Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities… and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. (16:18)
It is almost that time of year when Hashem makes a calculation of our deeds of the past year and renders His decisions for the coming year. We all could use “help” in obtaining favorable judgments. The easiest and most promising way is by doing all that is asked of us. In other words, good people will receive a good judgment. What about those who were not perfect, who made their share of mistakes, who committed sins without wickedness (of course), but sins nonetheless? What is the best advice for them, other than teshuvah and going through the process of change? We all want to be good, but “things” happen. Harav Levi Yitzchak, zl, m’Berditchev, the holy advocate of the Jewish People, derives an answer from this pasuk.
Hashem judges us all. He wants to give us all a “passing” grade, to render judgment that our mortal lives will continue without “pause,” but He requires itarutta d’l’tatta, an arousal from below. His Heavenly compassion is ready and waiting, but, unless we act in an inspiring manner, the compassion will not go into effect. We must show Hashem that we are compassionate, that we care about His children, that we overlook their errors, the hurt they have caused us; only then can we expect something in return.
There are two sides to every story, but, when we are upset, we see only our side of the story. We neither care nor want to hear the other person’s reasons for acting the way he did. Are we melamed z’chut, seek to justify another person’s actions, or do we criticize him as soon as we become his victim?
Shoftim v’shotrim titen lecha – “Judges shall you appoint for yourselves.” You can help judge your Heavenly decision by judging your fellow man in a positive light. By judging others favorably, you are, in turn, catalyzing your own favorable judgment. Indeed, the Baal Shem Tov writes that a person is judged by Heaven in accordance with the manner that he judges others. When his day of judgment arrives, he will be shown how he judged others. He will be judged equal with the way he judged others. When we view the actions of others and comment about it, we are actually rendering judgment – against/for ourselves. How we view them is how we will be judged. The Sfat Emet explains that this is the reason the Tanna in Pirkei Avot (1:6) says: Hevei dan et kol ha’adam l’kaf z’chut, “Judge everyone favorably.” Since when are we judges? Does our opinion of another person’s actions constitute a judgment? In essence, we are judging ourselves. How we perceive others will be used one day as the measuring stick for our own judgment.
The Tzror HaMor suggests that this pasuk is alluding to the requirement to introspect and judge oneself prior to rendering judgment concerning the actions of others. Titen lecha – (judge) yourself! Make sure that you are perfect, that you are faultless. Double standard judgment – whereby we see the faults of others, but remain oblivious to our own deficiencies (which are often worse than those of others) – is the natural perspective for many. I think the reason for this is simple. In order to see oneself, it is necessary to use a mirror. What we do not realize, explains the Baal Shem Tov, is that “mirror” reflects the actions of others. Hashem shows us the errors of others as a message: “That is you!” The actions of others, which “happen” to come to our attention, are done so by design. We are to recognize what others do, so that we realize that these shortcomings are ours. Whatever we see in others is a mirror image of our actions. How we judge them will reflect upon our own judgment.
A milkman and a baker would do business together. One day, the baker claimed that the milkman was cheating him (and others). Every day, he delivered a flask of milk that was supposed to weigh one kilogram, and, when he weighed it, it weighed only 900 grams. The judge felt that this was a legitimate accusation. Turning to the milkman, the judge asked, “Do you have a good scale?” “No,” replied the milkman. “So how do you weigh your products?” the judge asked. “I have a large board,” the milkman explained, “upon which I place the container of milk on one side.” “What do you place on the other side as a weight?” the judge asked. “Do you have a kilogram weight?” “No. I use the loaf of bread which I purchase from the baker as a kilogram of weight.” The milkman replied.
What a powerful story – but so very true. We often judge others by our standard, which, for the most part, is in and of itself flawed.
One more story. A man was having shalom bayit issues. He decided that he would purchase his wife a gift as a token of reconciliation. This would start them off on the path towards marital harmony. He began to think, “What is there which was practical and would have lasting meaning?” (Obviously, he realized that jewelry goes out of style with the whim of the moment.) One of the major areas of dispute between them was the fact that she ignored him. He felt that she was slowly becoming hard of hearing. Perhaps, he would buy her a state of the art hearing-aid. (Imagine bringing your wife a hearing aid and expect it to bolster shalom bayit!) He went to the store and explained his predicament to the owner. He wanted the finest hearing-aid. Money was no object.
