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Do not destroy! Print E-mail
Sunday, 13 August 2023

In Parshat Shoftim (Dvarim 20:19-20) we learn about the prohibition of “Bal Tashchit” not to destroy things for no reason:

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.

King David teaches in Tehillim 24:1:

The Lord owns the earth and all it contains, the world and all who live in it.

Even property that we own ultimately belongs to God.

In the Talmud, Shabbat 105b Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said in the name of Chilfa Bar Agra who in turn said in the name of Yochanan ben Nuri:

If one tears his garments in his anger, breaks his utensils in his anger, or scatters his money in his anger, he should be in your eyes as one who is performing idolatry. For this is the craft of the evil inclination: Today it tells him, “do this” until it tells him “perform idolatry” and he goes and performs it.

The Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim (6:10) states:

This prohibition does not only apply to trees. Whoever breaks utensils, tears garments, demolishes a building, stops up a well and willfully destroys food violates the prohibition of “you shall not destroy…”

Since everything in the world is technically God’s property, we have to be careful not to waste and certainly not destroy anything. Even if someone can afford to misuse or damage their possessions, it is still forbidden.

About ten years ago it became known that the clothing company, Abercrombie and Fitch preferred to have their clothing burned at the end of the season rather than give it to non-profit organizations to be donated to the poor.

This is in contrast with most brands which would gladly donate unused products to charity and help people in need as well as the planet.

Over the years, there have been successful fundraisers in New York such as “Seventh on Sale” and “Fashion Rescue” where top designers such as Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren and Donna Karen donated merchandise and shoppers were able to get amazing bargains while the profits went to charity as well as AIDS research. It was a win on both sides, the merchandise didn’t go to waste and needed funds were raised.

In Israel there is a similar sale in Tel Aviv each year called “Mitlabshot al Zeh.” All of the products are donated by over 700 Israeli designers. Funds raised help Tel Aviv’s Sexual Assault Crisis Center.

These designers understand the importance of helping others as well as the fact that the planet belongs to all of us. Instead of doing something destructive like dumping the clothing, they can do something constructive, give people the opportunity to shop at bargain basement prices and contribute to charity at the same time.

Instead of throwing something useful away, we should consider where it can be used to make a difference.

Women’s Suffrage in Israel Print E-mail
Tuesday, 30 August 2022

Sponsored by Marc Futterman in memory of Stan Futterman on his third yahrzeit

Since Israel is going back to the voting booths soon, it is a good time to brush up on our knowledge of women’s suffrage in Israel.

In Parshat Shoftim (Devarim 17:14-20) we learn about the laws of appointing of a king:

When you arrive in the Land that Hashem, your God, is giving you, and inherit it and live in it, and you will say, “Let me appoint a king over me, like all of the nations around me.” Appoint are you to appoint over yourself a king (som tasim alecha melech) whom Hashem , you God shall choose; from among your brothers shall you appoint a king over yourself; you cannot place over yourself a foreigner who is not your brother…   

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

Rambam in Mishne Torah Hilchot Melachim 1:5, Laws of Kings, explains that from this verse we learn that we do not appoint a woman in kingship and to all public positions in Israel, we appoint only a man.

Radbaz, Rabbi David b. Zimra, 16th c. Egypt, Commentary on Mishne Torah asks how Rambam can assert that a woman cannot be appointed. Devora was a prophetess who judged Israel! This is not a challenge, for she taught them the laws. Alternatively, it was according to God's command.

Chidushei HaRambam, Shevuot 30a teaches:

In the Jerusalem Talmud, they said, a woman does not testify and does not judge. And what of Devora: "she judged Israel"? It means that she was a leader, like a queen, and that according to her decision and counsel they conducted their affairs with each other. And even though we say in the Sifre, " 'You shall place upon you a king,' a king and not a queen," they conducted themselves as if she was a queen. Alternatively, they accepted her words voluntarily.

In light of the teachings above, would women be forbidden to vote or be elected for a political position?

According to Rav Ben Zion Uziel (Mishpatei Uziel 44) 1920- Chief Sephardi Rabbi of Eretz Yirael:

It is clear that even according to the Sifre, a woman may be accepted as judge, that is, leader, and she may make decisions just as one can accept a relative as judge. Therefore, in appointment by election, which is the public’s acceptance of those elected as their representatives and leaders, the law is that they can also elect women, even according to the positions of the Sifre and the Rambam. And in the writings of the Rishonim in general no dissenting opinion has been found.

