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Shoftim
Judaism & the environment Print E-mail
Thursday, 24 August 2017

In Parshat Shoftim (Dvarim 20:19-20) we read:

If you besiege a city many days to wage war against it to capture it, do not harm any of its trees by chopping it with an ax, because you eat from it you are not to cut it down; For, is the tree of the field a person to join the besieged to escape you? Only a tree that you know that it is not a fruit tree may you harm or cut down; and you will build battlements against the city that is waging war against you until it is conquered.

According to Ibn Ezra, human life is dependent on the tree of the field for food.

The same way that we are not allowed to take away a person’s work tools (even in the case of security for a debt) since by not having their tools they would no longer be able to make a living, so too we are not allowed to cut down a fruit tree for no reason as we are dependent upon the tree for our nutrition.

In the Talmud, Bava Kama 91b, we learn that when it is necessary to cut down trees, the non-fruit trees should be cut down before the fruit trees.

There are situations when fruit trees can be cut down for example if the tree is more valuable for its wood than for its fruits, if the tree is detrimental to its surroundings (damaging other more valuable trees) or if it occupies space that is needed.

The fact that there are discussions about the importance of the trees in both the Torah and the Talmud teaches us that Judaism has always been focused on protecting the environment. By taking care of our surroundings we are in turn also making this world a better place for us to live.

According to Ramban, we should keep a positive attitude even at a time of war. We must trust in God and not unnecessarily destroy the trees. If we are able to protect the trees, not only will we be taking care of the environment but if we are victorious we will have food to eat and a beautiful place to live with nature still intact. 

 
Why did King Saul go to a necromancer? Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 September 2016

In Parshat Shoftim, Dvarim 18:9-13 we are clearly commanded: “When you come to the land which the Lord your God gives you, do not learn to perpetrate the abominations of those nations. There must not be found among you anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire, or that uses divination, a soothsayer, or an enchanter or a witch or a snake charmer or one who inquires of Ov or Yidoni or a necromancer (one who consults the dead). For all that do these things are an abomination to God…”

After Shmuel the prophet died, in Shmuel I 28:3, King Saul banished the necromancers and Yidoni-diviners from the land.

King Saul banished them as he was worried that since Shmuel did not yet have a clear cut successor, some may want to make contact with him through forbidden means to inquire about the future. King Saul himself was worried, as the Philistines mobilized for war and he no longer had Shmuel the prophet to consult with.

In Shmuel I 28:6-7 we read: “Saul inquired (vayishal) of God, but God did not answer him; neither in a dream, nor through the Urim v’Tumim nor through the prophets. So Saul said to his servants, ‘Seek out a woman who practices necromancy and I will go to her and inquire through her.’ His servants said to him, ‘Behold, there is a woman who practices necromancy in En-Dor.’”

King Saul was desperate and therefore disguised himself so that nobody, including the necromancer would know who he was. At first she didn’t want to help him (as she was afraid that she would get in trouble with the king) but he swore that she would not get into trouble.

The woman raised up Shmuel the prophet from the dead and Shmuel told King Saul: God is giving his support to David who will be the new king, you are being punished for not killing off all of the nation of Amalek, tomorrow you and your sons will be killed and the Philistines will win the war.

Why would King Saul think that it was ok to consult a necromancer when he himself banished them?

According to Or HaChayim, King Saul mistakenly thought that going to a necromancer would be permitted since he was not answered by God directly. This shows that kings also make mistakes and pay for them.

Abravanel explains that Saul inquired (sha’al) of God, but in Divrei HaYamim I 10:14 he is condemned for not seeking out God (velo darsh b’Hashem). Although he inquired, when God did not answer, he should have tried to seek Him out rather than rush to a necromancer.

As we begin the month of Elul which leads us into the High Holidays, we must remember that it is not enough to inquire of God, we must persevere and seek Him out as it says in Yishayahu 55:6 “Dirshu HaShem b’himatzo”, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near”.

