Par­shas Shof­tim - Judges, Kings, Work­ers & Schol­ars

The Jewish Voice - - JEWISH FEATURES -

Rabbeinu Nis­sim z”l (14th cen­tury; Barcelona, Spain) writes that, un­like other na­tions, the Jews have a dual ju­di­cial sys­tem. Ev­ery na­tion has laws, whose pur­pose is to make civ­i­lized life pos­si­ble, and each na­tion has a king or other of­fi­cial who ap­points judges to en­force those laws. In our parashah we read that Bnei Yis­rael, too, are com­manded to ap­point a king.

The parashah be­gins, how­ever, with the com­mand to main­tain a bet din (later called a San­hedrin) and a sys­tem of courts (in­de­pen­dent of the king, since they are men­tioned be­fore the mitz­vah to ap­point a king is taught). This is a re­flec­tion of the dual le­gal sys­tem which the To­rah con­tem­plates.

The Ge­mara teaches that even if a de­fen­dant is not found guilty by the San­hedrin–which, we are taught, went to any lengths to avoid ex­e­cut­ing a crim­i­nal–the king could ap­ply a stricter form of jus­tice and have the de­fen­dant killed any­way, if “law and or­der” so re­quired.

The laws which the San­hedrin is en­joined to en­force have a dif­fer­ent pur­pose than the laws that the king en­forced–to fos­ter the spir­i­tual growth of the Jewish peo­ple. It is clear that such is the pur­pose of the chukim–laws which we do not im­me­di­ately un­der­stand–such as Parah Adumah and kashruth.

It does not seem that “civ­i­liza­tion” is fur­thered by these mitzvot. It is im­por­tant to re­al­ize, how­ever, that even the “log­i­cal” mitzvot (e.g. hon­or­ing par­ents and not steal­ing) are in­tended to ful­fill our spir­i­tual, and not only our so­ci­etal, needs. If such were not the case, their en­force­ment would be the sole province of the king, not the bet din. (Derashot Ha’Ran #11)

“So that his heart does not be­come haughty over his brethren and not turn from the com­mand­ment right or left, so that he will pro­long years over his king­dom, he and his sons amid Yis­rael.” (17:20)

R’ Hil­lel Licht­en­stein z”l (rabbi of Kolomea, Gali­cia) writes: We learn in Pirkei Avot, “If his fear of Heaven pre­cedes his wisdom, his wisdom will per­sist.” Fear of Heaven is the foun­da­tion for re­mem­ber­ing one’s To­rah stud­ies.

This may be al­luded to in our verse, R’ Licht­en­stein writes. Our Sages say that if one is haughty, his wisdom will be for­got­ten. And, there is an ex­pres­sion in the Ge­mara, “Who are roy­alty? To­rah schol­ars!” Thus, our verse could be read: If one is not haughty and one does not de­vi­ate right or left from the mitzvot, i.e., he has fear of Heaven, then he and his de­scen­dants will re­main roy­alty, i.e., To­rah schol­ars. (Shi­yarei Maskil 1:4)

“Ac­cord­ing to all that you asked of Hashem, your Elokim, in Chorev on the day of the assem­bly, say­ing, ‘I can no longer hear the voice of Hashem, my Elokim, and this great eish / fire I can longer see, so that I shall not die’.” (18:16)

Rabbeinu Machir z”l (Spain; 14th cen­tury) writes: It is im­por­tant to un­der­stand that the To­rah uses the word “eish” / “fire” to de­scribe many dif­fer­ent phe­nom­ena. For ex­am­ple, the eish that de­scended from Heaven to the al­tar must have been dif­fer­ent from our fire, since it never went out (see Vayikra 6:6). Our Sages say that when the eish on the al­tar con­sumed the sacri­fices, it took the form of a lion. The fire with which we are fa­mil­iar ob­vi­ously would not do that.

Like­wise, at the Giv­ing of the To­rah, an awe­some fire was seen which in­spired dread in those who saw it, as our verse re­lates. Our Sages say that this is the fire that gives life to the souls of tzadikim, as it is writ­ten (De­varim 4:4), “But you who cling to Hashem, your Elokim–you are all alive to­day.”

R’ Machir con­tin­ues: Just as there is eish which is de­struc­tive, so there is eish which is non-de­struc­tive. The eish which Moshe Rabbeinu saw at the sneh / “Burn­ing Bush” was of the lat­ter type.

Fi­nally, the Tal­mud Yerushalmi (Shekalim 6:1) states that the To­rah was given to Moshe as black eish on white eish.

There­fore, writes R’ Machir, one should not won­der at the ex­pres­sion, “The eish of Ge­hi­nom.” [Of course, it does not re­fer to fire as we know it.] (Avkat Rocheil II ch. 28)

R’ Yosef Gikatilla z”l (12481310; Spain; au­thor of the kab­bal­is­tic work Sha’arei Orah) writes: Based on our verse we can un­der­stand the state­ment in the Pe­sach Hag­gadah, “‘With great awe’ (De­varim 26:8) – this al­ludes to the rev­e­la­tion of the Shechi­nah.” If the rev­e­la­tion at Har Si­nai was so fright­en­ing to that holy and pure gen­er­a­tion, cer­tainly when Hashem re­veals Him­self to or­di­nary peo­ple it will cause great awe, dread and trem­bling. (Hag­gadah Shel Pe­sach Tzof­nat Paneach)

“Who is the man who has built a new house and has not in­au­gu­rated it? . . . Who is the man who has planted a vine­yard and not re­deemed it? . . . Who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not mar­ried her?” (20:5-7)

R’ Moshe Sofer z”l (17621839; “Chatam Sofer”; rabbi and rosh yeshiva in Press­burg, Hun­gary) writes: The or­der of these verses im­plies that one should first build a house, then es­tab­lish a means of earn­ing a liveli­hood, and then get mar­ried. How­ever, Ram­bam z”l (Hil. Dei’ot 5:11) writes that one should have a means of liveli­hood be­fore build­ing a house. Com­men­taries ex­plain that Ram­bam bases him­self on the verse in the ke­lalot / curses (De­varim 28:30), “You will be­troth a woman … ; you will build a house … ; you will plant a vine­yard …” Since the first part of this verse clearly is out of or­der, as it places marriage be­fore a liveli­hood, the rest of this verse must be out of or­der too. (This is be­cause the ke­lalot re­flect a topsy-turvy view of the world.) There­fore, Ram­bam in­fers that the cor­rect or­der is liveli­hood-house-marriage.

Chatam Sofer con­tin­ues: While we now un­der­stand the source for Ram­bam’s rul­ing, this seems to con­tra­dict our own verses, which place build­ing a house be­fore earn­ing a liveli­hood. He ex­plains:

There ap­pears to be a dis­agree­ment be­tween Sages of the Mish­nah whether one should work for a liv­ing (Rabbi Yish­mael’s opin­ion) or should de­vote all his time to To­rah study (Rabbi Shi­mon bar Yochai and Rabbi Ne­ho­rai’s opin­ion). In fact, Chatam Sofer writes, they can­not be ar­gu­ing; af­ter all, Rabbi Yish­mael sup­ports his view from a verse (De­varim 11:14), “You will gather in your grain, your wine, and your oil.” Rather, ev­ery­one agrees that the ideal use of one’s time is to study To­rah.

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