By Rabbi Pinchas Winston
"Judges and officers you shall have in all your gates ... "
These are the opening words of this week's parsha, which contains
many mitzvos, including the mitzvah to appoint a king. However, the very
first mitzvah is the one to establish a Torah-based legal system to maintain
Though this mitzvah comes late in the Torah, its importance and
centrality should not be underestimated. The Talmud states that when judges
sit and judicate fairly, the Divine Presence comes down to join their court,
so-to-speak. When judges act corruptly, then they "push" the Divine Presence
away, which is tantamount to single-handedly causing exile (exile can be
defined as the inability of the Jewish people to sense the Divine Presence).
Indeed, the Talmud states that it is such corruption that brings suffering
to the Jewish nation as a whole (Shabbos 139a), and which must vanish before
Moshiach will come.
The Torah then goes on to admonish the judges of Israel to not
favor either the defendant or the claimant. This of course means not taking
a bribe, even if taken to judge the case truthfully, for Torah-judgment must
be totally objective and therefore above ANY outside influences. This is
why, according to the Talmud, many rabbis of the past excused themselves
from cases after benefiting, even inadvertently, and in a small way, from
one of the parties involved in the case they were scheduled to try. (One
case involved a delivery boy, who, the day before his case was to be heard,
delivered, as usual, one of the judges groceries. Nevertheless, the judge
dismissed himself from sitting on that case.)
An interesting point to raise is that, as common as jail is in
Western Society today, often used as the punishment for breaking the law, it
is not a familiar concept in Jewish law. Any type of jail mentioned in the
Torah usually was only used a "holding place" for the accused until his
sentence could be determined and carried out. It seems that jail, from the
Torah's perspective, is not a viable and effective deterrent of crime,
either from a disciplinary-rehabilitation point of view, or a financial one.
The truth is, one would think that a Torah-based society would not
need a system of courts and judges. One might assume that adherence to Torah
perfects the character to such an extent that breaking the law is never a
real possibility, except, perhaps, inadvertently. But the Torah is telling
us in this week's parsha that even in the best of times Torah is not enough
to cleanse the person so that they are free of the effects of the yetzer
hara-something which is only really achieved through death. This is why it
is almost impossible to judge Torah today by those who try to observe it.
Torah helps us to realign our way of thinking to match G-d's, and to
refine our intentions. However, the impact of eating from the Tree of
Knowledge of Good and Evil was to absorb the effects of the snake, which
left us with plenty of pride and too much desire. The rest is history, and
what a history it has been!
Thus this mitzvah to "keep the peace" is a reminder of what society
ought to be, but isn't. Nevertheless, it is also a mitzvah that alludes to
what life WILL be like once Moshiach arrives, a time when there will be NO
need whatsoever for judges and police. Once the veil of nature lifts and the
master plan of creation is revealed to all, then the yetzer hara will no
longer have a say in the affairs of men. Like other mitzvos in the time of
Moshiach, the mitzvah to appoint judges and police will become irrelevant.
However, until such time, it remains for us to rise to heights of
spiritual greatness, in order to battle the yetzer hara in the great
struggle over control of our minds. And, in the meantime, just as the nation
has a mitzvah to appoint judges and police, so too does every individual
have a mitzvah to be a judge over his or her own life, and to police his or
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
As I write this parsha sheet, the month of Elul begins. As many may
already know, the word Elul is said to be an acronym for the words: ani
ledodi v'dodi li-I am to my beloved and my beloved is to me-words that come
from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs). According to tradition, it is in this
month right before Rosh Hashanah that G-d "descends" to make it easier for
us to reach out to Him in advance of the Day of Judgment, as an act of love
for His people.
However, beginning from the month of Elul up until the day before
Rosh Hashanah (and not including Shabbos), we also blow the shofar.
