subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

by Zvi Akiva Fleisher

Back to This Week's Parssha | Previous Issues



Ch. 16, v. 18: "Shoftim v'shotrim ti'ten l'cho" - In our daily Amidoh (Shmonoh Esrei) we pray "Hoshivo shofteinu k'vorishonoh ...... v'ho'seir mi'menu yogone vo'anochoh," which loosely translates as "Restore our judges as they once were ...... and remove from us grief and groaning." Why is this second part inserted specifically in this blessing? With almost all of the 13 requests that make up the middle section of the Amidoh, when the wish is granted it would remove the discomfort that would be present had the prayer not been answered affirmatively. Rabbi Chaim Kanievski shlit"a in Taamo Dikro answers this with the gemara Shabbos 139a which states that if we appoint improper judges Hashem sends punishment upon the bnei Yisroel. We therefore pray, "Restore our judges as they were in days of yore," i.e. appropriate people for the task, and thus avert punishing us, "v'ho'seir mi'menu yogone vo'anochoh."

Ch. 16, v. 19: "V'lo sikach shochad" - The Nachal K'dumim says that the letters after ShoChaD, Shin-Ches-Dalet, are Tof-Tes-Hei, which spell "Ta'TeH," - you will bend, indicating that by taking a bribe, you, the judge, are likely to incorrectly bend the judgement in favour of the one who bribed you even if he does not deserve to win the case. The letters preceeding Shin-Ches-Dalet are Reish-Gimel-Zayin, which spell "RoGeZ," - anger, indicating that when a judge accepts bribes anger comes upon the world (See Pirkei Ovos 5:9 and Yalkut Shimoni on Divrei Hayomim 2, remez #1085).

Ch. 16, v. 19: "Shochad" - The gemara K'subos 105b phonetically interprets the word "shochad" as "shehu chad." This is usually translated as "That he, the judge, by accepting the bribe, is one with the giver of the bribe," and will thus rule in his favour even if the correct conclusion should have been in favour of his adversary (Yalkut Shimoni parshas Mishpotim remez #353). The Ari z"l interprets the gemara as telling us how far reaching the sin of accepting a bribe is. One who is steadfast in not taking a bribe has Hashem with him in judgement, "Elokim nitzov ba'adas Keil," (T'hillim 82:1). Hashem is called "ECHoD" (Dvorim 6:4, "Shma Yisroel etc."). When fulfilling the mitzvoh of "v'lO sikaCH shochaD," which has the final letters Alef-Ches-Dalet, ECHoD, a judge has Hashem present at the time of judgement and will have Divine guidance. However, one who takes a bribe does away with the word "v'lO," and is left with "tikach shochad," whose final letters are Ches-Dalet, which spell "CHaD." This is what is meant by the gemara "shehu CHaD." He who takes a bribe is left with Chad and does not have ECHoD (Hashem) with him in judgement.

With this we can understand the medrash (I was only able to find part of the medrash being quoted in Yalkut Shimoni #907) that says that he who accepts a bribe does not leave this world until he rules "pure" for an object that is defiled, and rules "defiled" for an object that is pure, as the verse says, "Mi yi'tein tohor mito'mei LO ECHOD" (Iyov 14:4), - Who gives pure from defiled, not ECHOD. How is this indicated in this verse? According to the above, one who accepts a bribe does not have ECHOD with him in judgement and will arrive at a ruling of "tohor," pure, "mito'mei," from a defiled object.

Ch. 16, v. 19: "Ki hashochad y'a'veir einei chachomim vi'sa'leif divrei tzadikim" - What are these two negative results, "blinding the eyes of wise men and distorting the words of righteous men" that arise from accepting a bribe? The Yalkut Shimoni remez #353 and #907 gives numerous insights. Possibly this can also be explained with the words of the R"I of Goche translated from the Arabic in the Shitoh M'ku'betzes on B.K. 92b. He writes that the Torah teaches us the moral lesson of gratitude even in regard to an inanimate object, as we find that Moshe did not activate the plagues of blood, frogs, and lice, since the Nile River provided him with safe harbour and the earth provided him with a place to hide the body of the Egyptian whom he slew. Rather, Aharon brought about these plagues. He then relates a happening that transpired with the RI"F. The RI"F was ill and his doctor advised him that he required daily hot baths and complete rest. There was a very wealthy person in his community of Fez who offered him to move into his home and to bathe daily in his in-home bathhouse, an almost unheard of rarity in those days. As well, all his needs would be taken care of, including being wined and dined. The RI"F took him up on his most generous offer, and after a few months recovered from his illness and totally came back to his full strength.

