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Haftarah: Yeshayahu 51:12-52:12

AUGUST 17-18, 2007 4 ELUL 5767

Pop Quiz: What type of tree are we not permitted to cut down?


"Justice, justice shall you pursue." (Debarim 16:20)

We know that every word in the Torah is important, and teaches us a lesson. If so, why does the Torah repeat the word justice? Isn't is sufficient to say “pursue justice?"

One of the commentaries learned from here a very important lesson. We have to read the pasuk as if it says ?Pursue justice with justice." That means that it's not enough to have the ultimate goal of justice. We must achieve these goals using justifiable means. The ends do not justify the means. Just like it is obvious to all that we cannot steal money and "kosher" it by giving it to charity, so too with other misvot. When we are involved in our prayers in shul, we shouldn't be disturbing others by praying too loudly or talking to our friends. We shouldn't be promoting peace with some people by hurting others in the process. In every area of serving G-d we would do well to learn the lesson: Pursue justice using means of justice. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Shmuel Choueka

“Do not take bribes since bribery makes the wise blind and perverts the words of the righteous” (Debarim 16:19)

The Torah tells us it is terrible to take a bribe, because if he is a judge, it will warp his ability to “see” justice. This seems difficult, because we are talking about judges apppointed by Moshe Rabenu. There is no question that receiving a present makes a person feel good, but to say that such a lowly act would cause a Torah judge to become partial to one side in a monetary dispute! Surely a righteous person would not permit such a lowly emotional reaction to corrupt justice! Yet the Torah tells us otherwise. How can we understand this?

Rabi Meir Chadash explains that our difficulty in understanding the Torah’s message stems from our generation’s callousness toward the kindness bestowed upon us by others. We take everything for granted, whether it be the constant support of parents or the helpful assistance of strangers. We take it all in stride thinking, “I deserve it,” and rarely bother even to say thank you.

The Torah here is teaching us the true meaning of gratitude. Ideally a Jew should feel intensely grateful toward those who benefit him, to the degree that his sense of impartiality actually becomes impaired. This feeling must be so overwhelming as to distort his sense of justice and render him incapable of presiding over a court of law.

Let us develop this wonderful trait of gratitude to help us love our fellow man and serve Hashem better. Shabbat Shalom. Rabbi Reuven Semah


“You shall prepare the way for yourself and divide the border of your land into three parts…that every murderer may flee there” (Debarim 19:3)

In Makot 10b, the Talmud states that each crossroads bore the sign “miklat,” refuge, in order to guide the unintentional murderer in the right direction to the arei miklat, cities of refuge. The Ponevezher Rav expounded on this Hazal. Why were directional signs provided for the unintentional murderer and not for the oleh regel, the pilgrims who went up to Yerushalayim for Yom Tob? There should have been signs at the crossroads directing all Jews to the Bet Hamiukdash.

He responded as follows: Man, by nature, detests a murderer. One who has no respect for human life is the lowest, most contemptible creature in existence. This does not necessarily apply to the unintentional murderer. A murderer is undoubtedly considered not to be a normal member of the community and people tend to distance themselves from him. This attitude lingers only as long as no one has broken the ice and has dealings with the murderer. If, however, one were to speak to the murderer and interact with him, his preconceived opinion could mellow, for this is the nature of proximity and its influence. Indeed, our contact with anything negative often overrides our skepticism towards it.

If one were to come in contact and speak to the murderer, his total disdain of him may slowly vanish to the point that he might even begin to justify his homicidal act. The Torah desires to isolate the murderer from the Jewish community as much as possible to guarantee that his image remain jaundiced in the eyes of the community. It was, therefore, necessary to erect signs showing where the nearest ir miklat was situated, in order to limit casual conversation with the murderer. Although this person has committed an unintentional act, for which he has not yet been tried by a Jewish court, the actual act of homicide must be disdained to the fullest extent.

Conversely, the people who went up to Yerushalayim for the three festivals were individuals with whom social interaction was a constructive act. Hazal therefore, intentionally did not erect signs at the crossroads. Let the people meet and interact with these sublime individuals whose endeavor would inspire others. This would ultimately involve more and more people in the misvah of oleh regel.

Involvement in a worthwhile and positive endeavor/organization has the power to effectively change an individual and transform his whole essence. On the other hand, contact with something evil can demoralize and destroy one’s positive behavior.

We may suggest a different response to the disparity between arei miklat and oleh regel. The murderer is not running towards a goal (or city). He is running away from his home. He cannot think properly regarding where he is going. His only concern is getting away. This person needs focus and direction. The oleh regel, in contrast, has only one goal in mind, arrival at Yerushalayim and the Bet Hamikdash. His focus is defined. His course is steered and set on “auto pilot.” He does not need signs to direct him; he automatically gravitates towards his goal.

This should be a lesson for us. The one who knows where he is going, who has his sense of direction delineated, needs no signs. The one who is wandering aimlessly without any defined ambition might not even derive benefit from the signs, unless he searches for them – first he must know what to look for! (Peninim on the Torah)

Answer to Pop Quiz: A fruit tree.

A quick tip to boost the power of your prayer. Hazal tell us (Masechet Baba Kama Daf 92A) that Hashem loves the tefilot of one Jew for another so much that anyone who prays on behalf of a fellow Jew with similar needs will have his prayer answered first. A special service has now begun to provide people with names of others who find themselves in a similar predicament. You can call with complete anonymity and get the name of someone to pray for and give the name of someone that needs our prayers. The name of the service is Kol Hamitpalel. Categories include: Marriage; Income; Health; To have children etc.

Call to 646-279-8712 or email (Privacy of email limited by the email address)

Please pass this message along. Tizku L'misvot.

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