According to the Rambam (Maimonides) we do this also to prepare ourselves
for the Day of Judgment, to awaken us from the spiritual "slumber" into
which we have descended. Hence, from the beginning of Elul, we experience
two very different but simultaneous spiritual environments-one
mercy-oriented, and the other, judgment-based.
This might seem somewhat strange. How can a person both feel the
fear of someone, and yet the love of that person at the SAME time? Don't
parents and children struggle with this very question? Usually it is the
parent's anger that disciplines the child, expressing to the child the
parent's serious perspective on a serious situation. But does the child feel
the love of that parent at THAT time? Likewise, when the parent is in a
loving and light mood, does the child feel the parent's sense of
The answer to this question is the make-up of what it means to be a
"good" parent, one whose life's goal it is to produce not just good
children, but great adults, and we learn this from G-d Himself.
For WHOM is the judgment? For G-d? Of course not. It is for us. We
need judgment, and especially G-d's, for it is HIS judgment that awakens us
to the true meaning of life, which energizes us to understand and utilize
our potential. This is one of the reasons why we dress up in our Yom Tov
clothing for Rosh Hashanah and dine on an elaborate feast, even though the
value of our lives is in the balance. In this fashion, we express our
appreciation for G-d's concern about the direction we have taken in life.
G-d's judgment is a gift to us, something that only comes as a
result of His deep and eternal love for us. It is an expression of His
commitment to our success as individuals, and as a nation as whole.
Realizing and living with this love is the first and most important step to
doing lasting tshuva (repentance), something for which the world was
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Returning to the parsha, we come across the mitzvah to appoint a
king over the Jewish nation. In fact, says the Talmud, there were three
mitzvos incumbent upon the Jewish people upon conquering and settling the
land of Canaan: appoint a king, wipe out the seed of Amalek, and build the
We can understand why the Torah is insistent upon wiping out
Amalek, whom we have spoken about in previous weeks. Amalek is the
antithesis of the Jewish people, and therefore our mortal and spiritual
nemesis. As Hitler (may his memory be blotted out forever) himself said,
"Where the Jews stand, I cannot stand, and where I stand, they cannot
stand." Spoken like a true Amalekian ...
We can also appreciate why building the Temple was such a priority.
After all, it was the lack of Temple (Tabernacle) that led many in the
desert to participate in the building of the golden calf at Mt. Sinai.
People, it seems historically, require a PHYSICAL place of SPIRITUAL
worship. To at least save the future generations from following in the ways
of their ancestors, a Temple was crucial as a central place of Jewish
However, why is the appoint of a king so crucial, especially since
the Jewish people didn't get around to doing so until some 390 years after
entering the Land-and which when they did Shmuel the prophet, and even G-d
called it a rejection Himself and His prophet!
Monarchy is nice, but is it essential?
There are many points to consider when answering this question.
However, for the sake of this discussion, we'll focus on one point, which is
alluded to by the Hebrew word for king itself: melech.
According to the Kabbalists, the word melech (mem-lamed-chof)
alludes to three words: moach (brain), leiv (heart), and kaveid (liver), a
system of blood-refinement. It is the liver's role to refine the blood
before sending it on to the heart to nourish it and the rest of the body; it
is the heart's responsibility to further refine the blood before sending it
to sustain the brain. This process, the Kabbalists say, also refers to a
process of intellectual and spiritual refinement.
Every idea we are confronted by possesses depth and nuances not
readily discernible from the start. One must constantly "turn" the idea over
and over, and intellectually peer into it for more insight, and even more
insight. Sometimes just thinking about the idea during a time of crisis, or
a placid moment, yields previously undetected insights, which can have
dramatic impact on life and the world itself.
This is also the role of the king. It was the king's role, among his
many other responsibilities, to act as a foil for his people, as a kind of
spiritual "mirror" for the nation in very much the same way the Torah does.
In this way, the people can constantly aspire for higher plateaus of
spiritual perfection. This is the way the king becomes a true servant of the
people, and the people, true servants of the King of Kings, G-d Himself.
