Moshe’s Prophecy

Parshat שופטים speaks about the importance of listening to the words of a true profit. It describes how we are to see the signs revealing that he is chosen by G-d to deliver His message to the people.

Rabbi Soloveitchik raises a question regarding the prophecy of Moshe Rabbeinu. If Moshe transmitted the entire Torah, then every Mitzva not observed, would also carry with it the violation of not listening to the prophet.

The answer proves that Moshe stood alone as the greatest of all profits. He, alone, had his teachings considered actual Torah. Things learned from other prophets are defined as דברי קבלה or דברי מסורת. We are obliged to follow these teachings as well, but they do not have the status of the teachings of Moshe Rabbeinu.

כהן משוח מלחמה

A lesser known point mentioned in this week’s Parsha is the subject of the כהן משוח מלחמה, the Kohein anointed for battle.

This Kohein had the special role of motivating the troops before going to battle. No doubt that fighting in a war can be a frightening experience. The morale of the soldiers was essential towards achieving victory.

The key point that the כהן משוח מלחמה had to get across was that ultimately it was Hashem doing the fighting. As long as their faith in Hashem was strong, they would be victorious.

Rabbi Soloveitchik claimed that the charge that Yehuda Hamaccabee gave to his troops was so moving, that it was later recorded in the writings of Josephus, the historian.

Likewise, we must always remember that it is Hashem that is fighting our battles as well. If we put our trust in Him, we, too, will emerge victorious.

Why Women Don’t Testify

Shavua Tov. Rabbi Soloveitchik has an unusual explanation as to why women are not allowed to be judges or witnesses in a Jewish court.

He says that his answer is connected to the rules related to a king, discussed in today’s Parsha. A king is also not allowed to judge or testify. The Rav felt that there is a certain degree of degradation involved in having to go to court.

A witness is cross examined and accused of not properly relating facts. Judges often take abuse from the litigants as well.

Just as a king is protected from being dishonored in a court situation, so, too, we protect the honor of our women from being shamed or dishonored in any way.

Loving Your Occupation

The Gemara in Brachot 43b, makes an interesting observation. There is a Pasuk in Kohelet that says, את הכל עשה יפה בעיתו, that Hashem made everything beautiful in its time.

This teaches that G-d made everyone’s craft appear beautiful in his eyes. Rashi adds that even the tanner is content being a tanner. This is despite the fact that his job involves working with horrible odors.

Hashem’s wisdom is amazing that He created a situation where all occupations for the betterment of society, are filled. And each respective individual who does his respective job, is happy doing it. He did all of this so that no specific craft is lacking.

The Gemara is articulating how vast Hashem’s wisdom and loving kindness really is. He truly looks after all of our needs. Shabbat Shalom

אמת and שלום

An obvious theme of פרשת שופטים is the justice system according to the Torah. Judges are expected to be highly scrupulous in exercising justice.

The Pasuk says, צדק צדק תרדוף, which means that we are to pursue justice. Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that in an ideal world, אמת and שלום would be the outcome of a court case between two Jews. The judge would figure out who the guilty party was, and the two litigants would part as friends, after the decision was reached.

But because we live in an imperfect world, it is not possible to achieve Peace and Truth. Compromise is desired before litigation even begins.

When there is compromise, there is שלום, but there isn’t אמת. Compromise meant that each party sacrificed the potential of achieving truth in order to achieve. Nevertheless, we are promised that in the time of Mashiach, there will be absolute שלום and absolute אמת.

The Elul Opportunity

The month of Elul is meant to be a time of introspection. We are to view this period of time as a time of renewal. We are able to clean our slate and be offered a new beginning.

The symbolism of this idea is a group of men in prison. They dig a tunnel to get. This whole group of people escape the prison except for one person. He goes back to his cell and to his prison life. To his surprise, he gets beaten by the guard. He tells him that he’s a fool for not taking advantage of his opportunity to leave.

This is Elul. We are given an opportunity for forgiveness and closeness. We should not miss out and we should do the right thing.

Elul Shofar

The ספר התודעה, also known as “The book of our heritage,” gives explanations to various Jewish customs.

There are two reasons given for the custom of blowing the Shofar during the month of Elul. The first is that the Shofar arouses trepidation. It is to arouse us to do Teshuva. It is to “awaken us from our slumber” and return to Hashem.

The second reason for Shofar originated in the desert. Moshe went up again to הר סיני to receive the second לוחות. He went up on Rosh Chodesh Elul and came down on Yom Kippur.

The Shofar was sounded on Rosh Chodesh Elul to announce to the people that Moshe ascended the mountain. They were being careful to avoid another miscalculation of the forty days which led to disaster with the sin of the Golden Calf.

