Wednesday, 20 January 2021
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Parshat Hashavua SHOFTIM.

Contributed: Rabbi Nissim Mordechai Makor

Parshat Hashavua Shoftim Rav Nissim Mordechai Makor

Shoftim in a nutshell: Parshat Hashavua Shoftim begins with Moses instructing the people to appoint judges to decide the law.  There are the everyday laws, rules for kings, rules of war, rules of death and many more.

Who is the man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house. (20:8)

The Torah does not seek to place a person in a situation that he cannot handle. A soldier who is afraid can harm himself and, by extension, the others who rely on him. Chazal teach us that this fainthearted person does not fear the battle per se'. He fears "because of the sins in his hand," which is a reference to such sins as diverting his attention between his Tefillin Shel Yad and Tefillin Shel Rosh. Placing Tefillin on one's hand and forehead is one mitzvah which is to be performed without any lapses in attention. One's mind must be completely focused on this mitzvah, in no way diverting his attention between the two Tefillin. One might think that this sin is not of such great significance. Chazal indicate the contrary. In fact, it is sufficient reason to return from the battlefield. Such an individual may be a liability to himself and other soldiers.

There is profound philosophical significance to this transgression. Horav Yaakov Beifus, Shlita, in his new volume, Yalkut Lekach Tov - Chaim Shel Torah, cites Horav Yaakov Galinsky, Shlita, who spoke about the significance of this sin while addressing a Bar-Mitzvah celebration. He began by questioning the fact that a boy who turns thirteen years old is called a "Bar"-Mitzvah, while one who sins is referred to as a "baal" aveirah. Indeed, we find throughout halachic literature the word "bar," -- which is the Aramaic rendition of "ben," meaning "son" -- and the word "baal," -- which is usually translated as "husband" or "owner" -- both used to denote "shaychus," relationship or connection, to something or someone. Is there some specific reason that "bar," son, is used in relation to mitzvah observance, while "baal" is employed in relation to sin?

 Candle Lighting Times for Shabbat Shoftim

There is an essential difference between these two words. A "ben"/"bar" is the son of someone - a relationship that can never be severed, regardless of how estranged one may have become. It is impossible to divorce oneself from one's parents. A "baal," husband, is connected to his wife via the kiddushin, marriage agreement, which can be severed through a get, divorce. In other words, a "baal" is a relationship that is not necessarily irrevocable. A "bar" is everlasting. One who becomes a Bar-Mitzvah establishes a permanent bond with mitzvos. He is literally like a "son" of the mitzvos. He is obligated to observe and execute Hashem's command, regardless of the circumstance. Disregarding his responsibility, citing a lack of belief or whatever other excuse enters his mind, does not revoke his obligation. It is eternal. On the other hand, one who sins is called a "baal" aveirah, denoting that the particular sin is a temporary lapse. While this "lapse" may last longer for some than for others, it is still not binding. A Jew who sins can sever his relationship with evil and return through teshuvah, repentance.

With this in mind, let us return to the sin of diverting one's attention between the Tefillin Shel Yad and Tefillin Shel Rosh. Chazal teach us that "chochmah ba'goyim taamin," wisdom is to be found among the gentiles, while Torah ba'goyim al taamin," Torah is not to be found among the gentiles. There is profound wisdom to be gleaned from Torah. There is an essential difference, however, between Torah and chochmah. Torah teaches a person how to live; it is the Jew's blueprint for life. While we find many wise gentiles whose intellectual accomplishments are profound, they do not have Torah. They do not have to live their lives in accordance with the wisdom they possess. It is an abstract wisdom which is not assimilated into their lifestyle. To learn Torah means to live Torah. One cannot study Toras Hashem and not live the life it dictates.

Aristotle was one of the wisest men who ever lived. It was known, however, that at times he would defer to his base nature and act in a manner acceptable for a creature of a lower order. When asked how he could do this, he responded, "Now I am not Aristotle!" This is chochmas ha'goyim, secular wisdom, which does not change the individual. Our Sages lived what they learned. Their total demeanor reflected the wisdom of Torah. Torah teaches; it shapes and molds a person in accordance with the amount of himself he puts into it.

The Tefillin Shel Rosh represent the thought process, the cognitive approach to life. The Tefillin Shel Yad denote action, observance, carrying out mitzvos. The prohibition against speaking or diverting any attention between these two Tefillin implies the importance of integrating the mind with the act. There cannot be any breach between what one thinks and what one does. They must be in sync with one another, unified in harmony, reflecting one's understanding and belief in the mitzvos he carries out. A Jew whose thoughts do not coincide with his actions, whose beliefs are not necessarily in harmony with his observance, is spiritually defective. He lacks the "Torah" element of his wisdom. He cannot represent Klal Yisrael in battle. When one looks at a ben Torah, the wisdom he possesses should be evident in his appearance, in the way he speaks, and in his relationship with people. As a representative of the Torah, he must mirror its image.

“You must be perfect with Hashem your G-d.” (Devarim 18:13)

The Hafess Hayim zt”l noted that a person is required to have total trust “Im Hashem Elokecha,” only when dealing with his Creator.  However, when dealing with other people, he must not be naïve and put himself in a position where he is at the mercy of others.  Rather, he must keep his wits about him and not permit himself to be deceived.  This was the quality of Ya’akob, who was an “Ish Tam,” yet dealt with Laban with cunning.

Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt”l said that one must take time to perfect his character and midot, even if he must sacrifice growth in Torah because of this.  He proved this from the halachah that states that if one has a small whole bread and a large piece of bread, he must recite the berachah on the whole bread even though it is smaller (O.H. 168).  The same is true in regard to spiritual matters.  Being wholesome in character takes precedence over greatness in Torah, since proper midot is a prerequisite to studying Torah.

The Ultimate Healer

 "There are occasions when Hashem gives people useful ideas for what appears to be a minor benefit. The discovery of radium led to applications as different as luminous dials, X-Ray machines, and the use of radiation to treat diseases.”

During challenging times, we should attempt to realize that Hashem gives man the knowledge to discover applications to heal others. Hashem sends the cure before the disease and with prayer, we can realize that He is the Ultimate Healer.  (Norman D. Levy; Based on Rabbi Miller’s, Duties of the Mind)

The Pearls of Life

The Pearls of Life bring HaRav Dovid Cohen who writes that Rabbeinu Yonah, captures what every Jew should feel from Rosh Chodesh Elul through Yom Kippur.  He writes for everything there is a time to rejoice and feast. Elul begins through the end of Yom Kippur, a person should tremble and fear the judgment before him. The Tur teaches that the Shofar during the month of Elul is to warn the people to repent and tremble in fear.  The shofar is intended to inspire a person to wake up from  his slumber to examine  his ways, and to abandon all the nonsense he occupies himself with. The shofar calls out to the well-intentioned among us who find themselves in spiritual slumber. The Rambam writes that people are too busy with their everyday activities to think about the spiritual aspects of their lives. People ae so preoccupied with the burdens of their lives that they are likely to stumble into sin and not feel anything. The Vilna Gaon writes that a person who lives with Yiras Shamayim [fear of heaven] is always conscious of his purpose in life and what his end is destined to be. This is the purpose of the blast of the shofar. It must remind us of the end that awaits us, and what our purpose is in this world. It must adjure us to examine our ways so that we do teshuvah, so that we don’t end up suffering the bitter fruits of our evil deeds. 

Yeshiva Pirchei Shoshanim


As taught by my Torah Masters

Shabbat Shalom