 
Bringing Justice to Israel’s Rabbinical Courts Print E-mail
Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Sponsored by Sharona & Josh Halickman in Honor of Binyamin Kunstler’s Bar Mitzvah

 

In Parshat Shoftim , Devarim 16:18-20 we read: “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all of your gates, which HaShem your God shall give you, throughout your tribes; and they shall judge the people with just judgment…Justice, justice shall you follow that you may inherit the Land which HaShem your God gives you.”

According to Sefer HaChinuch: “This is one of the mitzvot imposed on the entire community in any and every location. If the members of a community are suitable to establish a beit din (court of law) among themselves and they have not established it for themselves, they have disobeyed this positive mitzvah and the punishment is severe indeed since this mitzvah is a mighty pillar in the maintenance of the religious system of law.”

 

Today in Israel, there are regional religious courts which primarily deal with cases of marriage and divorce set up in the major cities in Israel as well as the Rabbinical Court of Appeals in Jerusalem. Right now there are not enough dayanim (judges) to go around. So although technically there are courts in all of the major cities, they are not all able to function on a daily basis which means that many cases are being held up.

 

Some of the dayanim (from the group of nine that are needed in Jerusalem) are ill or ready to retire so temporary replacements have been found to cover for them in the mean time. The only problem is that the temporary dayanim who are covering in Jerusalem are dayanim who are being taken away from their jobs in other cities in order to cover in Jerusalem. Their appointments are actually causing more harm than good as they can only be in Jerusalem two days a week so that they can continue working in their regular communities the other three days.

 

The Chief Rabbis who have a lot of different responsibilities outside the Rabbinical courts each only work in the Rabbinical courts one day a week. This is hardly enough time to get enough dayanim together to attend to the 45,000 cases that have been put on hold.

 

Each divorce hearing that is postponed or canceled due to lack of dayanim is like the destruction of an entire world. People want to move on with their lives and it can be years for their case to even be heard. This needs to be corrected immediately with the appointment of new dayanim.

 

When new dayanim are finally appointed, will they represent the population? Will they be from the Dati-Leumi (National-Religious) world or will they be from the Charedi world? As of now, with the way that the government is set up it is unfortunately looking like Aryeh Deri (Charedi) will end up choosing the dayanim since as of now Naftali Benett and his party, HaBayit HaYehudi (who should be representing the National-Religious population) are concerned with other issues and are letting this fall through the cracks.

 

Why is it a problem if the majority of dayanim are Charedim?

 

The Charedi dayanim are often overly strict, especially in areas such as custody. There are cases where women had custody of their children taken away from them, even though they are good mothers because they are not “Charedi enough”. If the father wants the children to grow up in a Charedi home, even if he has been proven to be abusive the Rabbinical courts will often give the father custody to ensure that the children live a Charedi lifestyle. This needs to change.

 

In addition, many Charedim don’t even use the Rabbinical courts of the State of Israel and instead prefer to use their own private Rabbinical courts. The dayanim of the state run religious courts really should reflect the population that they are dealing with.

 

By having Rabbinic courts that are barely running (unlike the secular courts where nobody would stand for this kind of behavior) the mitzvah of “Judges and officers shall you appoint in all of your gates” is not being fulfilled. If the court is not in session, it can’t really be considered a functioning court.

 

We must do what we can to ensure that “Justice, justice shall you follow that you may inherit the Land which HaShem your God gives you.”

 
The More Things Change, the More They Stay the Same Print E-mail
Friday, 29 August 2014

In Parshat Shoftim, Devarim 20:1-4 we read: “When you go to war against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot, people who outnumber you; do not be afraid of them, for God is with you, He who brought you up from the land of Egypt. Now, as you near the battle the Kohen shall approach and speak to the people. He will say to them, “Shma (Hear) Yisrael! You are setting out today to battle against your enemies. Do not be faint hearted; or intimidated and do not panic, do not be crushed before them; Because HaShem your God marches with you to do battle for you with your enemies to save you.”

 

The first Mishna in Sotah, Chapter 8 explains that the Kohen must address the nation in Hebrew.

 

Devarim 20:3 specifically states “You are setting out today to battle against your enemies” to differentiate between a war against other nations and a war against your brothers (civil war). When you fight against your enemies they will have no mercy on you so you need not show mercy for them. When you are fighting against your brothers, they will be compassionate even when they are your opponents.