Destroy Enemies and Then Build Temple

The Gemara in סנהדרין mentions that there are three Mitzvot that we are commanded to observe when we enter Eretz Yisrael.

We are to appoint a king, destroy the seed of Amalek, and build the Beit Hamikdash.

It is not clear whether we are to build the Temple first or destroy Amalek first. We have our answer from the order of the Parsha. It is first mentioned that we are to push aside our enemies and then build the Temple.

Rabbi Soloveitchik wrote that Amalek represented pure evil. There was nothing to gain by attacking the Jews in the desert. They did not have their own land at that time. The Rav said that anyone who wishes to destroy Israel, is Amalek.

It is understandable that our enemies and evil must be destroyed before the light of the Beit Hamikdash is kindled.

It is not clear if we are to first bui

Poverty Will Not Cease

Shavua Tov. The Mishna states that there is no difference between this world and the next , except for שעבוד מלכיות.

This means, as confirmed by the Rambam, that עולם הבא will be a peaceful time when we not live in fear of anyone. Otherwise, life will continue as it is on a practical level. There will be much more Kedusha, but we will live in a similar way as we do now.

This is learned from today’s Parsha when it says כי לא יחדל אביון בקרב הארץ, that poverty will never cease from the land. “Never cease” would seem to include עולם הבא as well. Hence, no difference between this world and the next.

A Challenge of Ideology

Parshat ראה discusses three deviant situations in Judaism. First the נביא שקר, the false prophet, followed by the מסית, the one who incites, and the עיר הנידחת, the condemned city.

In each of these cases, the penalty is very severe. The נביא שקר and מסית are put to death and the עיר הנידחת is completely destroyed.

These are prime examples of situations where we do our best to convict and in the case of the מסית, we are told not to have pity on him.

The lesson here is that there is a huge difference between an individual’s personal sin and one that reflects a challenge in ideology. When the ideology of the מסית and נביא שקר, undermines and challenges the sanctity and truth of Judaism, there is no place for mercy. Shabbat Shalom

Covenant and Eretz Yisrael

Parshat ראה begins with the ceremony on הר גריזים and הר עיבל. The blessing was given on הר גריזים and the curse on הר עיבל. This was not merely a ceremony, but it reflected a covenant between Hashem and עם ישראל.

Rabbi Soloveitchik explained why it was necessary to have another covenant when the one on הר סיני was pretty special to say the least. The Rav said that the reason for this ברית, was to make ארץ ישראל an integral part of it.

Mount Sinai was considered the desert, and although instructions were given in Egypt, it was still חוץ לארץ. The Rav’s point here is very powerful. OUTSIDE OF ארץ ישראל, THE SANCTITY OF THE JEWISH PEOPLE IS WEAKENED!

The Land needed to participate in the covenant, because we must never forget the attachment we must have to the Land. Judaism’s components are עם ישראל, ארץ ישראל, ותורת ישראל. The people, the Land, and the Torah are integrated together to make us a holy nation.

Mitzvot in Israel

An overall theme of the Book of Devarim, is that the Mitzvot were meant to be observed in Eretz Yisrael.

Repeatedly, the Pasuk mentions that, “These are the Mitzvot that are to be observed in the Land.”

Aside from the fact that numerous Mitzvot can only be observed in Israel, (Such as תרומות and מעשרות and שמיטה, not to mention the Mitzva to live in Israel) the intention was that the Torah be given to the Jewish people to observe in Eretz Yisrael.

We even had the famous Rashi in עקב that said that all Mitzvot in Chutz L’aretz were for practice so that we will know what to do when we return to Israel.

Protect Your Home

Rav Amnon Yitzchak, is a well known Yemenite rabbi, who attracts big audiences to his talks. He is controversial but is thought to be very charismatic by many.

On the Pasuk לא תביא תועבה אל ביתך, that one should not bring an abomination into one’s home, Rav Yitzchak said the word is not תועבה, but TV! This is a hint from the Torah that one should not have a television in his home.

While Rav Amnon’s view is pretty extreme, the lesson here is a good one. We are to make our homes a מקדש מעט, a small sanctuary. We do have to be careful what we let into our home.

Negative and jealous people should not be allowed to disrupt the harmony of our family. תועבה and TV might be a stretch, but protecting the sanctity of our home, is not.

Fear of Heaven

The ארחות צדיקים also emphasizes the importance of יראת שמים, fear of Heaven. The author makes a simple observation regarding Moshe Rabbeinu, King David, and Shlomo Hamelech. These were three of the greatest Jews that ever lived.

Each of these giants pointed out how יראת ה׳ was so significant.

Moshe Rabbeinu mentions this in yesterday’s Parsha. מה ה׳ שואל מעמך כי אם ליראה, Hashem asks of us to fear Him.

