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Posted on August 7, 2013 (5773) By Rabbi Yissocher Frand | Series: | Level:

Parshas Shoftim

Appointing An Unworthy Judge = Planting An Ashera: Why?

These divrei Torah were adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Tapes on the weekly portion: Tape # 910 – Business Competition – Assur or Mutar. Good Shabbos!

Parshas Shoftim begins with the laws of the Jewish Court. “Judges and policemen you shall place in all your gates and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.” [Devorim 16:18] The judges are prohibited from corrupting justice and from showing favoritism. Immediately after these laws directed at the judges, the Torah introduces the prohibition of planting an Ashera tree next to the altar of G-d in the courtyard of the Temple.

The incongruousness of this juxtaposition jumps right out at us. What does planting a tree worshipped as idolatry have to do with judges? The Talmud makes an inference from this juxtaposition: Anyone who appoints an unworthy judge is as if he planted an Ashera tree. [Sanhedrin 7b] The Sefer Ner Uziel (from Rav Uziel Malevsky, z”l) explains this message: The Ashera tree represents nature and the god that people make out of nature.

Today we are all familiar with the environmental movement. I am not here to debunk them and to say that everything they say is crazy. We do have to worry about the planet and we are charged “to work it and to guard it”. [Bereishis 2:15] However, as with all of these movements it is possible to go too far. There are indeed people who have gone too far and have turned Nature into an Avodah Zarah (foreign worship).

We look at ancient times and we hear about people who worshipped inanimate objects of nature and we comment how silly they were. But today we also have people who worship nature and who put a premium on nature even above human life. There are people in Oregon who pound metal stakes into trees so that when loggers attempt to cut them down, they will be killed. How do we refer to these environmentalists who have gone beyond the pale? They are called “tree huggers”. This is because trees are a beautiful example of the perfection of nature.

My wife and I took a little vacation one summer to Yosemite National Park. We saw the Sequoia trees there. Some of these trees are 300 feet tall. They are amazing and they are breathtaking. Some of these trees are 3000 years old! This is mind boggling. The trees are awe-inspiring. But they are after all just trees. They are not G-d.

This is what Ashera represents — the laws of nature. One of the most basic laws of nature is survival of the fittest. The animals that survive are the most fit, the mightiest.

The laws of Tzedek [justice] on the other hand, are the polar opposite of that. When two people come before a judge and one is a powerful man in the city and the other person is a poor beggar, we do not apply the principle of the survival of the fittest. We say “Do not show favoritism in judgment.” Even though it might cost the judge in personal terms to rule against the wealthy person, in the eyes of Tzedek, survival of the fittest does not count, but rather the survival of the person who is right counts.

Appointing an inappropriate judge who will show favoritism to the powerful and mighty and wealthy is in effect putting the laws of nature — the laws of the survival of the fittest — into the Court room. That is why he is equivalent to one who plants an Ashera tree. He is corrupting the principle of justice which is that might is not right, right is right!

The Quality Of Being A Fighter Does Not Pass Through Genes

The Torah tells us of the special Kohen (Mashuach Milchama), anointed specifically for service in time of war, who served in the role as the chief chaplain of the Jewish army. Before they would go into battle, he would give the people a “shmooze”. He would encourage them and try to build up their spirits. This Kohen has special laws and has an interesting halachic anomaly. Normally when a Kohen is the High Priest (Kohen Gadol), his son will automatically inherit that position, assuming he is worthy of it. This is not the case with the Kohen anointed for war. When he dies or retires, his son has no claim whatsoever to the job.

This is an exception to the normal rule that positions of authority pass down to the next generation following the laws of inheritance. Rav Moshe Shternbach suggests a reason for this exception in the case of Kohen Mashuach Milchama.

Rav Shternbach states that the Kohen anointed for war has to be a warrior. He must be a fighter. People on the verge of battle are scared. He must get up there and show bravery and fearlessness. He must instill within them the spirit to fight. This is a special talent that does not pass in genes to the next generation. It may be that wisdom passes in genes, perhaps even fear of G-d passes in genes, but the characteristic of being a warrior does not pass through one’s genes.

Rav Shternbach supports this idea by telling over the following incident that happened with the Chofetz Chaim. I cannot vouch for the details of this story. I read it in a book. One should not extrapolate from it to other situations on a practical basis. But the story is as follows.

There was a community whose Rabbi died. The Kehilla wanted to take another Talmud Chochom as their next Rabbi, passing over the former Rabbi’s son. The son was not as great a scholar as the other candidate, but he was certainly fit for the position.

A bitter fight broke out between the family of the previous rabbi and the Kehilla. The dispute was brought before the Chofetz Chaim. The Chofetz Chaim ruled that the Kehilla was right. Even though in Halacha it is brought down that under such circumstances the son inherits the father’s position of rabbinic leadership, this Halacha was said — the Chofetz Chaim argued — when the job of the Rav was to pasken shaylos, to give a Teshuva Drasha and a Shabbos HaGadol Drasha twice a year, and to sit and learn and maybe give Torah classes. Today (already in his time), he said, the job of a Rabbi has changed. Today the Rav has to be a fighter, a warrior. There are so many anti-Torah forces out there, that the community needs someone who has the ability and capacity to stand up and fight. In this particular situation the other candidate had those qualities and not the Rabbi’s son.

Therefore, the Chofetz Chaim said, just as the law is that the son of the Kohen anointed for war did not inherit his father’s position because one needs a special person to go out to the battle field and rally the troops for waging war, so too in this case. Every Rav is a Mashuach Milchama as well!

This week’s write-up is adapted from the hashkafa portion of Rabbi Yissocher Frand’s Commuter Chavrusah Torah Tapes on the weekly Torah portion. A listing of the halachic portions for Parshas Shoftim from the Commuter Chavrusah Series is provided below:

Tape # 019 – Copying Cassette Tapes
Tape # 109 – Hasogas G’vul: Infringing on Another’s Livelihood
Tape # 155 – Ba’al Tashchis: Cutting Down That Troublesome Tree
Tape # 202 – Melech v’lo Malkah: A Jewish Queen?
Tape # 249 – May A Daughter Say Kaddish?
Tape # 338 – Relying on a Goral
Tape # 383 – Circumstantial Evidence
Tape # 426 – The Mitzvah of Escorting Guests
Tape # 470 – May a Convict Escape?
Tape # 514 – Can a Ger Be a Rosh Yeshiva?
Tape # 558 – Competition Among Teachers
Tape # 602 – Saying Kaddish for 12 Months
Tape # 646 – Cutting Branches of Fruit Trees
Tape # 690 – The Grandson and Kaddish
Tape # 734 – Making a Bracha on a New House
Tape # 778 – “I’m Bar Mitzvah” – Do We Believe Him?
Tape # 822 – Making a Chanukas Habayis for a New Home
Tape # 866 – Saying Yizkor During the First Year
Tape # 910 – Business Competition Asur or Mutar
Tape # 954 – Visiting The Sphinx in Egypt−Is It Permitted?
Tape # 997 – Finding Out The Future: Mutar or Asur?
Tape # 1041 – Finding Out If “It” is a Boy or Girl? A Good Idea?
Tape # 1085 – Killing Innocent Civilians During Times of War
Tape # 1128 – Getting Undeserved Kavod – How Honest Must You Be?

Tapes or a complete catalogue can be ordered from the Yad Yechiel Institute, PO Box 511, Owings Mills MD 21117-0511. Call (410) 358-0416 or e-mail [email protected] or visit for further information.

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