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

For sponsorships and advertising opportunities, send e-mail to:

Back to This Week's Parsha Previous Issues

subscribe.gif (2332 bytes)

Vol. 11   No. 44

This issue is sponsored anonymously

Parshas Shoftim

The Tefilah Experience
(Part 3)

We have dealt to date with seven major intrinsic conditions that turn Tefilah from a chore into a meaningful experience - 1. To know before Whom one stands; 2. to Daven because one needs G-d; 3. to nullify oneself before Him; 4. to Daven in Shul; 5. to Daven with a Minyan; 6. to treat Tefilah as a communal obligation; 7. to Daven with Kavanah.

Here are some additional tips that will enhance one's Tefilah immensely. Most of them are closely linked with the seven aforementioned conditions. In fact, most of them are incorporated in the Halochos of Tefilah.

One should hurry excitedly to Shul, eager for the opportunity to communicate with G-d, to pour out one's heart before him. And by the same token, one should feel a twinge of sadness at having to leave. Hence on the one hand the Pasuk in Tehilim states "Let us go to the House of Hashem with excitement"; and on the other, Chazal have taught that one may not leave Shul in a hurry.

One should Daven in a fixed place in Shul, as this adds dignity to one's Tefilah, and lends it a touch of importance. One should try to Daven facing a wall, so as not to be distracted by people passing by, or by anything else that might interfere with one's concentration. And by the same token, one should either look in a Sidur or close one's eyes during Davening, as this too, makes it more difficult to be distracted, and augments one's concentration.

One should go to Shul primarily in order to Daven, not to meet with friends, read notices or involve oneself in whatever activities are going on there. If any of these are truly necessary, then they should be performed before Davening or afterwards, but certainly not during Davening, nor is it a Mitzvah to make a mental note of every fellow Jew who enters the precincts of the Shul or who leaves it.

One should enunciate every word slowly, since every word is part of Tefilah, which is called 'Avodah', and it is not respectful to rush through an Avodah. Besides, Davening word for word is a sign of love, which explains Chazal's analogy comparing Tefilah to someone counting his money.

One should take great care to answer every 'Amen' carefully, slowly and with Kavanah, and how much more so 'Borchu' 'Kadish', 'Kedushah' and 'Yehei Sh'mei Rabo'.

One should dress respectfully, which includes wearing a jacket and socks, and it goes without saying that one's body and one's clothes should be clean. Indeed, one would be expected to appear before the King of Kings and to behave in His presence with as much respect as one would before a king of flesh and blood.

Just as one Davens with sincerity, as we already explained (like a poor man standing at the door), so too, should one bow down (four times in the course of the Amidah) with sincerity, like one would bow before a king - in total subjugation. One should familiarize oneself with the various sections of Davening (in Shachris, i.e. Birchas ha'Shachar, Pesukei de'Zimrah, Birchas Sh'ma, Sh'ma and the Amidah), and their progressive levels of Kedushah. Besides adding meaning to one's Tefilah, changing gear from one level of Tefilah to another makes one's Tefilah that much more exciting, and makes it that much easier to Daven with more Kavanah throughout.

Chazal have already pinpointed landmarks in Davening, sections in the Tefilah that require more Kavanah (such as the first Pasuk of the Sh'ma, the first B'rachah of the Amidah, the B'rachah of 'ho'Keil ha'Kodosh' and 'Modim' to mention just some of them). But it is a good idea to add landmarks of one's own, parts of the Tefilah from which one draws personal inspiration for whatever reason. Reaching that point in the Tefilah will then serve as an incentive to increase one's Kavanah.

Many of the hints that we have mentioned (such as running to Shul, Davening verbally and closing one's eyes during Davening) may well be the result of Kavanah; but they also lead to it. As the commentaries explain, a person's external actions have a profound affect on one's internal self.

Finally, it is a good idea to actually look in a Sidur whilst Davening. The G'ro already points out that doing so helps to dispel evil thoughts. In addition however, there is much to be said in using as many senses as possible in the course of our Davening. Besides the sense of smell, we even employ our sense of touch during Tefilah, as now and again, we touch our Tefilin, and when we kiss our Tzitzis. And we certainly make use of our sense of speech and of hearing as we alternate between Davening ourselves and hearing the recital of the Chazan. So why not go one step further and use our sight too, in the service of Hashem, by looking inside a Sidur?

And this is particularly relevant in light of the three Haftarahs of punishment which we read prior to Tish'ah be'Av, which begin with "Listen to the word of G-d", "The words of Yirmiyahu" and "The vision of Yeshayah", respectively (with a similar sequence in the opening words of the first three Parshiyos of the Leining in the three weeks that follow Tish'ah be'Av, which following the same basic pattern, and serve no doubt, as the antidote to the sins hinted in the former).

We hope that the above hints will help to transform Tefilah from something that one is perhaps glad to dispense with to an experience that one looks forward to and actually savours, when the time to Daven falls due.