A woman has an absolute right of participation in elections so that she be bound by the collective obligation to obey the elected officials who govern the nation.

A woman may also be elected to public office by the consent and ordinance of the community.

Rabbi Mordechai Eliyahu, the Rishon LeTziyon and former Chief Rabbi of Israel taught (Tehumin 7,1986 pg. 518-9): The acceptance by Am Yisrael of Devora was due to her powers of prophecy and as a special instruction of the time (hora'at sha'a) (following the language of the Tosafot), but this is only in the case of leadership of an entire people. However a "specific community, organization or town, can accept upon them, in a majority decision, a woman as a head of a board, administration, and so on."

After the November 1917 Balfour Declaration, it was clear that the new Yishuv would need to elect a political entity. That is when the question of women’s suffrage arose. In June, 1918 the Second Constitutive Assembly passed a compromise resolution that was gender neutral, according women full suffrage. America only accorded women the right to vote in 1920 so Israel was at the head of the game!

As the elections in Israel are approaching, it is important for all Israeli citizens who are eligible to exercise their right to vote which should not be taken for granted.

Now the big question is which party to vote for?

Are we ready to rebuild the Beit HaMikdash? Print E-mail
Monday, 09 August 2021

Sponsored by Sharona Halickman- Celebrating 17 years of Aliya!

In Parshat Shoftim (Dvarim 17:14-15) we learn about the mitzvah of appointing a king:

When you arrive in the Land that HaShem, your God is giving you and inherit it and live in it and you say, “Let me appoint over me a king like all the nations around me.” Appoint are you to appoint over yourself a king whom HaShem, your God will choose. From among your brothers are you to appoint over yourself a king; you may not place over yourself a foreigner who is not your brother.”

In the Talmud, Sanhedrin 20b, the Braita discusses whether or not the nation of Israel is required to appoint a king over itself:

Rabbi Yehuda would say: The Nation of Israel was commanded to perform three mitzvot upon their entrance into the Land of Israel: To appoint upon themselves a king, to eradicate the offspring of Amalek and to build the Beit HaBechira (the chosen house/ the Beit HaMikdash).

Rabbi Yosie says: But I do not know which of these three mitzvot are to be performed first. When following the narrative of Israel’s initial war with Amalek, the Torah states (Shmot 17:16) “Because God has sworn by his throne that God will have war with Amalek from generation to generation” I would say that since the verse mentions God’s throne, which represents the Jewish king, and only then war with Amalek, the mitzvah to appoint a king must be performed first.

The Braita then determines the proper place for the second and third mitzvot:

I still don’t know if the commandment to build the Beit HaBechira must be performed before or after the mitzvah to eradicate the offspring of Amalek. When the verse that describes the conditions that will prevail when Israel is to build the Temple states (Dvarim 12:10-11): “And when he gives you respite from all your enemies…and it shall come to pass that the place which your God shall choose…” I would say that since the verse first mentions the elimination of Israel’s enemies, including Amalek and only then the building of the Temple, the mitzvah to eradicate the offspring of Amalek must be performed before the mitzvah to build the Temple.

From here we see that we are still far off from building the Beit HaMikdah. Although we have a government in the Modern State of Israel, we don’t have a king.

As far as obliterating Amalek, today we don’t know which nation is which so there would be no way for us to fulfill this commandment as Rabbi Yehoshua taught (Brachot 28a): Sancheriv, King of Ashur long ago came up and confused all the nations (exiled the nations he conquered and resettled them in different lands) as it says in Yishayahu 10:13: “I have removed the boundaries of peoples and have plundered their treasures, I have brought down dwellers in strongholds.”

Radbaz comments on the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, Hilchot Melachim 5:5 that the fulfillment of the command to obliterate Amalek is deferred until the Messianic era.

Since we have not appointed a king and the Mashiach is not here yet, at this stage, we are still not ready to move on to the third category, the rebuilding of the Beit HaMikdash.