“There are all types of hearing-aids,” the owner explained. “It all depends upon your wife’s level of hearing loss. If it is only from a distance, I would give you one type. If her loss is acute, I would give you a stronger one. Perhaps you could bring her in and I would measure her hearing to determine which hearing-aid is best suited for her.” “No,” the husband replied. “That will not work. This is supposed to be a surprise. She cannot come to the store.” “Then the only advice I can give you is that you measure her hearing loss by speaking to her from a distance and then moving closer and closer until you can determine when she begins to hear your voice,” the owner advised. “Great idea,” the man said, and he immediately proceeded home to “test” his wife’s hearing. At the bottom of the steps to his second floor apartment, he called out, “I am home. How are you?” – No answer. He went up part way on the steps and called out, “Hello. I came home early. What is for dinner?” – Once again, no answer. He entered the apartment and called out, “It is so good to be home. I am really looking forward to a great meal. What is for dinner?” – No answer. This was getting serious. Finally, he walked into the kitchen and almost yelled, “Hi. I am home. What are you cooking there?” This time, his wife “finally” answered, “Four times I told you hello and gave you tonight’s menu. How many times do you have to ask the same question?”
At that moment, it dawned on the husband that his wife did not have a hearing problem. He did!
It is so easy and so common to place our faults on someone else. Thus, the Torah tells us to judge yourself – first. The negativity you see across the table is a mirror image of your own shortcomings.
Rabbi A. L. Scheinbaum
It says in this week parsha “Who is the man who has built a new house and has not [yet] inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he dies in the war, and another man will inaugurate it. And who is the man who has planted a vineyard, and has not [yet] redeemed it? Let him go and return to his house, lest he dies in the war, and another man will redeem it. And who is the man who has betrothed a woman and has not [yet] taken her? Let him go and return to his house, lest he dies in the war, and another man will marry her (20:5-7) “
Rashi comments that the house builder is exempt because it would be heartbreaking if he were to die in battle and his unlived-in home would become the property of someone else. The same reasoning would apply to a newly planted vineyard and a newly engaged groom. The Ibn Ezra and Ramban explain on a more practical level that the three men that are mentioned in our passuk are exempt from fighting because their minds will be elsewhere and they will not be able to focus on the battle. Instead of thinking of war strategy, their minds will be on their new home, vineyard, or bride.
If we take a closer look at these halachot, we note that the Torah exempts a person who builds a home that is as small as 4×4 amot and has not yet lived in it from joining the war, because maybe he will die and another man will live in it. Let us contrast this minimum amount to someone who lives in a 14 bedroom home, with a three car garage and an Olympic sized swimming pool. To go along with his mansion, he also has a real estate portfolio that is the envy of the city. And yet, the Torah obligates him to fight, even if his death results in another man taking over his empire.
Similarly, a person that planted a few grape vines and has not yet reached the fourth year in which he would then be able to go up to Yerushalayim and eat them there for the very first time is exempt. On the other hand, the greatest wine baron with acres and acres of the world’s finest grapes, featuring Moscato, Bordeaux, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Chardonnay etc. is told that he must fight.
Finally, a newly engaged chatan, engaged to the very first girl that the shadchan mentions to him is exempt because he worries that someone else will marry her. However, a father of seven children receives no such consideration from the Torah. We do not look at his concern that someone else will marry his wife and raise his family in his place.
Rav Elyashiv zt”l (Divrei Agadah) wonders why there should be a difference in these cases, if at the end of the day, the distraction is at least the same if not much greater.
Rav Elyashiv answers that a person who has amassed a great amount of real estate or an owner of many wine estates does not specifically think about each property or vineyard that he owns. His main thoughts in battle will be focused on the war. However, a poor person who has gotten to the point where he is finally ready to move into his very own daled amos, a person that is starting out with just a vine or two, or a person who has never been married and has found his other half, cannot stop thinking about what would happen if he would lose his home, his wife, or his grapes. These people are not fit to fight a war. Their minds will be consumed with visions of their greatest aspirations being crushed should they not return. They have finally reached a moment in their lives that they can see their dreams becoming a reality and now they are faced with the possibility of watching the dreams slip between their fingers and completely shattering.
The Torah’s ways –דרכי דרכיה נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום are pleasant and will even take into account a person’s dreams, thus exempting these people from battle. How much more so must we take care not to ever belittle someone’s idea or stand in the way of someone’s hope.
By: R’ Mordechai Appel
Mrs. Sandelson was teaching her first grade class about saying berachot (blessings) and davening (praying).
“For example children,” said Mrs. Sandelson “Before we go to sleep we should sing shema. Who here says their prayers at night?”
Little Moishie Brown answered, “My mommy says my prayers.”
“I see,” said Mrs. Sandelson. “And what does your mother say?”
Moishie replied, “THANK GOD HE’S IN BED!”