* * *

Parshah Pearls
(adapted from the Rosh on the Chumash)

Practicing What They Preach

"And they shall judge the people righteously" (16:18).

It is essential, says the Rosh, for a Dayan himself not to be involved in any personal litigation, that nobody should be able to point a finger at him. We have a shining example of this in Moshe Rabeinu, who was able to declare that he had never taken a donkey from the people as tax (to use on his travels on their behalf), and in Shmuel ha'Navi, who openly challenged the people to refute his claim that in spite of a lifetime of communal service, there was not a single person who had the least monetary claim against him.

The Medrash tells the story of Rebbi Elazar b'Rebbi Yochanan who had a tree growing in his field, whose branch was overhanging his neighbor's field, No doubt, the owner had in mind to cut off the branch at the first possible moment, but meanwhile, a man came to him with a complaint that a branch of his neighbor's tree was overhanging his field. Instructing him to return the following day and to repeat his question, Rebbi Elazar b'Rebbi Yochanan sent workers down to his own field, to cut down the offensive branch.

When the man initially queried the delay (after all, he argued, the Tana seemed quite capable of answering all other queries immediately, so why not this one?), he merely repeated his instructions. When on the following day, Rebbi Elazar b'Rebbi Yochanan instructed the man to cut off the branch, and the latter asked him why he did not first do the same himself, he was able to tell him to go and see for himself that indeed he had, and that he should do to his branch just as he (Rebbi Elazar b'Rebbi Yochanan) had done to his. And that is precisely what the man did.


Bribery Blinds

"... because bribery blinds the eyes of those that can see" (16:19).

A Dayan has only to think about bribery for his eyes to be blinded, rendering it impossible for him to remain impartial, says the Rosh. And he quotes Rebbi Aba, who, based on a Pasuk in Mishlei, states that a Dayan is called a Rasha even for accepting bribery with the intention of telling the truth.

He cites the Gemara in Kesubos, which relates how Rebbi Yishmael Kohen Gadol illustrated the inherent power of bribery from his own personal experience. Rebbi Yishmael related how a man once brought him Reishis ha'Gez (the first shearings of wool from the season's wool crop) from far away, before proceeding to the Beis-Din for a Din-Torah, which Rebbi Yishmael, after declining to litigate his case, attended as an onlooker. And he went on to describe how he found himself automatically wishing for the man to claim first like this, and then like that, in order to win his case. And this, is spite of the fact that the man had merely given him what was his due as a Kohen, and not as a personal gift.

So you see, Rebbi Yishmael observed, how bribery unwittingly blinds the eyes of those who accept it. And if it was able to blind the eyes of Rebbi Yishmael, who would have done nothing wrong had he judged his case, imagine how it affects the eyes of those who regularly accept it against the law!


Trees Beside the Mizbei'ach

"Do not plant yourself an asheirah (a tree that is worshipped) of any type of wood beside the Mizbei'ach" (16:21).

The simple reasoning behind this Mitzvah is because it was common practice for those who served the idol Ba'al, to plant a tree next to the altar on which they served it; like we find in Shoftim (6:28), where Gideon cut down the altar of Ba'al together with the tree that was beside it.

Another reason for the prohibition, says the Rosh, is that, whenever one sacrifices on a Mizbei'ach with a tree growing next to it, it gives the impression that one is sacrificing to the tree.


When Numbers Don't Count

"By the testimony of two or three witnesses the man shall die" (17:6).

Because, explains the Rosh, the Torah has written in Mishpatim (23:2) that in Beis-Din, one always follows the majority of judges, it needs to warn us that when it comes to witnesses, we do not follow that principle, and that if one of three witnesses who testify is discredited, then we do not go after the remaining two, but cancel the entire testimony.

And he cites Rabeinu Chananel, who compares three witnesses to two, in that just as by two witnesses if one of them is found to be a relative to one of the litigants, or is invalid for some other reason, then the entire testimony is disqualified, so it is by three and even a hundred.

However, he explains, if two people witness an event with the intention of later testifying on it, their testimony does not become pasul (disqualified) just because a relative or a pasul happen to be standing there, as long as the latter did not also have the intention of testifying. Otherwise what is a pasul witness supposed to do if he happens to be present at a murder, to avoid invalidating the kosher witnesses.

And this explains the Minhag to announce at a wedding that only the guests who are Kasher, should have the intention of acting as witnesses to the Kidushin (precluding those who are relatives or anyone who is otherwise invalidated from testifying).

Nowadays, it is common to go one step further, and to announce that only the two designated witnesses are eligible to testify.


A King and his Midos

"That his heart shall not become proud, and that he shall not deviate from the Mitzvos right or left" (17:20).

The Rosh explains "That his heart should not become proud" is the reason for the Mitzvah (in Pasuk 17) - "and he shall not possess too much silver and gold", whereas "and that he shall not deviate from the Mitzvos right or left", is the reason for the Mitzvah (in Pasuk 18) - "then he shall write himself a copy of the Torah (which he attaches to his arm and which accompanies him wherever he goes).