The wealthy man fell upon hard times and because of his business dealings, which included cosigning for loans and offering his assets and properties as surety, debtors came with claims, nibbling away at his holdings. It came to the point that even his personal home property was being collected. One debtor had a claim that he wanted to collect by receiving the bathing facilities that had been availed to the RI"F during his convalescence. Naturally, establishing its proper value involved going to court. The RI"F was asked to be the adjudicator in this case. The RI"F declined, saying that it was improper for him to judge, since by doing so he would thus help facilitate the loss of the bathing facilities to his benefactor. He said that not only would he be repaying a favour with bad by helping to relieve his benefactor of his property, but as well, he would be doing an injustice to the bathing facility itself, which had served him so well in his time of need. He added that there are two reasons for a person to not judge someone who has given him a bribe. First, and more obvious, is that the judge is swayed to rule in favour of the one who gives a bribe, and secondly, once a person has given a bribe and thus has monetarily been a benefactor to the judge, it is morally wrong to judge against him, paying back bad for good, even if the judgement should deservingly go against him. Obviously if it is improper to judge against one party, you may not judge. The RI"F ends by saying that if we realize that it is improper to act negatively against an inanimate object, and even more obvious to do so against a person who has emotions, then surely to sin against Hashem, Who is our greatest Benefactor, is a most grievous act.

Possibly, we can now explain the two statements in our verse, "y'a'veir einei chachomim vi'sa'leif divrei tzadikim," with the words of the RI"F. A judge should not accept a bribe because:

1) It blinds the eyes of the wise man, and there is the fear that he will judge his bribing benefactor favourably even though he deserves to lose the case.

2) It distorts the words of the RIGHTEOUS, even if the judge has the strength of character to judge fairly and might rule against the person who bribed him, but to rule against a person who has benefited you is not righteous.

It is interesting to note that in two of the places where Aharon initiated the plagues, frogs and lice, where it was morally improper for Moshe to do so because he had derived benefit from the Nile River and the earth, the verse says "Va'yeit AHARON ES yodo" (Shmos 8:2 and 8:13). The numeric value of AHARON ES (i"h) is equal to that of VI'SA'LEIF DIVREI TZADIKIM, as both indicate the same point, to not pay back good with bad.

Ch. 17, v. 11: "Lo sosur" - The gemara Shabbos 23a says that upon kindling the Chanukah lights we pronounce the blessing "Boruch ...... asher kidshonu b'mitzvosov V'TZIVONU l'hadlik ner Chanukah." The gemara asks, "Since this is a Rabbinical mitzvoh, how can we say V'TZIVONU, since Hashem has not commanded us to do the mitzvoh, but rather the Rabbis have done so?" The gemara answers that we may say V'TZIVONU since Hashem has commanded us in his Torah to follow the dictates of the Rabbis, as is stated in our verse, "lo sosur min hadovor asher yagidu l'cho."

The Rambam in hilchos brochos 11:3 says the same as this gemara, that even when fulfilling a Rabbinical mitzvoh we say V'TZIVONU, but brings the earlier words of our verse "asher yomru l'cho taa'seh." Why does he not bring the words "lo sosur" as the gemara does?

MVRHRHG"R Yaakov Kamenecki answers that the Chayei Odom klal 15:24 says that the Rabbis have never instituted a blessing on restraint, on not transgressing a negative mitzvoh. Thus there would never be a blessing upon being commanded to NOT TURN AWAY FROM THE DICTATES of the Rabbis, "lo sosur." Rather, there is place for a blessing to COMPLY WITH the dictates of the Rabbis, "asher yomru l'cho taa'seh." Although the gemara quotes the words "lo sosur," we must say according to the Rambam that the intention of the gemara is really the words just before "lo sosur."

