• Dvar for Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

    Among the many topics discussed in Parshat Shoftim is the concept of cities of refuge for those that inadvertently killed another. The Torah says that these cities are a way to avoid spilling the innocent blood of the accidental perpetrator (18:10) by the original victim’s avenging family. However, if the Torah was concerned about avoiding innocent blood being spilled, shouldn’t the initial accidental death be addressed and avoided? Why is the Torah seemingly only concerned with the accidental killer’s fate?

    Rabbi David Forhrman explains that while accidents happen, how we react to mishaps is more important, as it’s something we can control, rather than something that controls us. While the accidental killer didn’t do enough to safeguard the friend he killed, our society provides that protection to him, as a form of kindness as well as justice. This helps us in so many ways: It helps the killer learn what it means to be protective of others, it builds a society focused on safeguarding those that need it, and it increases overall mindfulness of others. 

  • Dvar for Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

    This week we read the Parsha of Shoftim, which charges us to “Appoint for you judges and officers at all of your gates” (16:18). Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the word “lecha” (for you) seems superfluous. This commandment could have simply stated, “appoint judges and officers,” why did the Torah add the word “lecha”? The question is even stronger if you consider that the commandment is a society-based commandment, and the extra word is singular. It seems almost contradictory to address an individual while describing a community-based law.

    Rav Moshe explains that in addition to the need for society at large to have these judges and officers, individuals must be both a judge and officer over themselves. The Shlah extends this thought when he explains the continuation of the Passuk (verse), explaining that a person has seven “gates”: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth. The way that these gates are used will either build or destroy the person, which means that one must control the flow through these gates. However, the Torah also tells us that to accomplish our goal of controlling what comes out of our ‘gates’, we need both judges AND officers. Judges make the rules, and officers enforce them. Not only do we have to make an extra effort to know the rules by which to live, but we also need to build safeguards to help us adhere to those rules (i.e. if the rule is not to speak negatively about others, maybe we should try not to hang around people that do, etc.). If we study the Torah’s guidelines, we’ll realize their value and appreciate our need to protect them.

  • Dvar for Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

    This week we read the Parsha of Shoftim, which charges us to “Appoint for you judges and officers at all of your gates” (16:18). Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the word “lecha” (for you) seems superfluous. This commandment could have simply stated, “appoint judges and officers”, why did the Torah add the word “lecha”? The question is even stronger if you consider that the commandment is a society-based commandment, and the extra word is singular. It seems almost contradictory to address an individual while describing a community-based law.

    Rav Moshe explains that the Torah is teaching us a very fundamental concept. In addition to the need for society at large to have these judges and officers, individuals must be both a judge and officer over themselves. The Shlah extends this thought when he explains the continuation of the Passuk (verse), explaining that a person has seven “gates”: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth. The way that these gates are used will either build or destroy the person, which means that one must control the flow through these gates. But the Torah also tells us that to accomplish our goal of controlling what comes out of our ‘gates’, we need both judges AND officers. Judges make the rules, and officers enforce them. Not only do we have to make an extra effort to know the rules by which to live, but we also need to build safeguards to help us adhere to those rules. (I.e. if the rule is not to speak negatively about others, maybe we should try not to hang around people that do, etc.) If we study the Torah’s guidelines, we’ll realize their value and appreciate our need to protect them.

  • Dvar for Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

    The Parsha says “what man is there that is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house and not let him make the heart of his brethren faint as well as his heart.’” In addition to the three categories of men who were exempt from military service (someone recently built a house, grew a vineyard, or recently married), a fourth category is added — one who is fearful and fainthearted. Why would fear be a reason to be excused from fighting?

    Rabbi Yossi Hagili explains that this category refers to someone who fears that he is unworthy of being saved in battle because of his transgressions. Rabbi Yossi adds that this is the reason why the other three categories were told to go home — if someone were to leave the ranks because of his sins, he would feel embarrassed; however, since other groups were also sent home, his fellow soldiers wouldn’t know why he was leaving. This is truly amazing — a large number of soldiers were sent home during war time in order to save a sinner from humiliation. We learn from this that we must do everything possible to protect people from shame.

    At a Pesach Seder, Rabbi Yitchak Hutner was splashed by wine inadvertently spilled, staining his kittel (the white robe worn by many at the Seder). To save the other person from shame, Rabbi Hutner immediately said “a kittel from the Seder not stained with wine is like a Yom Kippur Machzor (prayer book) not wet with tears.”

  • Daily Aliya for Shoftim, Shvii (7th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Before waging battle against an enemy in battle, we are commanded to make a peaceful overture. Only if the enemy does not accept the offer does battle ensue. In the battles against the Canaanite nations, if the enemy does not agree to the peace offer, the Israelites are commanded to completely annihilate them. We are forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees while laying siege on a city. The Aliya closes with the procedure to be followed in the event of an unsolved murder.

    This Aliya includes an extremely important concept. While waging war, we are forbidden from cutting down fruit-bearing trees in the sieged city (even if the space is needed to fight the war). Of all things to be concerned about while waging war, why is this included? The answer is because the concept of wasting/destroying needlessly is simply that important! It extends to everything we do, from wasting food, breaking or throwing something useful away, to wasting someone else’s time by showing up late to a meeting. It’s those seemingly ancillary things that deserve our consideration too!

