, in a Mishnah in Yadayim, maintain that, based on a Pasuk in Yirmiyah, the Egyptians were restored to their land forty years later.

Moreover, the Gemara in Succah relates how the famous Jewish community of Alexandria of Egypt was destroyed because they transgressed the above Pasuk - and that episode took place after Sancheriv had 'mixed up the world'. Consequently, the intial answer is no longer valid.

Quoting Rebbi Eliezer from Metz, the Riva therefore concludes that the only possible way of explaining the Rambam and the other communities is by confining the prohibition to moving to Egypt from Eretz Yisrael (as implied by the Torah's words " and they shall not go on this way again"). And the communities that lived there through the generations, must therefore have moved there from other parts of the world, as did the Rambam, who moved there from Marocco.

See also main article.


A House, a Vineyard & a Wife

"Who is the man who built a new house and did not consecrate it " and who is the man who planted a vineyard and who is the man who betrothed a woman ?" (18:5-7).

Why just these three things, asks the Riva? Why does the Torah not include someone who gave birth to a firstborn son and did not yet redeem him; and to someone who purchased a new garment and did not yet attach Tzitzis to it?

Quoting the Ram from Coucy, he cites the Pasuk in the K'lalos in Ki Savo, which lists the same three things - "You will betroth a woman but someone else will be intimate with her; you will build a house but you will not live in it; you will plant a vineyard but you will not redeem its fruit!", the Torah warns.

That is why Moshe saw fit to warn Yisrael that anyone who has done any of these three things should leave the battle-front; because should he Chas ve'Shalom go to war and fall in battle, people will say that the curses of Ki Savo have already begun to take effect, with the result that, convinced that the battle is already lost, they will lose heart and not fight properly.


Taking a Cana'ani Captive

"When you approach a city (outside Eretz Yisrael) if they answer you in peace, then all its inhabitants shall pay you taxes and serve you" (20:11).

Rashi explains that "all its inhabitants" comes to include even Cana'anim (who, in Eretz Yisrael, one would not have been permitted to keep alive).

But Rashi has already taught us exactly the same thing in Parshas Ki Seitzei, asks the Riva (in connection with a beautiful female captive - see first Rashi in Ki Seitzei); so why do we need two Pesukim to teach us the same thing?

The Riva leaves the question unanswered.

* * *


"Through (al-pi) two or three witnesses shall the dead man die" (17:6).

The 'pey' in al-pi is double, says the Ba'al-ha'Turim, to teach us the principle 'mi'pihem ve'lo mi'pi k'sovom' (the testimony of witnesses must be verbal [with the mouth - 'peh']), and cannot be delivered in writing.

Commenting on the seemingly strange expression "the dead man shall die", the Ba'al ha'Turim explains that Resha'im are called dead already in their lifetime (just as Tzadikim are called alive even after their death).


"When a matter is hidden (yipolei) from you : (17:8).

This Parshah goes on to discuss a 'Zakein Mamrei, a rebellious elder, who defies the Beis-Din ha'Godol, by rejecting their ruling (as against his) and putting his own opinion into practice.

Here, as in the previous Pasuk, the 'Pey' is double, says the Ba'al ha'Turim, to teach us that a. the elder in question must be a MuFla (notice the 'Fey' in Mufla) 'be'Beis-Din (a leading Dayan in his Beis-Din), and b. he can only be sentenced if he argues with the Beis-Din in Torah-she'be'al Peh (an oral ruling concerning the Halachah in question) but not if he argues with them over a ruling that is clearly mentioned in Torah she'bi'k'sav (the written Torah).


"When you come (Ki sovo) to the land and dwell (ve'yoshavtoh) in it and you say 'let me appoint a king ' (17:14).

The Torah is predicting here that in the days of Shmuel, five generations after they entered Eretz Yisrael, they would ask for a king. Sure enough, the Ba'al ha'Turim observes, the Gematriyah of "Ki sovo" is equivalent to that of 'bi'yemei Shmuel', and the word "ve'yoshavtoh" ends in a (superfluous) 'Hey' (five).


"You shall set up (Som tosim olecho) a king for yourselves, from the midst of your brethren (mi'kerev achecho) you shall set up a king" (17:15).

Chazal have taught in the last chapter of Pirkei Avos that Malchus is acquired with thirty 'Ma'alos' (steps), and indeed, the Gematriyah of "Som tosim olecho" is "shloshim ma'alos".

They have also said that Malchus belongs to the tribe of Yehudah. It therefore comes as no surprise tat, as he points out, the Gematriyah of "mi'kerev achecho" equals that of 'mi'Sheivet Yehudah'.

* * *

(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 230:
Not to Delay Paying an Employee (cont.)

This Mitzvah applies everywhere and at all times. Whoever contravenes it and holds back the wages of an employee has nullified a Mitzvas Asei and transgressed a Lo Sa'aseh. He does not however, receive Malkos, since it is subject to payment (i.e. the employer remains obligated to pay the employee at all times). Furthermore, the Gemara says in Bava Metzi'a (111a) that someone who withholds the wages of a hired worker transgresses the La'avin of 'Bal ta'ashok', 'bal tigzol', 'bal tolin' and "lo sovo alav ha'shemesh". In the case of a worker who is a ger toshav (who keeps the seven Mitzvos without actually converting), then one transgresses the Asei of "be'Yomo titein s'choro" but not the La'av of 'bal tolin'. The Din of a ger toshav is discussed in the Mishnah in Perek ha'Mekabel (Perek 9, Mishnah 12). The Rambam maintains that the La'av extends to a regular gentile worker.


Mitzvah 231:
Not to Curse a Jewish Man or Woman

One may not curse a fellow-Jew, be it a man or a woman. And this applies even where the person concerned does not hear the curse, as the Torah writes in Kedoshim (19:14) "Do not curse a deaf person", which, according to Chazal, refers to anyone who cannot hear your curse, and this is how Unklus translates it. The Sifra writes that the Pasuk in Mishpatim (22:27) " and do not curse (a prince) in your people" comes to include everybody (even someone who is not deaf); and the Torah only mentions a deaf person to teach us that the prohibition covers any person who is alive - even a deaf person - to preclude a dead one.

Even though we do not know in what way a curse affects the person who is being cursed, or how it is that mere words can affect him at all, we do know how much people are worried about curses, Jews and gentiles alike. They all believe that the curse, even of an ordinary individual, leaves its mark upon the person who is cursed, until it cleaves to him and causes him pain in some form or another.

*This, the author maintains, is one of the reasons that G-d forbids us to cause harm to another person with our mouths, just as He forbids us to cause him harm with our actions. Indeed, this is what Chazal mean when they say (in Mo'ed Katan 18a) 'A covenant has been cut with the lips!' - by which they mean that the words that a person utters take effect.

(to be cont.)

* * *

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