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

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Vol. 20   No. 46

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

Parshas Shoftim

The War Connection
(Adapted from the K'li Yakar)

"If a corpse is found in the land that Hashem your G-d has given you to take possession of it, fallen in the field; it is not known who smote it" (21:1).

Many commentaries are bothered by the Torah's insertion at this point (in the middle of four Parshiyos that deal with war). The Ba'al ha'Turim ascribes it to the fact that corpses are commonly found in war-time. Others explain that a would-be murderer will take advantage of a war in progress, to kill his victim, in the hope that, assuming the slain man to be a war victim, nobody will suspect him.

The Chizkuni comes up with the novel idea that having discussed issues to do with a public battle, the Torah now discusses matters that pertain to a private one.


The K'li Yakar cites the question in the name of the Mahari, commenting that his answer as well those offered by other commentaries, are strained.

So he links Eglah Arufah to the Din of siege discussed by the Torah immediately prior to this one. The Torah writes there that if the trees surrounding the city that is being besieged by the Jewish army are fruit-bearing trees, then they are forbidden to destroy them, even at the expense of building a better siege. The Gemara in Ta'anis (6a) concludes that the Pasuk is actually referring to a Talmid-Chacham, whom one should support if he is worthy and learn from him (See Parshah Pearls 20:20).

As the author concludes, the Pasuk does not lose its simple meaning, and it still refers to fruit-trees.


Reverting to our Pasuk, there too, the Gemara in Sotah (46a), citing Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu, states 'Bring an Eglah Arufah that did not yet produce fruit, and break its neck in a location which did not produce fruit; and may it atone for the person whom they did not allow to produce fruit. Here too, like the Gemara in Ta'anis, the Gemara asks that if the Pasuk is to be taken literally, then whenever the victim is a eunuch or an old man, who cannot produce children, the Din of Eglah Arufah ought not to apply (a suggestion that has no foundation in Halachah)!

It therefore concludes (in similar vein to the Gemara in Ta'anis) that the 'fruit' mentioned by Chazal, refers not so much to children as to Mitzvos. And they are referring, not so much to the victim whom they did not allow to have children as to the victim whom they did not allow to perform more Mitzvos. The connection between the two Parshiyos is now so obvious that the K'li Yakar wonders why the other commentaries did not spot it.

If the reason of Eglah Arufah is because they did not allow the victim to produce children, the Torah juxtaposes it to that of a fruit-tree, which one may not cut down because it produces fruit (for what diference does it make whether it is a tree or a person whom one prevents from bearing fruit)?

Whereas if it is because they did not let him perform Mitzvos, then the Torah juxtaposes the two Parshiyos, because in both cases, the Torah is particular about not destroying (or destroying one's connection with) somebody who could have produced Torah and Mitzvos.

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Parshah Pearls

Three Witnesses?

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

Rabeinu Bachye cites the Gemara in Makos (5b) which asks why, if two witnesses will suffice to sentence a man to death, the Torah sees fit to add "or three"?

And it explains there that the Torah is coming to compare three witnesses to two; just as two witnesses are considered one entity so are three (indeed, so are a hundred!).

This means, that if one of the witnesses turns out to be a relative or is ineligible to testify for any other reason, then all the witnesses are disqualified.

Moreover, says the Medrash, if all three witnesses turn out to be false, then the third one is punished alongside the other two, despite the fact that his testimony was not needed to begin with.

And it is from here that Rabbi Akiva learns the reward of those who join in a Mitzvah that others are performing (even if it is only in a secondary capacity).

For as Chazal have taught, G-d's measure of reward is five hundred times that of His measure of punishment. Consequently, if, as we see from here, a person who joins a group of sinners is destined to suffer together with them, how much more so can somebody who joins a group of people who are performing a Mitzvah expect to share in their reward.


An Unworthy Talmid-Chacham

"Only, if you know that a certain tree is not a fruit-bearing one, you may destroy it and cut down, to build a siege against the city " (20:20).

In the previous Pasuk, in connection with the prohibition of felling a fruit-tree, the Pasuk wrote 'For a man is a fruit-tree to come before in a siege". In reality, the Torah is asking rhetorically "Is a fruit-tree a man .?" The Gemara in Ta'anis however, presumably puzzled by the lack of any intimation that the Pasuk is not to be taken literally, asks 'Is a man really a fruit-tree?'

The Gemara therefore interprets the Pasuk with reference to a Talmid-Chacham, and what the Pasuk means is that if he is a worthy Talmid-Chacham then 'eat from him and do not cut him down'. But if he is not, then destroy him and cut him down, and do not learn from him!

And likewise, the Da'as Zekeinim adds, if he is a Talmid who is not worthy, decline to teach him.

It is not however clear, what the Gemara means by 'an unworthy Talmid-Chacham'.

The Maharsha, based on the Sugya in Ta'anis that immediately precedes the current one, defines it as one who learns Torah she'lo li'sh'mah (for negative motives). Tosfos, who discusses Rebbi Meir learning from Acher (Elisha ben Avuyah) seems to interpret it as one who has cast off the yoke of Mitzvos altogether.

Perhaps one can also define it as a Talmid-Chacham who is unrefined or who is lacking good Midos.


Fighting the Yeitzer ha'Ra

"And it shall be when you approach the battle-front" (20:2).

Although the Torah is describing here how K'lal Yisrael should wage physical battles against our enemies, the K'li Yakar explains how, simultaneously, it subtly hints how each individual should fight the spiritual war against enemy number one - the Yeitzer-ha'Ra, as spelled out in the Gemara in B'rachos. And this is hinted in the previous Pasuk, where the Torah writes "When you go to war against your enemy (the Yeitzer ha'Ra), then you shall guard yourself from all evil" (with reference to the Satan, as Rashi explains).

The Gemara in B'rachos (5a) presents the following four-point battle plan that every Jew should employ when fighting evil:

1: Incite the Yeitzer ha'Tov over the Yeitzer-ha'Ra; should that fail
2: Study Torah:
3: Recite the Sh'ma:
4: Remember the day of death.

And these four strategies are hinted in this Parshah.

1. "And it shall be when you approach the battle-front" (Do battle with the Yeitzer-ha'Ra) Pasuk 2.
2 "And the Kohen (who teaches the people Torah) shall speak (ve'diber) to the people (Just as the "Vedibarto bom" refers to Torah-study (Ibid [The proof is mine]).
3. "And he shall say to them "Sh'ma Yisrael" (Ibid.).
4. "Who is the man who built a new house lest he dies during the battle" (Pasuk 5).


Atoning for the Deceased

"Atone for Your people whom You redeemed Hashem" (21:8).

The P'sikta Darshens the Pasuk like this: "Atone " - 'This refers to the living, who receive atonement with their own money' (that they give for Tzedakah). "whom You redeemed" - 'This refers to the dead, who receive atonement with the money of the living'.

From here we learn, comments Rabeinu Bachye, that the Hekdeshos (such as the Nedavos that one donates in Shul) which the living donate on behalf of the deceased, elevates the Soul of the deceased.

All the more so, he adds, if a son does so on behalf of his deceased father, or if he recites Kadish or any B'rachah in Shul (like the story of Rebbi Akiva, who relieved a deceased Rasha of terrible suffering, by teaching his son to be the Shali'ach Tzibur in Shul [See Maseches Kalah, Perek 2]),

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