 

When you are fighting against your mortal enemies, if you fall into their hands, they will show you no mercy.

 

The soldiers must be fully focused on fighting the war.

 

The warriors are commanded to not be afraid, but rather to trust in God.

 

Ramban (Devarim 20:4) states that Israel must put their faith in God, not in the strength and skill of their arms.

 

We see this clearly in the story of David and Goliath. Goliath was fully armed and David wasn’t yet David was able to kill Goliath with just a sling shot.

 

We learn from this Mishna that it is extremely important to speak in Hebrew. Even soldiers who recently made aliya pick the Hebrew language up quickly when they join the army since they are forced to as that is the language which is spoken.

 

We have to remember that we can’t have mercy on those who do not value our lives or their own lives. If they are sending rockets into our cities then there will be consequences. If they are in a rush to kidnap and kill our soldiers then we have to take the necessary precautions to protect ourselves.

 

The Israeli soldiers that went into Gaza were fully focused on destroying the tunnels and defeating our enemies.

 

Israelis who would not necessarily consider themselves religious including newscasters repeated over and over throughout the war that the entire nation needs to pray for peace.

 

We see from here that we are still encountering the same issues during wartime that we encountered during the time of the Torah, Mishna and Talmud.

 

The message is still the same and is included at the end of the prayer for the welfare of the members of the Israel Defense Force- “Ki HaShem Elokechem haholech imchem lehilachem lachem im oyveychem lehoshiya etchem”, “Because HaShem your God marches with you to do battle for you with your enemies to save you.”

 
Celebrating Nine Years of Moving on Up Print E-mail
Saturday, 10 August 2013

 

In Parshat Shoftim (Devarim 17:8-10) we read: “If a matter of law is hidden from you- between blood and blood, between decision and decision, or between leprosy and leprosy matters under dispute in your city; you shall rise and ascend to the place that HaShem your God will have chosen. You are to come before the Kohanim- the Leviim and the judge officiating during those days; you will inquire and they will tell you the legal decision. You are to act according to the word that they tell you from that place that God will have chosen; and you are to be careful to fulfill exactly as they instruct you.”

 

According to Rashi, “The place that HaShem your God will have chosen” refers to the city of Jerusalem.

 

The Mishna is Sanhedrin 86b states:

 

There were three courts there (in Jerusalem)- One sitting at the entrance of the Temple Mount (Petach Har HaBayit), one higher up on the Temple mount sitting at the entrance to the Temple Courtyard (Petach HaEzra) and one even higher up the mount sitting in the Chamber of Hewn Stone (Lishkat HaGazit).

 

The dissenting sage and his disputants on the local court come to the entrance of the Temple mount. If the court has heard from their teachers a tradition in this matter, then they tell them the law, if not then they go to the next set of judges sitting at the entrance of the Courtyard. If that court has heard from their teachers a tradition in this matter, then they tell them the law, if not then they go to the next set of judges who sit in the Chamber of Hewn Stone from which Torah goes forth to all of Israel as it says “From that place which God shall choose”.

 

The Gemara in Sanhedrin 87a explains that we learn from the words in Devarim 17:8 “you shall rise and ascend to the place that HaShem your God has chosen” that the Beit HaMikdash is higher than any other points in the Land of Israel and Israel is higher than all of the other lands.

 

The proof comes from Yirmiyahu 23:7, 8: “Therefore behold days are coming, says God, and they will no longer say (when taking an oath): As God lives, Who took up B’nai Yisrael from Egypt, but rather: As God lives, Who took up and Who brought the seed of the house of Israel from the northern country (Babylonia) and from all the countries to which I had driven them and they shall dwell in their Land.”

 

Maharal explains that the Land of Israel is spiritually the most elevated place (not necessarily topographically). That is why the prophet Yirmiyahu says that God will say that He “took up” the house of Israel from the north. Spiritually they “went up” to the Land of Israel but physically they were actually travelling south.

 

This week marks nine years since I made “Aliya”, physically and spiritually “moving up” to the Land of Israel and the City of Jerusalem.

 

May we be blessed to see the fulfillment of Yirmiyahu’s prophecy where all of the Jewish people from all of the countries will return to the Land of Israel.

