Pick Your Judge
Volume 26, No. 43
Our parashah opens: “Judges and officers you shall appoint in all your
cities -- which Hashem, your G-d, gives you -- for your tribes; and they
shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” Additional laws regarding
the conduct and duties of these judges also are found in our parashah.
The midrash states: “Rabbi Eliezer says, ‘Where there is judgment, there is
no judgment. Where there is no judgment, there is judgment.’ How so? Said
Rabbi Eliezer, ‘If judgment is performed below, it will not have to be
performed above. If judgment is not performed below, it will have to be
On its simplest level, this midrash is informing us of the importance of
setting up courts. If mankind judges and punishes wrongdoers and protects
victims and the oppressed, G-d will not have to do so. However, observes R’
Chaim Yaakov Goldvicht z”l (rosh yeshiva of Yeshivat Kerem B’Yavneh), there
is another message here, as follows:
When Hashem judges an individual, it is not to punish or hurt him, but
rather to notify him that he needs to improve. Nevertheless, these
notifications from G-d can sometimes seem like “punishments,” and we would
prefer to avoid them. The midrash tells us how. If each person judges
himself honestly and acts on his findings, he will not need to be judged
above. However, if there is no judgment below, if man does not judge
himself, he will have to be judged above. (Asufot Ma’arachot: Devarim p.144)
“There shall not be found among you . . . one who practices divinations, an
astrologer, one who reads omens, a sorcerer; or an animal charmer, one who
inquires of Ov or Yidoni, or one who consults the dead. . . You shall be
wholehearted with Hashem, your Elokim.” (18:10-11, 13)
R’ Moshe ben Maimon z”l (Rambam / Maimonides; 1135-1204) writes: “All of
these things [that our verse prohibits] are lies and hoaxes; they are
deceptions that the early idolators used to ensnare followers. Thus, it is
not befitting Yisrael, a wise people, to follow such nonsense or even
consider for a moment that these things have utility. . . Anyone who
believes in these and similar things and says that they are real, but the
Torah prohibited them, is nothing but a fool. Wise men and men of full
understanding, on the other hand, know with certainty that these things are
not matters of wisdom, but only nonsense that those lacking in intelligence
follow.” (Hil. Avodah Zarah 11:16)
R’ Moshe ben Nachman z”l (Ramban; 1194-1270) disagrees. He writes: Know
that the Creator made the “upper” creations rulers over the “lower”
creations below them, and He placed the earth under the dominion of the
stars and the constellations, as is tried and true, based on the
observations of astrologers. All of the stars and constellations have
angels that are their “life force.” However, they have no separate will;
rather, they operate in accordance with G-d’s design of the world. . .
Ramban continues: There are those who, in their righteousness, deny the
reality of these things. However, we cannot deny what our eyes have seen
and what our Sages have told us in the Gemara and midrashim. . . Rather,
the Torah is teaching us here that if we do His will, we will have no need
to seek our fortunes elsewhere, for example, from astrologers. If we are
“wholehearted with Hashem,” we will have prophets and the kohen gadol with
the urim v’tumim to tell us everything we need to know about the future.
(Peirush Ha’Ramban Al Ha’Torah)
R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch z”l (Germany; 1808-1888) wrote in a letter: “Who
dares to thrust his head between the two great mountains, the Rambam and the
Ramban, whose views on this subject have split the worlds. You must admit
that your suggestion – that Rambam really shares the view of Ramban and
wrote what he wrote merely for the unlearned – is untenable, for he is very
explicit in his abuse of those [he considers] foolish enough not to consider
magic as absolute nonsense. . . It follows, therefore, that an intelligent
person may have in such matters either point of view, without detracting
from the other, or – and in my opinion this is the correct way – he may
acknowledge ignorance in such matters.
. . . Knowledge of such things is of no help or benefit in our task on earth
to heed the words of the Torah and to observe the Divine laws. Whoever does
not engage in such speculations and remains ignorant of such matters is none
the worse off. What practical difference does it make whether Rambam or
Ramban is correct about magic and related matters? In any event, we must
keep away from these practices, no matter whether they are illusory or have
some substance to them. G-d has declared them abominable, and a responsible
and moral person ignores them and does not allow himself to become tainted
by that which G-d has declared repugnant. (Collected Writings Vol. IX p.206)
From the Haftarah . . .