The Expansion of Israel’s Borders Print E-mail
Monday, 17 August 2020

In Parshat Shoftim, Dvarim 19:8, we read about the expansion of Israel’s borders during the final redemption:

When HaShem, your God, expands (yarchiv) your borders, in accordance with his oath to your forefathers, and He gives you the entire land that He promised to give to your forefathers…

The word “yarchiv”, expand, takes us back to the story in Breisheet 26:19-22 of the well which Yitzchak named “Rechovot”, Spacious:

Yitzchak’s servants dug in the valley, and found there a well of spring water. The shepherds of Grar argued with Yitzchak’s shepherds, saying, “The water is ours”. He named the well “Esek” (quarrel) because they quarreled with him. They dug another well, and they also argued about it: and he named it “Sitna” (obstruction). He moved away from there and dug another well; and there was no argument over it: He named it Rechovot (Spacious); and he said: Now God has made room for us and we will be fruitful in the Land.

Ramban explains why the Torah goes to great lengths to tell the story of the wells:

There is a hidden matter contained in this incident, for it comes to inform us of a future event. A “well of water” is a hint to the Beit HaMikdash (Temple) which the descendents of Yitzchak will build. This is why it mentions “a well of spring water” as it says in Yirmiyahu 17:13 “God, the source of fresh water.” Yitzchak called the first well Esek (Quarrel) which alludes to the First Temple, over which our enemies quarreled with us, engaging us in many conflicts and wars until they destroyed it.

Yitzchak called the second well Sitna (Obstruction) a harsher name than the first one to allude to the Second Temple which is called by that very name, as it is written (Ezra 4:1) “During the reign of Achashverosh at the beginning of his reign they wrote a hateful accusation (sitna) against those who dwelled in Yehuda and Yerushalayim” and all its days the enemies were hateful to us until they destroyed it and we went into a terrible exile from it.

Ramban concludes: Yitzchak called the third well Rechovot (Spacious) as an allusion to the Third Temple, may it be rebuilt speedily in our days. It will be built without conflict and without dispute and God will expand our borders as it says (Dvarim 19:8) “When HaShem your God expands your borders” which speaks of a future time. And concerning the Third Temple it is written (Yechezkel 41:7) “It broadened (u’rechava) and expanded upward. The verse ends with the words “and can be fruitful in the Land” alluding to the fact that in the future (Zepahania 3:9) “all of the nations will serve God with a single resolve.”

Rashi comments that “When HaShem, your God expands your borders in accordance with the oath of your forefathers…” (Dvarim 19:8) refers to God’s promise to Avram in Parshat Lech Lecha,  Breisheet 15:18-21: “On that day God made a covenant with Avram, saying: ‘To your descendents I have given this land, from the river of Egypt as far as the great river, the Euphrates. The lands of the Kenites, Kenizites, Kadmonites, the Chitites, Perizites, the Refaim, the Emorites, Cnaanites, Girgashites and Yevusites.

Rashi points out that there are ten nations listed here, yet God us only the land of the Seven nations. The three whose lands were not given, Keini, Knizi, Kadmoni (Edom, Moav and Amon) are destined to be possessed in the future, after the coming of the mashiach as it says in Yishayahu11:14: “They will overpower Edom and Moav and the Amonites will obey them.”

We see from here that in the days of the Third Temple, the borders of Israel will expand. In the meantime, there is still plenty of room within our current borders for Jews from around the world who would like to make aliya now, rather than wait for the arrival of the mashiach.

Is it a mitzvah to have a king? Print E-mail
Friday, 13 September 2019

Dedicated in memory of my grandmother, Reva Margolin z”l on her 24th yahrzeit. Grandma Reva's love of Torah study and commitment to the State of Israel inspired us to found Torat Reva Yerushalayim fifteen years ago.

In Parshat Shoftim, Dvarim 17:14-15 we are taught:

When you arrive in the land that HaShem, your God is giving you and inherit it and live in it, and you say, “Let me appoint over me a king like all the nations around me”; Appoint are you to appoint over yourself a king whom HaShem, your God will choose. From among your brothers are you to appoint over yourself a king; you may not place over yourself a foreigner who is not your brother.

We see from here, that it is permissible, possibly even obligatory to have a king under certain conditions.