The Rosh also cites what he heard, that "the copy of the Torah" to which the Torah refers was not a complete Seifer Torah, but merely the Ten Commandments. And the reason that the Pasuk calls it a Seifer-Torah is because the Ten Commandments from ("Onochi" until "le'rei'echo") comprise six hundred and thirteen letters.


No Portion for the Tribe of Levi

"And they shall not receive an inheritance among their brothers" (18:2).

"And they shall not receive an inheritance" - refers to the inheritance of 'the rest'. Whereas "among their brothers" - refers to that of the five (Sifri).

Rabeinu Bechor Shor explains that 'the rest' refers to the (other) brothers (from his father only) Dan, Naftali, Gad, Asher, Binyamin, Efrayim and Menasheh; whereas 'the five' refers to Reuven, Shimon, Yehudah, Yisachar and Zevulun, (Levi's paternal and maternal brothers). Even together with them, Levi was not permitted a portion in Eretz Yisrael.

See also Rashi.


How To Treat a Guest

"Our hands did not spill this blood" (21:7).

The word "shofchu" ('spill') contains a 'Hey' (instead of a 'Vav'), observes the Rosh.

This hints at the five things that a host is obligated to do for his guest (and which we assume the host of the murdered man did not fulfill) - food, drink, a bed, accompanying him, and a gift.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 438:
The Mitzvah of Bringing All One's Nedarim on the First Yom-Tov

Anyone who declares a Neder, or who volunteers without making a Neder, to bring a Korban on the Mizbei'ach or to donate a gift to Bedek ha'Bayis (for the repairs of the walls of Yerushalayim and the Beis-Hamikdash), should bring it on the first Yom-Tov after he made the undertaking, as the Torah writes in Re'ei (12:5/6) " ... and you shall come there ... and you shall bring there your burnt-offerings ... and your Nedarim and your Nedavos ... ". Nedarim refers to someone who undertakes to bring an Olah (implying that he accepts the liability to replace the animal should it die or get stolen or lost); Nedavos, to someone who designates an animal as an Olah (without doing so).

The Sifri explains that the above Pasuk comes to obligate the fulfilling of one's obligation on the first Yom-Tov following his undertaking. Indeed, the Pasuk itself implies that as soon as one goes to Yerushalayim, one should take one's Korban with.

A reason for this Mitzvah is that, having declared a Neder, it is not befitting to be lax in its fulfillment. Because if, in matters of state, the laws surrounding a command issued by the king are most stringent, then how much more so regarding matters concerning the King of Kings. If the Torah does not demand that one travels to Yerushalayim immediately upon having taken the vow, it is in order not to discourage people from making such vows. When Yom-Tov arrives however, and one is obligated to travel to Yerushalayim anyway, the Torah expects whoever made such a Neder or undertaking, to be sure to fulfill it.

The La'av of 'bal-Te'acher' is a different matter, and one contravenes it only if one failed to fulfill one's Neder after three Yamim-Tovim have elapsed, as we will explain in Parshas Ki Seitzei (I.Y.H.)

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... that although one is obligated to fulfill one's obligation by the first Yom-Tov, one does not contravene the La'av until three Yamim-Tovim have passed, as we explained.

This Mitzvah applies in the time of the Beis-Hamikdash, when we are permitted to bring Nedarim and Nedavos and when we have a Mizbei'ach on which to bring them. As regards nowadays, Chazal have said that one should refrain from declaring anything Hekdesh, as the author explained in Parshas Bechukosai. If someone transgresses and does so, there is nothing he can do about it (other than treat the Hekdesh object with due respect) since there is no Beis-Hamikdash to which to bring it.


Mitzvah 439:
Not to Bring a Korban Outside the Azarah

It is forbidden to bring any Korban outside the Azarah. This is called 'sacrificing outside', about which the Torah writes in Re'ei (12:13) "Beware lest you offer your burnt-offerings in any place" (by "offer" the Torah means "burn"). The Sifri writes 'I only know burnt-offerings. From where do I know that the same applies to other Korbanos? The Torah therefore continues "and there you shall do all that I command you". And I will still say that Olah is subject to a Lo Sa'aseh ("Hishamer Lecha") and an Asei ("Shom ta'aleh olosecho"); all other Korbanos are only subject to an Asei ("ve'shom ta'aseh ... " [Pasuk 14], implying 'but nowhere else' [and a La'av that stems from an Asei is an Asei]). Therefore the Torah adds (Pasuk 14) "And there you shall bring your burnt-offerings". Now Olah is already included in the La'av in the previous Asei, so why does the Torah see fit to mention it independently?

It must be, the Sifri concludes, in order to compare the other Korbanos to it, to teach us that just as the Olah is subject to a Lo Sa'aseh as well as to an Asei, so too, are all the other Korbanos'.

All other details follow exactly the same pattern as the Mitzvah not to Shecht Kodshim outside the Azarah (in Parshas Acharei-Mos, Mitzvah 186).

* * *

For sponsorships and adverts call 651 9502

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.

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