by Zvi Akiva Fleisher
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SEDRAH SELECTIONS PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5769 BS"D
Ch. 17, v. 1: "Lo sizbach laShem Elokecho shor vo'seh asher yi'h'yeh vo moom" - Do not slaughter for Hashem your G-d an ox or a sheep that will have a blemish - Although there is a paragraph space before and after this verse, each in the "s'sumoh" format, indicating that this verse gives us information that is somewhat independent, nevertheless, it is placed after two verses that deal with actions connected to idol worshipers customs and before six verse that deal with an idol worshiper. How does the prohibition against offering a blemished animal fit in? Rabbeinu Nisim answers that Rashi comments on verse 22 that the prohibition against using a single stone altar is expressed in the present tense, "asher so'nei Hashem Elokecho." This means that Hashem presently abhors it. Even though in years past, in the days of our Patriarchs, using this type of altar was acceptable, since idol worshipers took on the practice of using specifically a single stone altar for their sacrifices, Hashem no longer wants us to do this. Instead, we specifically use a multi-stoned altar structure.
We might feel that if we were to follow this reasoning we should likewise not offer unblemished animals, and instead offer blemished animals only. Therefore the Torah tells us here that this is prohibited. Although other practices of the idol worshipers are not to be followed, for example, using a single stone altar, as just mentioned, using instead a multi-stone altar structure is correct, as this type of altar does not detract from the proper honour we accord Hashem in our ritual service. However, offering a blemished animal would show disrespect to Hashem, as per the verse, "Hakri'veihu noh l'fecho'secho ha'yir'tz'cho o yiso fo'necho" (Malachi 1:8), and in this case we do not follow the rule of doing the opposite of the custom of idol worshipers. This is the conclusion of our verse, "ki so'avas Hashem Elokecho hu." We now understand that the basis for the ruling of our verse deals with the yes and no of serving Hashem in relation "l'havdil" to idol worshipers' practices, fits right in with the theme of the surrounding verses. (see Ibn Ezra)
We now have a logical progression from verse 21 through our verse. Verse 21 tells us to not plant a tree near Hashem's altar. This was a custom of the Amoriim, so we are prohibited to do this. The next verse prohibits even something that was once accepted by Hashem, using a single stone altar. Our verse says that we do not differ from the manner of idol worshipers regarding offering blemished animals, as just explained. We also understand why the first two prohibitions are in one parsha, and our verse is a separate parsha. The earlier two rulings prohibit doing as they do, but our verse does not. Please note that there are differences in judging what is a blemish between us and l'havdil" them. See gemara Gitin 56a, regarding "niv sfosayim" and "dukin she'b'ayin."
Ch. 17, v. 2: "Asher yaa'seh es hora" - Who will do that which is bad - The next verse explains that he HAS DONE idol worship. If so, why doesn't our verse say, "asher OSSOH?" The gemara Sanhedrin 41a says that to carry out a corporal punishment for a sin requires that the perpetrator first be warned by the witnesses and accept upon himself the punishment before he actually commits it. Our verse therefore says that he WILL do it. This is the response of the sinner after being warned. We now understand why the next verse says, "va'yeilech va'yaavod." His going means that although he was warned to not sin, he nevertheless followed his own dictates, just as we find "halichoh" meaning going after someone's mind by Monoach, when he followed his wife's advice (gemara Brochos 61). Although the aforementioned gemara derives the requirement for warning before a sin is committed from another verse, we need an indication for this by idol worship, which is so much stricter (i.e. Hashem punishes even for the thought of idol worship). It is also well understood why there is a need to include a woman in this prohibition, even though women are already included in all Torah prohibitions (see Ramban). Since we are discussing warning in our verse we might think that there is no need to warn a woman. Tosfos on the gemara Sanhedrin 41a d.h. "ee nami" explains that without the witnesses warning the sinner they might be able to get out of the "zom'mim" punishment, exactly what the maligned innocent person would have received as a punishment, because they could claim that they testified only so that the so-called sinner should be disqualified from being an acceptable witness. Now that they must warn him and tell the court that they have indeed warned him, this excuse falls away. Since a woman is not accepted as a witness anyways, we might think there is no need for warning her. Therefore our verse also specifies that women are included in this verse, i.e. that they also have to be warned. (Ponim Yofos)
Ch. 17, v. 3: "Va'yeilech va'yaavod elohim acheirim" - And he went and he served others' gods - Why mention his going? Targum Yonoson ben Uziel says that it means that he went after his evil inclination and sinned. The Rokei'ach says that this teaches us that the one who serves idols is punished even for his going to sin.