 

 
The Torah Really Comes Alive When You Are In Israel! Print E-mail
Wednesday, 22 August 2012

In Parhsat Shoftim, Devarim 18:4 we read: “The first portion of your grain, your wine and your olive oil and the first of the shearing of your sheep are you to give him (the Kohen).

 

Rashi points out that this pasuk refers to the Teruma offering.

 

We learn in the Gemara in Chullin 136a that just as the mitzvah of Teruma is only in effect in the Land of Israel so too is the mitzvah of giving the first of the shearing of your sheep (reisheet gez) only in effect in the Land of Israel.

 

According to Collins Atlas of the Bible, “The economy of Israel has generally been pastoral-agrarian in character. Agriculture has traditionally been based on the well known  Mediterranean triad of grain, wine and olive oil.”

 

When you walk through the shuk (open air market) in Jerusalem today, you smell the fresh pita bread. In the supermarkets, there are hundreds of bottles of wine to choose from (all Kosher) as well as a large selection of olive oil.

 

What if you want to get the feeling of what it was really like in the days of the Torah, before the products were readily available in the local markets?

 

In Israel today, there are opportunities to literally have a taste of what it was like to live in Biblical times. On the farm of Moshav Mevo Modiim (also known as the Carlebach Moshav) visitors have the opportunity to grind wheat and bake pita bread, press olives to make olive oil, visit a vineyard and learn about wine making as well as sheer the sheep and spin the wool into yarn.

 

These hands-on experiences really help make the Torah come alive.

 

Those of us who live in Israel or who will be visiting Israel should try to make time for these experiences and become familiar with produce of the Land of Israel.

 

 
A Tribute to the Soldiers of the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) Print E-mail
Friday, 09 September 2011

 

In Parshat Shoftim, Devarim 20:1-4 we read: When you go out to battle against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot- a people more numerous than you- you shall not fear them, for Hashem, your God , is with you, Who brought you up from the land of Egypt. It shall be that when you draw near to the war, the Kohen shall approach and speak to the people. He shall say to them: Hear, O Israel, you are coming near to the battle against your enemies; let your heart not to be faint; do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not be broken before them. For Hashem, your God, is the One Who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies to save you.

 

Rambam explains that a person will naturally be afraid in battle if he lets his mind dwell on the dangers of war. Therefore it is better for the soldiers not to dwell on the dangers that are awaiting them.

 

Ibn Ezra says that “do not be afraid” refers to not being afraid inwardly, “do not panic” means that you shouldn’t panic and flee the battlefield and “do not be broken” connotes that your fear should not hamper your performance while you are fighting.

 

The Kohen declared that God is Israel’s warrior and that He would save them. However, Ramban points out that the officers of the people had the responsibility to prepare for battle and not expect miracles.

 

It is not a coincidence that each time we say the prayer for the members of the IDF we conclude with the words that were said by the Kohen: “Ki Hashem Elokechem Haholech imachem, lehilachem lachem im oyveychem lehoshia etchem.”

 

He who blessed our forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov- may He bless the fighters of the Israel Defense Forces, who stand guard over our land and the cities of our God from the border of the Lebanon to the desert of Egypt, and from the Great Sea unto the approach of the Arava, on the land, in the air and on the sea. May Hashem cause our enemies who rise up against us to be struck down before them. May the Holy One, Blessed is He preserve and rescue our soldiers from every trouble and distress and from every plague and illness and may He send blessing and success in their every endeavor. May he lead our enemies under their sway and may He grant them salvation and crown them with victory. And may there be fulfilled for them the verse: For it is Hashem your God Who goes with you to battle your enemies for you to save you. Now let us respond: Amen.

 

May our soldiers who work so hard to protect us each and everyday go from strength to strength!