“Anochi, Anochi / It is I, it is I, Who comforts you.” (Yeshayah 51:12)
Why is the word “Anochi” repeated? R’ Yaakov Chaim Katz shlita (Brooklyn,
N.Y.) suggests: “Anochi” alludes to the Luchot that we received at Har Sinai
(since that was the first word on the tablets). Lest we lose hope of ever
being forgiven and of ever having the Bet Hamikdash rebuilt, Hashem tells
us: Just as there was a second “Anochi,” i.e., just as I gave you another
chance after you sinned and caused the Luchot to be broken, so I will give
you another chance to have the Bet Hamikdash.
“The voice of your lookouts, they have raised a voice, together shall they
sing glad song, for every eye shall see when Hashem returns to Zion.”
The Gemara (Berachot 12b) teaches that the Exodus must be remembered every
day and that, even after mashiach has come, we still will remember the
Exodus. R’ Yitzchak Isaac Chaver z”l (1789-1852; rabbi of Suvalk,
Lithuania) explains: The Exodus is the foundation of our emunah, for it was
then that the Chosen Nation was imbued with the spiritual attributes that
are passed down from generation to generation. Even in times of exile, some
“impression” from that influence can be seen.
In particular, at the time of the Exodus we became a nation with which
Hashem interacts directly, outside of the laws of nature. This relationship
is, for the most part, hidden now, but, at the time of the future
redemption, it will be obvious; “for every eye shall see when Hashem returns
to Zion.” (Haggadah Shel Pesach Yad Mitzrayim: Potei’ach Yad)
R’ Yaakov Filber shlita (one of the leading interpreters of the writings of
R’ Avraham Yitzchak Hakohen Kook z”l) writes in his introduction to the
latter’s work on teshuvah that the chassidic rebbe, R’ Zusia of Annipol z”l
(died 1800), is reported to have said:
The word “Teshuvah” (תשובה) is an acronym for the following injunctions:
- “You shall be wholehearted (תמים) with Hashem, your G-d” (Devarim
- “I have set (שויתי) Hashem before me always” (Tehilim 16:8);
- “You shall love (ואהבת) your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18);
- “In all (בכל) your ways, know him” (Mishlei 3:6); and
- “Walk humbly (הצנע) with your G-d” (Michah 6:8). (Be’urim U’mekorot
L’orot Ha’teshuvah p.30)
“A Call to the Student”
In honor of the start of the new school year in most yeshivot and schools,
we present below the inspirational opening lines from Chovat Ha’talmidim, by
R’ Klonimus Kalman Shapira z”l Hy”d, chassidic rebbe of Piasetzno, Poland.
That work is devoted to providing both encouragement and practical advice to
yeshiva students and educators.
Throughout R’ Shapira’s career as a chassidic rebbe and rosh yeshiva, young
people found in him an especially understanding figure. During the
Holocaust, R’ Shapira gave strength and encouragement to thousands in the
Warsaw ghetto. A fragment of his teachings from that period are recorded in
Eish Kodesh, a collection of derashot that he delivered in the ghetto to
uplift the spirits of his brethren. He also left behind other works. R’
Shapira survived the Warsaw ghetto uprising, but was killed in Treblinka on
4 Cheshvan 5704 (November 1943).
“Fortunate you are, youth of Yisrael, and praiseworthy is your lot, [for]
you have merited to study the Torah, Hashem’s light.
You have risen to the status of one with whom Hashem passes the time, the
one whom He loves.
Angels above are envious of you; they also hold you dear.
Seraphim will wonder about you [i.e., how a human can achieve such
holiness], and they will honor you.
The heavens and their hosts, the earth and all that is in it, will rejoice,
and they will subdue themselves before you. They ask each other, ‘Who is
this young man from whose lips pillars of fire burn, in whom the Master of
all worlds, lofty above all lofty things, takes pride before the multitudes
of His servants, and with whom He rejoices’?”
The editors hope these brief 'snippets' will engender further study
and discussion of Torah topics ('lehagdil Torah u'leha'adirah'), and
your letters are appreciated. Web archives at Torah.org start with 5758 (1997) and
may be retrieved from the Hamaayan page.
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