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

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Vol. 23   No. 49

This issue is sponsored
in honour of the marriage of Efraim to Racheli n"y.
Wishing Mazal Tov to the parents, grandparents, siblings and
the entire Rubin & Levin families
l'iluy Nishmas Betzalel ben Yitzchok Yaakov z"l
whose Yohrzeit is 2 Elul (5747)

Parshas Shoftim

Monarchy v. Democracy

"You shall appoint over yourselves the king whom Hashem your G-d will choose, from among your brethren shall you appoint a king over yourselves; you may not place over you a foreigner who is not your brother" (17:15).


The crown is the highest position that a person can attain, and it is interesting to note how, the higher the position of importance, the more responsibilities the Torah places on the shoulders of the incumbent. Hence we find that a Kohen has more Mitzvos than a Yisrael; the Kohen Gadol more than a Kohen, and that a King has five Mitzvos - two Asei and three Lo Sa'aseh, over and above everybody else.


The Mitzvos that pertain exclusively to the king are clear and concise, and, the Torah clearly indicates the reason for each one - something that it rarely does with regard to the other Mitzvos. The King must write himself a Seifer-Torah - two, according to Chazal - one that he keeps in his treasury, the other accompanies him wherever he goes. This Mitzvah, in conjunction with the second Mitzvas Asei - to read it every day of his life, is designed to infuse him with Yir'as Shamayim, and to ensure that he does not stray from the path that every Jew must follow (See Da'as Zekeinim mi'Ba'alei Tosfos, 17:20).

And his three Mitzvos Lo Sa'aseh - not to own too many horses, not to amass excess wealth and not to marry more than a specific number of wives, serve to control him, so that he does not become vain and self-indulgent. These are prohibitions that apply to every Jew, only a king, due to the power that he wields, requires extra means to keep him in check.

Particularly striking is the injunction against becoming vain, bearing in mind that, not only are his subjects obligated to honour him and to pay him homage; they are charged with giving him Kavod virtually to the extent that they honour Hakadosh-Baruch-Hu. Indeed, the king is duty-bound to generate awe among the people and to demand that they revere him, precisely because he reflects Kavod Shamayim. Hence, the Navi informs us how, Shaul had barely been crowned king, when he forfeited his right to the throne - for failing to sentence to death a group of men who began mocking him. When a king's Kavod - reflecting Kavod Shamayim, is at stake, humility is out of place!


Churchill made a statement to the effect that 'Democracy is a poor method of government, but it is the best that there is'. Presumably, he was referring to the fact that a government is certainly superior to anarchy. And it is also superior to a monarchy, inasmuch as, in spite of its subjection to the people's vote, which leaves them with leaders who, instead of guiding them to do what is right, are influenced by them to carry out their wishes - it is safer than a monarchy, whose incumbent has the absolute power to guide the people, but who, intoxicated by the power that he now wields, tends to turn into a tyrant, unleashing a reign of terror upon his subjects - as proven by history.


When we see however, what the Torah expects of a Jewish king, then the above problem with the monarchy dissipates. On the one hand, it equips the king with total power to do as he sees fit, on the other, it 'clips his wings' by placing on him prohibitions that remind him that he is a subject of G-d and that he is duty-bound to act as His representative in carrying out His will. In that capacity he is indeed a leader who leads in the spirit of His Master.



A Jewish king was appointed by the Sanhedrin and, to an extent, was under their jurisdiction- (as he had to consult them prior to going to war and was judged by them in the event that he sinned), and under that of the Kohen Gadol, (whom he consulted whenever he had doubts on how to proceed). He had to lead the people into war and was looked up to in his capacity as a sole judge. And by virtue of his general demeanour, he was seen by the people as a prime example of a Torah-Jew, as we explained above.


Democracy on the other hand, is the antithesis of Torah-thought. R. Elchanan Waserman, commenting on the Mishnah at the end of Sotah, which compares the leaders of the generation of Moshi'ach to a dog, explains how, like a dog walks to the crossroads ahead of his master, but then turns round to see which way he wants it to go - so to, the (democratic) leaders of our time pretend to be leaders, but constantly turn round to see what the people expect of them. Indeed, the first person to fight for a democracy ('the will of the people') was Korach ("all the people are equal … " [Korach 16:3) - and they don't need a leader to tell them what to do'). And one can gauge the false qualities of democracy by the end that befell him and his band of rebels, whilst Moshe, king of Yisrael, prevailed.

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Parshah Pearls

Lots of Horses, Lots of Wives, Lots of Money

"But, he shall not have too many horses & wives or too much silver and gold." (16/17).


Apart from the reasons that the Torah itself gives for these prohibitions, their close connection to the three Midos that 'take a person out of this world' - jealousy (money), lust (wives) and Kovod (horses) (Pirkei Ovos), is surely no coincidence.

That is why the Torah adds that, if the king will adhere to these instructions, he will merit "a long reign, he and his children in the midst of Yisrael" (Pasuk 20). If these three Midos curtail a person's life, then it follows that, if he takes steps to eliminate them, he will earn long life.


Eidim Zom'min

"And you shall do to him like he planned to do to his brother" (19:17) …


…irrespective of whether this entails the death-sentence, Malkos or a monetary fine.

According to Chazal, on the one hand, the witnesses only become Zom'min if Beis-Din accepted their testimony and rules accordingly, whilst on the other, if the ensuing sentence has already been carried out, we dismiss the testimony of the second pair of witnesses, and they (the second pair) are not Zom'min.


Initially, this ruling defies logic. If the witnesses become Zom'min for conspiring to have the defendant killed, for example, surely they ought to be Zom'min if they succeeded in doing so?

Halachically, this question can be answered, in part, at least, by applying the principle that 'One cannot punish by means of a Kal va'Chomer (a logical inference)'.

The Ramban gives the following explanation, based on the Pasuk from Tehilim that we recite every Tuesday, "G-d stands in the congregation of judges". When Beis-Din sit in judgement, they are granted a large measure of Divine inspiration, which helps them arrive at the correct conclusions - free of error. An extension of this same idea is expressed by Rashi in Mishpatim (21:13), who explains that if two men have killed, one of them be'meizid, the other, be'shogeg, both without witnesses, then G-d will engineer a situation where each one repeats his sin, but this time, in front of witnesses - so that each man will receive his due punishment.

In our case, too, G-d is guiding the proceedings. Consequently, in the event that the witness' testimony is accepted and the death sentence is actually carried out, then the defendant must have been guilty, and we know for sure that the witnesses are not Zom'min - and if a second pair subsequently claim that they were with them at the time, that is simply not true.

Because had the first witnesses been Zom'min, then G-d would have made sure that the second pair of witnesses would have arrived before the death-sentence was carried out.

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