 

 
Women and Leadership Roles Print E-mail
Friday, 13 August 2010

In Parshat Shoftim, Devarim 17:14-20 we learn about the fact that if one is choosing a king it must be done in the proper Halachic framework: “When you come to the Land that Hashem your God gives you, and possess it, and settle in it and you will say, ‘I will set a king over myself, like all of the nations around me. ’You shall surely set over yourself a king (som tasim alecha melech) whom Hashem , you God shall choose; from among your brethren shall you set a king over yourself; you cannot place over yourself a foreign man who is not your brother…”

                  

Sifre (Midrasha Halacha) comments on the words “Som tasim alecha melech”- “Melech v’lo malka”, You shall set over yourself (appoint) a king and not a queen.

 

Rambam in Mishne Torah Hilchot Melachim, Laws of Kings, explains that from this pasuk we learn that we do not set up a woman in kingship and to all positions in Israel we appoint only a man.

 

Radbaz asks how this is possible, considering that in the book of Shoftim, Judges, Devora was a prophetess and a judge over Israel.

 

The answer could be either that she taught them the laws (was a poseket) or that Devora was different as it was according to God’s command and B’nai Yisrael willingly or voluntarily accepted her (she was not appointed) .

 

Rabbi Moshe Feinstein points out that Devora was not appointed as a queen. However, people listened to her as if she were a queen.

 

We learn from here that the main issue is that a queen should not be appointed. However, it is Halachically valid for the community to choose a woman to be a leader.

 
Who Are Our Judges? Print E-mail
Wednesday, 03 September 2008

Parshat Shoftim begins with the words “Shoftim (judges) and Shotrim (police officers) you shall appoint for yourself in all of your cities that HaShem your God is giving you for your tribes; who will judge the people ‘mishpat tzedek’, righteous justice.”

Rashi comments that it is up to the nation to appoint competent, righteous judges to judge righteously.

Are the judges in the State of Israel today righteous judges who judge righteously?
One example which looks like the perversion of justice and the display of favoritism is the temporary injunction handed down by Justice Salim Jubran (a Christian from Haifa and the descendant of Lebanese Maronites, the Supreme Court’s sole Arab member) in Israel’s High Court of Justice. This week, in response to a petition filed by Alaa Abu Dhaim’s father (whose son is the murderer of eight yeshiva students at Yeshivat Merkaz HaRav), Justice Salim Jubran put on hold the order to partially demolish their home since the family claims that there is no proof that the attack was politically motivated and was therefore not a true act of terrorism.

According to MK Prof. Aryeh Eldad (NU-NRP) “There is nothing new in the fact that the Israeli Supreme Court is helping the enemies of Israel and the families of terrorists.”

We must do what we can to restore justice, speak out against terrorism and appoint truly righteous judges.

 
Restoring Peace and Justice to Jerusalem Print E-mail
Saturday, 01 September 2007

In Parshat Shoftim (Devarim 16:18), the Jewish people are commanded to appoint judges who will judge the people with righteous judgement (tzedek). In sentences 19-20 they are told: “Do not pervert justice; do not display favoritism; and do not accept bribery, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the words of the righteous (tzadikim). ‘Tzedek tzedek tirdof’, pursue absolute justice, that you may live and inherit the Land that God is giving you.”

Rashi comments on sentence 18 that competent, righteous judges (tzadikim) must be appointed to judge righteously (lishpot tzedek). He adds on sentence 20 that appointing ethical judges will insure that they will be able to settle in the Land of Israel.

Ibn Ezra adds that they must pursue justice no matter what, whether it is to their advantage or to their loss. If they do pursue justice, then they will be able to hold on to the Land of Israel and in turn pass it on to the next generation.

The Hebrew root “tzedek” appears over and over again at the beginning of the parsha. Earlier in the Torah we have encountered the word “tzedek” with Avraham. In Breishit 14:18, Malki Tzedek the king of Shalem brought Avraham food and wine. In the book of Yehoshua, the king of Jeusalem was Adoni Tzedek. Jerusalem was called “tzedek”, the city of righteousness.

The book of Yishayahu chapters 61-62 talk about Jerusalem rejoicing once again after the exile. Over and over again the terms of “tzedakah”, righteousness are used.

With all of the corruption that we hear about in the media, how can we turn Jerusalem back into a city of righteousness?