We similarly find that the Torah gives credit for going to do a mitzvoh, by the offering of the "korban Pesach" at the time of our exodus from Egypt. In Shmos 12:28 the verse says, "Va'yeilchu va'yaasu bnei Yisroel kaasher tzivoh Hashem." Rashi says two points. The first is that as soon as they accepted this mitzvoh upon themselves it was considered as if they actually did it. The second is
that they were rewarded both for the going and for the sacrificing. Why is this pointed out specifically by the Paschal offering? MVRHRH"G R' Yaakov Kamenecki elaborates on the theme of a "korban Pesach" being a service that counters idol worship. Just as a thought to sin is not considered a sin except by idol worship, the mental acceptance of offering a "korban Pesach" is also considered as if it were done. Just as the Rokei'ach says that our verse teaches us that the going to serve idols is a sin in and of itself, the going to offer a "korban Pesach" is correspondingly a mitzvoh on its own. (n.l.)
Ch. 17, v. 9: "Uvoso el Hakohanim haLviim v'el hashofeit" - And you will come to the Kohanim who are L'viim and to the judge - Why does the verse change from plural to singular? This is an allusion to the ruling that when two disputants agree to abide by the ruling of even just one person, it is binding. It is well understood that this arrangement cannot be made when judging someone for allegedly committing murder. This always requires a quorum of 23 judges. We now understand why commentators shy away from the explanation of the Ramban, who says that on a basic level, we can say that the previous verse, when it says that it is a matter of "bein dom l'dom," means a judgment of someone committing murder. Since our verse says that the matter can be brought in front of one person to rule, this excludes murder. (Ponim Yofos)
Ch. 17, v. 17: "V'chesef v'zohov lo yarbeh lo m'ode" - And silver and gold he shall not amass for himself greatly - Rashi comments that he may amass enough to give to "afsania." Exactly what is "afsania?" Sefer Hazikoron says that it means his army people who are his entourage.
Ch. 18, v. 11: "V'yidoni" - Rashi explains that this is done by placing a bone from the creature called "yodua" in one's mouth. Through some magical force (according to the Rambam "farce" is more in place) the bone talks. The Ralbag elaborates on this. He says that the person performing this necromancy falls onto the floor as does an epilectic during an attack, and the person tells future events. The Minchoh V'luloh says that the renown meshuga in his time did this.
Ch. 18, v. 11: "V'doreish el ha'meisim" - And one who inquires of the dead - Rashi gives us two examples of this, "Hamaa'leh b'zachruso" and "Hanishol b'gulgo'les." Rabbi Yochonon Luria in Meishiv Nefesh questions this. The gemara Sanhedrin 65b says that these two practices are called "sho'eil ove," an earlier prohibition of our verse. As well, the gemara says that "doreish el ha'meisim" means that one starves himself in a cemetery to communicate with the dead. He offers no answer.
Ch. 19, v. 15: "Al pi shnei eidim o al pi shloshoh eidim yokum dovor" - Through the testimony of two witnesses or through the testimony of three witnesses a matter will be established - The mishnoh Makos 5b derives from these words, i.e. the juxtaposition of a group of three witnesses to a group of two witnesses, that just as when one of the two witnesses is found to be a relative of the defendant or disqualified for testimony, this group of two is totally negated, so too, when one of the three is found to be a relative or otherwise disqualified, the testimony of the remaining two is totally negated. The Ponim Yofos asks, "The mishnoh assumes that the remaining one of two accomplishes nothing. How does the mishnoh know this? Perhaps, for example in a case where they testified that A owes B money, the remaining witness still has the ability to require A to make a vow that he does not owe this money to B, as is the case when only one witness comes in the first place."
He answers that the comparison through juxtaposition works both ways. When one of the group of three is disqualified, the remaining two cannot make A pay, so too, the remaining one of two cannot make A swear, as is stated in the gemara Sanhedrin 40a, that whenever two witnesses can make a person pay, if only one testifies, he can create a requirement to swear. (It is obvious that we cannot say that the remaining two of three can extract money from the defendant, as then the juxtaposition accomplishes nothing.)
It is interesting to note that the text in the mishnoh Makos cites the verse in 17:6, "Al pi shnayim o shloshoh eidim yumas ha'meis," and not the verse cited here by the Ponim Yofos. However, in a footnote on the mishnoh there is a change in the text that cites our verse. (See Rashi on Sanhedrin 9a d.h. "b'di'nei n'foshos." From his words it seems obvious that the verse cited in the mishnoh is 19:15.)
Why would the mishnoh skip over an earlier verse, which seems to have all the components required for all the insights the mishnoh culls? Maybe it is because the mishnoh teaches that these rules apply to not just a case of capital punishment. Maybe it has to do with the earlier verse leaving out the second set of words "al pi," or the difference of wording, "shnayim" in 17:6 and "shnei" in our verse, although I don't know why either of these changes would make a difference. Any help would be appreciated.
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