If that is the case, then why was Shmuel the prophet so hesitant to allow the nation to have a king? As we see in Shmuel I, 8:4-6:

All the elders of Israel then gathered together and came to Shmuel, to Ramah. They said to him, “You have grown old, and your sons did not follow your ways. So now appoint for us a king to judge us, like all the nations.” It was wrong in Shmuel’s eyes that they said, “Give us a king to judge us,” and Shmuel prayed to HaShem.

Shmuel may have been hoping that his sons would take over for him and was disappointed when it was made known that they were unworthy.

Another reason could be that Shmuel was not happy that they wanted a king “like all of the nations” as the Jewish kings are very different from the non-Jewish kings. In Dvarim 17:16-20 we read about all of the extra restrictions that God imposes on the king:

However, he must not acquire an abundance of horses for himself so that he will not return the people to Egypt in order to acquire an abundance of horses, because God told you, “You are not to proceed to return along this route again.” And he is not to acquire an abundance of wives for himself so that his heart will not veer; and silver and gold he may not accumulate for himself in great abundance. It shall be, that when he occupies the throne of his kingdom, he must write for himself a duplicate of this Torah in a scroll form…That his pride not increase over his brothers and he does not stray from the commandment right or left; so that the days of his reign are lengthy over his kingdom, he and his sons within Israel.

In Sifrei, Dvarim 156:6, Rav Nehorai brings up the issue that they requested a king because they wanted to be led to idolatry.

Sforno explains:

God disapproved of the hereditary type of monarchy such as is customary among the gentile nations, so that He stipulated that if the people insisted on appointing a king who would start a dynasty, the initial king had to be approved not only by the people but by God’s representative on God’s behalf as we see in Shmuel I 8:18. The restrictions in appointing the original king were designed to ensure that such a king could not lead the people away from God’s Torah; on the contrary, they are meant for the people to see in him a shining example of Torah- observance, which in turn would inspire their own piety.

We see from here, that the problem was not the fact that they wanted a king. After the period of the Shoftim, Judges, where there was hardly any stable leadership, it makes sense that the nation was looking for a strong leader, especially when they saw that Shmuel’s children were not following in his footsteps. The problem was that they asked for a king “like all of the nations.” That type of king could lead them astray. If they are looking for a king who will follow the rules outlined in the Torah and it is done in the proper place and at the proper time, it can actually be a mitzvah to appoint him.

As we approach the elections in Israel, let’s remember what makes a true leader and try to find candidates with the qualities mentioned in the Torah. 

What is the big deal about moving boundaries? Print E-mail
Friday, 31 August 2018

Sponsored by the Halickman family in honor of the upcoming wedding of Rivi Weisman and Alec Kholodenko

In Parshat Shoftim (Dvarim 19:14) we read: “Do not move a boundary of your neighbor, which the early ones marked out in your inheritance, which  you shall inherit in the Land that HaShem, your God gives you to possess it.”

Why do we need to be told “Lo tasig gvul re’echa”, “Do not move a boundary”- Isn’t it obvious that by moving our boundary we would be stealing land from the neighbor’s property? Shouldn’t that already be covered in “Lo Tigzol”, “Do not steal” (Vaikra 19:13)?

Rashi explains that a person who overturns his neighbor’s boundary violates both of these negative commandments.

Does this also apply outside of the Land of Israel?

Rashi states that if you overturn your neighbor’s boundary in the Land of Israel then you violate two commandments. But outside of Israel, you only violate the commandment of “Do not steal.”

According to Ramban, this verse is a warning against changing the boundaries of the division by which the nesiim (princes) appointed the Land to the tribes or to any individual among them. Therefore, he mentioned the “early ones” (Yehoshua, Eleazar and the tribal leaders) and mentioned “in your inheritance, which you shall inherit…” The reason for this commandment is that no one should contemplate to say, “My portion which they gave me is not as valuable as the portion on my friend, because the dividers erred,” or he may feel suspicious of the lots, thus he will not consider the removal of the boundary marker to be robbery at all. Therefore it is commanded here that no one should controvert that division and he may not make any change in the boundaries, either secretly or openly.

Ibn Ezra adds that although moving boundaries may not sound like such a big deal, it can lead to arguments, fighting and even murder.

We see that by moving boundaries, one violates two commandments and may even be endanger their life. Do we need any more proof that it should not be done?

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


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