The small acts of righteousness that we can do each day can make a huge difference. Those in Jerusalem can help by inviting a new immigrant who is feeling lost and overwhelmed for a Shabbat meal. Instead of criticizing the current leadership we must act. Those who live outside of Jerusalem can join a chesed oriented tour (at Torat Reva Yerushalayim we hope to arrange one this February) where Israelis in difficult situations will see that Jews around the world care about them. Those who can’t travel to Israel can help support, “give tzedakah”, for programming that will brighten up the lives of those who live here.

At the end of the day, it’s not which scandal made the headline in Yediot Achronot, it’s rather who brightened up my life today.

 
The Mitzvah of Making Peace Print E-mail
Thursday, 24 August 2006

Parshat Shoftim, Devarim 20:10 states: "When you near a city to do battle against it, you are to offer it peace".

According to Ramban, the call for peace refers both to "milchemet reshut", a permissible war, as well as to "milchemet mitzvah", an obligatory war. This requires us to offer peace terms even to the seven nations of C'naan.

The Rabbis teach the following Midrash in Devarim Raba 5:13, Tanchuma Shoftim 18 and Yerushalmi Sheviit 6:1: "Rabbi Shmuel b'Rabbi Nachmani said: Yehoshua bin Nun fulfilled the laws of this section. What did Yehoshua do? Wherever he went to conquer, he would send the following proclamation: .He who wishes to make peace let him come forward and make peace; he who wishes to leave, let him leave and he who wishes to make war, let him make war.' The Girgashim (one of the seven nations) left the Land of Israel. The Givonim made peace. Thirty-one kings who did not want to make peace came to wage war were destroyed. If the kings had wanted to make peace, B'nai Yisrael would certainly have made peace with them."

The same holds true today. Israel is always looking to make peace both with those living within our borders as well as with those living outside of our borders. However, unfortunately many of our enemies prefer to try to destroy us rather than take us up on our offer of peace.

Let's pray that the prayer derived from Brachot 64a is fulfilled: "Yehi Shalom Becheilech Shalva B'Armenotayich.", "May there be peace within your walls, serenity within your palaces. For the sake of my brothers and friends I shall speak of peace for you.God will give his nation mite, God will bless his nation with peace.

 
The Prohibition Against Witchcraft Print E-mail
Thursday, 08 December 2005

SPONSORED IN HONOR OF THE BAT MITZVAH OF MYRNA HALICKMAN FROM HER LOVING FAMILY: MEL, SHARONA, JOSH, DOV BER, MOSHE NACHSHON, AMY AND ISAAC

In Parshat Shoftim, Dvarim 18:9-10 it says "When you are entering the land that God is giving you, do not lean to perpetrate the abominations of the nations. Let there not exist anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire or that uses divination, a soothsayer, enchanter or a sorcerer (michashef)." In Parshat Mishpatim, Shmot 22:17 we see the words "machashefa lo tichayeh", "you shall not allow a witch to live".

Witchcraft includes casting spells, consulting ghosts and spirits, making inquiries of the dead and other forms of sorcery.

Why is God so strict about not allowing witchcraft? What is so bad about witchcraft?

In Judaism, we believe that God is above nature and determines everything that happens in the world. Those who perform witchcraft believe that they can change the forces of nature in the world.

The Rambam, Maimonides, in Hilchot Avoda Zara condemns witchcraft in no uncertain terms. "These practices are lying and false, not fitting for Israelites and people of intelligence."

The Ramban, Nachmanides on Breisheet 17:1 says "We should be tamim, wholehearted in the service of God and not consult soothsayers."

According to Rav Aharon Lichtenstein, we should try to reach an intensity of closeness to God that we feel no need for external intermediaries.

How can this closeness to God be achieved?

1. Through Prayer- we must establish a relationship with God on a daily basis and feel free to ask for things when we need them. This is different from witchcraft where a person forces the deity to fulfill their wishes.

2. Through Spiritual Experiences- For those who do not live in Israel, it may be through visiting Israel. For those who do live in Israel, we must not take living here for granted. We must take advantage of and appreciate the spirituality around us.

3. Through Torah Study- starting or joining a study group on a topic of interest can be uplifting. Through studying the word of God we can become closer to God.

I look forward to experiencing spirituality with you here in Yerushalayim