A few points regarding this explanation of the Rambam:

v 1) The words of the Chayei Odom are actually the opinion of the Rosh in his commentary on the first chapter of the gemara K'subos #13.

2) It seems that the Kesef Mishneh on the above-mentioned Rambam seems to say the answer of Rabbi Kamenecki and also explain how the gemara by saying "lo sosur" is not a contradiction to the Rambam. His words: "V'nokat Rabbeinu 'asher yomru l'cho assei' shehu mitzvas a'sei." This is the answer offered by Rabbi Kamenecki. The Kesef Mishneh adds, "V'hu v'fosuk atzmo" - the words the Rambam brings as a proof are in the same verse as 'lo sosur.'" This, as mentioned above, means that the intention of the gemara is really the words just before "lo sosur," which appear in the same verse.

3) The Avudrohom in the laws of blessings over mitzvos says that no blessing is instituted over a positive mitzvoh if it is in conjunction with a negative mitzvoh. An explanation of the gemara Shabbos 23a is sorely needed.

4) The gemara Yerushalmi Megiloh chapter 3 says that there were people who would remove their tefillin shortly before the time that it is not permitted to wear them, i.e. on the eve of Shabbos or Yom Tov, and make the blessing "asher kidshonu ...... lishmor chu'kecho," referring to the verse in the Torah of "v'SHOMARTO es hachukoh hazose l'mo'adoh mi'yomim yomimoh" (Shmos 13:10). According to the opinion that the word form SHOMOR, even when used in conjunction with a positive mitzvoh (in this case to wear tefillin) is considered a negative precept, then we do find a blessing on a negative command.

Ch. 20, v. 20: "Rok ho'eitz asher TEIDA" - The Sforno gives a most novel interpretation of our verse. He says that we are speaking about a tree that is definitely known to you as a fruit tree. However, this tree might be dead or so diseased that it is impossible for it to produce fruit anymore. In such a circumstance the Torah says,"Rok ho'eitz asher TEIDA ki lo eitz maachol hu oso sash'chis," - only a tree that you KNOW is not a food producing tree, because it is dead, may you destroy. This is most puzzling. Why does the Sforno not simply learn that the verse is discussing a situation where you have a tree that you do not know is a fruit tree or a non-fruit tree, rather than his seemingly convoluted explanation?

In Sedrah Selections on Shoftim 5759 the following question and answer were given regarding our verse. < I heard in the name of Rabbi Chaim haLevi Soloveitchik that the prohibition of "bal tash'chis," needless wasting, is not limited to the actual object itself, but also to its value. Let us say that the value of the tree that is in doubt would be $100 if it were definitely not a fruit producing tree, and good for lumber only. If it would definitely be a fruit-producing tree, let us say it would be worth $200. Since there is a doubt as to which type of tree this is, it would be fair to say that for the 50/50 chance involved, its fair market value would be right in the middle, at $150. However, if one were to fell this tree, it would not be capable of producing fruit and would have the lesser value. Hence, felling a tree when you are in doubt if it is a fruit-producing tree is not a doubt in value. It definitely loses value as a cut tree, so even if a "sofeik" fruit tree is felled it brings a definite loss of value. Therefore the Torah only permits felling a tree that is SURELY NOT a fruit tree. This is quite a "chidush" and has only been verbally transmitted in the name of the Gra"Ch haLevi.>>

Perhaps this difficulty on the opinion that "sofeik d'Oreisoh m'd'Oreisoh l'kuloh" is what prompted the Sforno to explain the verse in the manner that he did. Once we have a tree that definitely is a fruit tree species, we must always assume that it is a fruit producing tree, "chazokoh d'mei'ikoro," until we definitely know otherwise, because of the ruling that something does not change its status because of a doubt, and only changes its status if we are sure there is a change, "vadai nishta'neh."



Back to This Week's Parsha | Previous Issues

This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
Permission is granted to redistribute electronically or on paper,
provided that this notice is included intact.

For information on subscriptions, archives, and
other Shema Yisrael Classes,
send mail to
Jerusalem, Israel