Perhaps this is alluded to by the word "melech" itself, which, when
the order of its letters are switched around spells the world "lachem"
(lamed-chof-mem), which means "to you." It is as to say that the king is
meant to be a reflection of the people and their desire to reach spiritual
This is why G-d was angered by the Jewish people's request for
their first king, which was taken as a rejection of spiritual growth. The
Jewish people at that time had not requested a spiritual "mirror," but a
flesh-and-blood individual who would take over their spiritual
responsibilities, and free them from the demands of being a holy nation, and
children of G-d. But that's not what Jewish monarchy is all about.
Hence, the Jewish people had not been ready for a king at the time
they had asked for one. Perhaps this is why the name of the first king was
Shaul, which means "borrowed." G-d relented to their request for a king, but
He had only "lent" them one in the interim, until they deserved the true
king of Israel, Dovid HaMelech. Likewise, perhaps it is a lack of desire on
our part to accept and manage our own spiritual responsibilities that denies
us our king, Moshiach himself.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
The [need for the] Eglah Arufah is only because of stinginess
(tzoras ayin), as it says,
The mitzvah of the Eglah Arufah, the calf whose neck was to be
broken when a dead body was found outside of a city and the murderer was not
known. The procedure was that five members of the Sanhedrin went out and
measured from the place that the corpse had been found, in order to
ascertain the closest city.
answer and say, 'Our hands did not spill this blood.' " (Devarim
21:7). (Sota 38b)
They measured from the nose of the body (the place through which the
soul was breathed into the first man). Then the elders of the closest city
decapitated the calf, and washing their hands in a strongly flowing river,
recited, "Our hands did not spill ..."
The Talmud says that such a devastating tragedy befell a town for
not properly showing its wayfarers the proper amount of hospitality, for
tzaros ayin-for a "tight" eye. However, at this point, whenever we come
across any mention of ayin, we know that it has to do with vision,
specifically the vision of the mind's eye. The Eglah Arufah came to
counteract the blindness of the spiritual, mind's eye.
Which blindness? Whose blindness?
A beautiful CALF is Egypt ... (Yirmiyah 46:20)
It was the physically-oriented and limited Egyptian outlook
(symbolized by the calf) that remained in the psyche of the collective
Jewish mind that led to the accidental death. Caring more about themselves
than about wayfarers, the townspeople allowed the visitor to leave their
city unattended and vulnerable to the negative nd dangerous forces of the
Furthermore, the word arufah (ayin-reish-peh-heh) can also be
arranged to spell the name Paroah (peh-reish-ayin-heh), the infamous ruler
of Egypt and main antagonist in the Pesach story. Paroah was the very
embodiment of this philosophy and attitude toward life and other people.
Hence, the message is clear: selfishness and self-centeredness is
not merely a bad character trait; it is a return to Egyptian oppression, at
least on a spiritual level. It is also the undoing of the Jewish people, and
can lead to horrible and irretractable results. On the other hand, it is
selflessness and a sense of chesed that builds the person and society, and
which forms the basis of Torah itself. For, as Hillel told the inquiring
potential convert who asked about the contents of Torah:
"Don't do unto others as you would not like others to do unto you.
The rest is commentary- now
go and learn!" (Shabbos 31a)
And, in the words of the great Rebi Akiva: Love your neighbor as
yourself is a very important principle of Torah!
Not only is it important, but a very difficult one to fulfill.
After all, if loving one's neighbor like himself was so natural, would the
Torah command it?
Have a great Shabbos,
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston
and Project Genesis, Inc.
Rabbi Winston is a teacher and author of many books on Jewish philosophy
(hashkofa). If you enjoy Rabbi Winston's Perceptions on the
Parsha, you may enjoy many of his books.
Copyright © 1995-1998
Project Genesis, Inc.
6810 Park Heights Ave.
Baltimore, MD 21215
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