  • Daily Aliya for Shoftim, Shishi (6th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary (from chabad.org and ou.org): A minimum of two witnesses are required to secure a conviction in a capital or corporal punishment case. Individuals who testify falsely are liable to receive the punishment which they sought to have imposed upon their innocent victim. The procedure for battle is outlined in this Aliya . When approaching the battlefield, a Kohen addresses the troops, admonishing them not to fear the enemy, and listing the various individuals who are exempt from military duty, such as one who has recently betrothed a woman or built a new home, or a fainthearted and fearful person.

    One may not encroach upon another’s territory. Although stealing is already forbidden, this prohibition extends to other forms of encroachment, e.g. unfair competition that steals someone’s business. Can a particular neighborhood support two pizza shops, or is the second one in violation of this prohibition? The new lawyer who has just passed the bar gets some clients that used to belong to an older lawyer in the community. There are many situations which might not “qualify” under the letter of the law, but would be a violation of the spirit of this prohibition. The solution? A heightened degree of sensitivity to what the ramifications of one’s action will be.

  • Daily Aliya for Shoftim, Chamishi (5th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: We have no need for the previously-mentioned abominable practices because we are blessed with prophets who transmit G‑d’s messages to His people. We are commanded to obey these prophets. This Aliya prescribes the punishments for non-compliance with prophets’ words, as well as for an individual who falsely claims to speak in G‑d’s name. This Aliya then reiterates the command to establish cities of refuge for the inadvertent murderer. Moshe commands the Jews to designate six such cities, and when G‑d expands the borders of the land (with the coming of Moshiach) to add another three cities of refuge.

    This concept of a prophet was borne by the Jews’ request to not hear G-d’s voice directly when receiving the Torah. As a result, we are faced with the difficult task of distinguishing between true and false prophets. We must be careful to reject the false prophet, yet we must harbor no suspicion of the true prophet (once he has demonstrated his “credentials”). Once confirmed, there are still rules that must be followed: The prophet must not change the Torah, command to perform idolatry, and we must reject false prophets, however unpopular the notion might seem. Tough tasks for all involved, which is perhaps why they’re not around these days.

  • Dvar for Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9)

    This week we read the Parsha of Shoftim, which charges us to “Appoint for you judges and officers at all of your gates” (16:18). Rav Moshe Feinstein points out that the word “lecha” (for you) seems superfluous. This commandment could have simply stated, “appoint judges and officers”, why did the Torah add the word lecha? The question is even stronger if you consider that the commandment is a society-based commandment, and the extra word is singular. It seems almost contradictory to address an individual while describing a community-based law.

    Rav Moshe explains that the Torah is teaching us a very fundamental concept. In addition to the need for society at large to have these judges and officers, individuals must be both a judge and officer over themselves. The Shlah continues this thought when he explains the continuation of the Passuk (verse), explaining that a person has seven “gates”: two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and a mouth. The way that these gates are used will either build or destroy the person. A person must control the flow through these gates. But the Torah also tells us that to accomplish our goal of controlling what comes out of our ‘gates’, we need both judges AND officers. Judges make the rules, and officers enforce the rules. Not only do we have to make an extra effort to know the rules by which to live, but we also need to build safeguards to help us stick to those rules. (I.e. if the rule is not to speak negatively about others, maybe we should try not to hang around people that do.) If we study the Torah’s guidelines, we’ll realize their value and understand our need to protect them.

  • Daily Aliya for Shoftim, Revii (4th Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: Although the Priestly families were divided into many shifts, each serving in the Temple in their designated turn, a Kohen always retains the right to come to the Temple and personally offer his personal sacrifices. This Aliya then contains prohibitions against divination, fortunetelling and similar occult practices. Instead of probing into the future we are commanded to put our faith and trust in G‑d.

    The implication here is that we must not “learn to do” the terrible things, but we may learn about them in order to understand their ways and to better instruct our fellow Jews in this topic. (Tur Shulchan Aruch, based on the Gemara). This can be applied to countering groups dedicated to targeting Jews, such as Jews for Jesus. We are instructed to “know how to respond” to such occult and cult tactics.

  • Daily Aliya for Shoftim, Shlishi (3rd Aliya)

    Aliya Summary: The Kohanim were chosen by G‑d to be His holy servants. They do not receive an inheritance (portion) in the Land of Israel, because “G‑d is their inheritance.” Instead, the Kohanim are the beneficiaries of various priestly gifts; selections of meat from certain sacrifices, as well as tithes from crops and animal shearings.

    The three sections of the animal that the Kohanim get to keep are the foreleg, the jaw (tongue) and part of the intestines. Rashi explains that this corresponds to the story of Pinchas, when Pinchas raised his hand (foreleg is the equivalent of the hand), prayed (tongue) and stabbed the transgressors through the stomach (intestines).It’s the butterfly effect, where one string of actions leads to perpetual benefit for every generation that follows, that we should all wish to emulate. You never know what one act of kindness, one little Mitzvah (which may not be so little if we realized its butterfly effect), one smile, can perpatuate.

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