1st/2nd aliyot: Moshe details the most important characteristics of a Judge: the ability to remain objective and the strength to refuse bribery. The singular focus of the Shofet must be to carry out the will of G-d as detailed in the Halacha. Nothing must deter him in carrying out his mission of justice. Idolatrous practices must be eradicated and punished. Idol worship represents the greatest perversion of justice by replacing divine justice with human failings and desires. The Sanhedrin is our direct link with divine intent, and as stated in Pasuk 17:11, we view the rulings and interpretations of the Supreme Court as G-dly directives. Our Monarch must be selected for his unyielding commitment to G-d, Torah, and the people. This is why he must write his own Sefer Torah and carry it with him at all times. He must be first and foremost a Shofet, a Judge.
3rd/4th Aliyot: Moshe again addressed the place of the tribe of Levi, reemphasizing the care and attention due to them by the rest of the nation. They are our teachers. Without their instruction we will neither understand nor be able to properly apply justice.
5th Aliya: For justice to exist, it must be accepted as a divine ruling.Only G-d’s justice can be trusted to take into account all variables and possibilities. Moshe instructed his nation regarding the true Navi – prophet and the false prophet. No other forms of divination can be used to ascertain G-d’s justice, and all false prophets and methods of divination must be destroyed. The value of human life is determined by our system of justice, and Moshe reviewed the laws of the unintentional killing in contrast with the intentional murder.
6th/7th Aliyot: The end of Parshas Shoftim discusses both proper and false witnesses, as well as the Torah’s approach to warfare. It may be that the judicial quality of a nation can be ultimately assessed by its behavior during war, more so than during times of peace. The Parsha concludes with the unique mitzvah of the Eglah Arufa and the process through which the community takes responsibility for the unsolved murders. This ceremony, which reflects the priceless value of life, might be the most eloquent expression of G-d’s judicial system.
A Promise to the Yeshiva’s Cook
That night there were only three students learning in the Bais Midrash of the great Chevron Yeshivah in Yerushalayim. Only three? Where were the hundreds of young men who were usually absorbed in Torah study – arguing, gesticulating, debating…? They were attending the wedding of one of the yeshivah’s outstanding students which was taking place in another city.
The three stayed behind so that the light of Torah should not be extinguished for even one night. The shrill ring of the telephone shattered the quiet of the night. The three yeshiva students chose to ignore the loud ringing of the phone in the yeshivah office.
But when it rang incessantly for the third time, with no less than twenty rings each call, they felt it must be an urgent matter. It was. Shaarei Tzedek Hospital was calling to inform the yeshivah that Mrs. Minna, the yeshivah’s cook, had just passed away. Arrangements had to be made for the funeral.
A childless widow, Mrs. Minna had poured her entire soul into the food she cooked for the yeshivah boys, treating them as she would have her own children. The labor of her heart and hands helped to assuage her loneliness and bitter fate. But even more so, the promise, nay the guarantee, of the Rosh Yeshivah, R’ Yechezkel Sarna, alleviated her anguish.
R’ Sarna had promised that at her funeral, hundreds of Bnei Torah would accompany her to her final resting place. She held fast to this promise and her belief in R’ Sarna’s words breathed strength and comfort into her bitter life. And everyone knew of this promise, because Mrs. Minna would speak of it often.
But now, at 9:00 pm, it seemed that Mrs. Minna would have to be buried with the promise unfulfilled. The yeshivah students would not return for at least three more hours and one cannot leave a body unburied overnight in Yerushalayim. The three students rushed to R’ Zvi Pesach Frank, Rav of Yerushalayim, and explained the entire situation. He ruled that the funeral must take place immediately with a small minyan, and should not be delayed until morning.
Before the three ran over to the hospital to make the arrangements, they first returned to the yeshivah to close the lights and lock up the Beis Medrash. Just then they heard the shrill ringing of the phone. It was the hospital again. It seems that a few hours ago, Mrs. Minna’s vital signs had been checked numerous times and since there had been no heartbeat or breathing and her blood pressure had plummeted to zero, she had been declared dead.
Now there was an uproar in the hospital. The “dead” Mrs. Minna was moving under the sheet and she was pulling it down, away from her face, her eyes wide open! The hospital staff was shocked! It was unmistakable techiyas hamaysim! They were calling now to inform the yeshivah. The three students were relieved, and happily returned to their studies.
The next morning, when the entire yeshivah had already returned from the wedding, the hospital called to inform the yeshivah that Mrs. Minna had indeed passed away. At midday, hundreds of yeshivah students respectfully followed Mrs. Minna on her final journey, in perfect fulfillment of R’ Yechezkel Sarna’s promise, in which she had believed with her entire heart and soul. (Tales for the Soul)