David in Psalms wrote ראשית חכמה יראת ה׳, the beginning of wisdom is fear of G-d.

And Shlomo in Kohelet wrote, סוף דבר הכל נשמע את האלוקים ירא ואת מצוותיו תשמור כי זה כל האדם, when all is said and done, fear G-d and keep the commandments for this is all there is to man.

If Moshe, David, and Shlomo, felt that fear of Hashem is important, so must we.

Eretz Yisrael and Yisurim

There is a well known saying  of the Talmud that three things are acquired with יסורים: Torah, Olam Haba, and Eretz Yisrael. The word יסורים is generally translated as “suffering”, but can also be translated as, “rebuke”.

The Gemara in Brachot explains that Eretz Yisrael and יסורים are learned from the positioning of the verses in this week’s Parsha.

The Torah uses the ייסר, to rebuke, to tell us that just as a father rebukes his son, so, too, does Hashem rebuke us. This is followed by a Pasuk that describes how Hashem is bringing us to Eretz Yisrael. The positioning of the two verses teaches that Eretz Yisrael is acquired by יסורים,

Poverty and Wealth

Rabbi Soloveitchik makes an interesting distinction between Jews and Gentiles. Even though we have a warning against one accumulating wealth and forgetting G-d, the Rav claims that for the most part, Jews have done well with wealth and with poverty. Jews learn to make the most of every situation.

This is not the case with the Gentiles. They do well when there is wealth and prosperity. But they are not able to handle poverty. A perfect example were the Nazis יימח שמם, whose inability to handle poverty, led to the death of twenty million people.

Rav Meir Kahane said it best. “When things are good for the גוי, they hate us quietly. When things are bad for the גוי, they hate us loudly. And when things are very bad for them, they hate us violently.”

Seven Species

Dvar Torah from Dodger Stadium: This week, we read about the specialness of Eretz Yisrael. The Pasuk regarding the Seven Species is mentioned as well.

There are many Halachic ramifications connected with this verse. Regarding fruit, we always make a Bracha on one of the Seven Species before another fruit. The fruit that are closest to the word ארץ, comes before other fruit.

For example, the pomegranate, רימון, is furthest from the word ארץ. The זית, olive, is found near the second time the word ארץ appears in the Pasuk. It takes priority over the date and the fig.

Another Halacha connected to the Seven Species is the law of ביכורים, first fruits connected with Shavuot. These fruits that are given as a gift to the Kohein, only come from the Seven Species. There is something very special about the fruits of Eretz Yisrael.

The Individual and the Ideology

There are very strong warnings in the Book of Devarim for Jews to remain separate and distinct from other nations.

The commandment forbidding intermarriage is found at the end of ואתחנן. In certain instances, there is no tolerance for idol worshippers or those who incite Jews to turn away from their heritage.

Many find Judaism to be too harsh in its treatment of those who have gone astray. Rabbi Soloveitchik makes an amazing distinction between an individual and one’s ideology. The individual can do Teshuva especially if his sin is giving into lust or passion. But when one espouses ideas that threaten and undermine Judaism, there is little tolerance. The Rambam says that to be merciful to such individuals is really cruelty.

This is a very important distinction: the individual as opposed to an ideology.

Small in Numbers

At the end of ואתחנן, there is a Pasuk that mentions that Hashem’s love for us has nothing to do with numbers. In fact, we are among the smallest of all nations.

Rabbi Soloveitchik points out that the Roman Empire considered making Judaism their official religion. Instead, Constantine chose Christianity. But Judaism was a definite option.

The same was true at the time of the formation of Islam, that Judaism was also viewed as an option. The Rav wrote that Judaism would not have been the same had the masses adopted it.

The details and intricacies of Judaism are reserved for a small, devout number of Jews. This was G-d’s plan. In Messianic times, things will be different. But for now, we influence even though we are small in numbers.

Ezra

Shavua Tov. There is an interesting indirect reference to the great עזרא הסופר in פרשת ואתחנן.

On the Pasuk, ואותי צוה ה׳, “And Hashem commanded me,” the Gemara in סנהדרין says that Moshe was mentioning that he was chosen by Hashem to give the Torah. This implies that had Hashem not chosen Moshe to give the Torah, He would have chosen Ezra, who was also worthy for such a lofty task.

The Torah Temima expands on this by explaining what an effective teacher Ezra was. He had the very difficult job of bringing back the Jews of the Exile to Israel. Like Moshe, Ezra was the kind of teacher who was able to educate and inspire.

The miracle of our survival is how great leaders arose during the most trying times, to steer עם ישראל back on course. Ezra was one such leader.