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Rabbi Doniel Staum - Parshas Shoftim 5772 "The Other Guy"
by Rabbi Doniel Staum, LMSW

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Rabbi Yisroel Klein was a saintly Jew from Yerushalayim who passed away in his mid 80’s. While the family was sitting shiva, a steady stream of visitors came to pay their respects to Rabbi Klein. One night during shiva a man quietly walked into the room and sat down next to the mourners. He waited to be acknowledged and then told the mourners the following story.

“I was a young man - perhaps sixteen years old, when I was deported to Auschwitz. I was starving and practically delirious. I was rummaging through the garbage heaps searching and hoping for a morsel of food. After a short while I realized that my search was in vain and I was terrified that I would die from hunger. Then I saw another man, who was slightly older than I was, also searching. He came over to me and asked me what I was looking for. When I begged him for some food he replied that he too was searching for food but had not been able to find any. Then he walked over to me and embraced me. He looked at me with loving eyes and said, “This is what I can give you. I can give you a hug because you are a Jew and I love you and you must remember that Hashem loves you just because you are a Jew.”

The man dabbed at his eyes as he continued. “After the war I went through many difficult times and my religious convictions teetered. But I always remembered that hug and the warm words that that man said to me. Eventually I moved to Eretz Yisroel and I remained religious until today because of him. Today I came today to pay my respects to your father for that hug![1]

In parshas Mishpatim the Torah instructs that there had to be courts to resolve disputes[2]. In Parshas Shoftim the Torah gives a formal command that such courts be established in every city of Eretz Yisroel. In addition, the Torah requires the appointing of officers of the court who have the responsibility to enforce the rulings and decisions of the judges.

“Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities- which Hashem, your G-d, gives you – for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment… Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.[3]” Rashi comments, “It is worthwhile for you to appoint valid judges that will give life to Klal Yisroel and return them to their homeland.” What is the connection between maintaining a judicial system, our posterity, and returning to Eretz Yisroel?

The preceding parsha, Parshas Re’eh, concludes with a discussion of the three pilgrimage festivals, Pesach, Shavuos, and Succos. That too needs to be understood; what is the connection between the celebration of the festivals and the enactment of a judicial system?

In Parshas Yisro the Torah records that Moshe told Yisro, “When they have a matter, one comes to me, and I judge between a man and his fellow, and I make known the decrees of G-d and His teachings.[4]” Ohel Yaakov explains that there are two distinct forms of cases that can be presented in court for litigation. The first is the classic dispute between two individuals. One party claims that something belongs to him while the other claims that it belongs to him. Or one person claims that the second person owes him money and the other denies it, etc. The second category of cases is when the opposite occurs. Two individuals enter the court both claiming that something belongs to the other.

The Medrash[5] relates such a vignette about two men – Reuven and Shimon - who had a dispute over a small treasure. Reuven sold a piece of property to Shimon. Shortly after, Shimon discovered a small fortune hidden away on the property. Reuven adamantly claimed that Shimon had purchased the land and everything on it and, therefore, the fortune belonged to him. Shimon countered that he feared transgressing the prohibition of stealing and, therefore, Reuven had to take the treasure since he was unaware of it when he sold the land. Since he was unaware of it, there is no way he could have intended to include it in the transaction.

The Ohel Yaakov continues that there is a difference between the adjudication in these two types of cases. In the former case where both sides claim ownership, both parties will need to be present in court to present their claims and ensure that a fair trial is held. However, in the latter case where the paramount concern of both parties is to determine the truth, only one person needs to be present in court to state what transpired. If the true goal is to ascertain who the rightful owner is we need not be afraid that the presenter of the case will skew or misrepresent the events.

It is about this second form of litigation that Moshe was referring to. “When they have a matter, one comes to me”. In other words, since they are dedicated to discovering the truth only one member of the dispute need appear before me, “and I judge between a man and his fellow, and I make known the decrees of G-d and His teachings.”

The Yitav Lev utilizes this idea to explain the opening pasuk of Parshas Shoftim. The literal translation of the pasuk reads, “Judges and officers shall be given to you…” In other words, the judge shall be given to you – an individual. If you present your case because you want to know if the blessing that Hashem, your G-d, has given to you, truly belongs to you or if it really belongs to another member of your tribe, then - when one’s concern is that, “they shall judge the people with righteous judgment,” it is deemed a virtuous court. Such a case seeks truth not merely validation.

The Bayrach Moshe[6], explains that when the Torah instructs about the celebration of the holidays, it mentions a specific commandment, (16:11) “You shall rejoice before Hashem, your G-d - you, your son, your daughter, your slave, your maidservant, the Levite who is in your cities, the proselyte, the orphan, and the widow who are among you – in the place that Hashem, your G-d, will choose to rest His Name.” Rashi notes that the Torah lists eight categories of people that a Jew should include in his own joy; four of them are poor and four are members of his own household. G-d says, “Your four, i.e. those of your household, correspond to My four, i.e. the poor. If you gladden my four, I will gladden your four.”

The Torah is teaching us that one of the main purposes of a holiday is to promote unity and love among Klal Yisroel. Every Jew has a responsibility to contemplate the plight of his brethren and to do all he is able to ensure that his fellow Jew enjoys the holiday as well.

This is the connection between the festivals and the judicial system. If Klal Yisroel observes the holidays properly by adhering to the spirit of the law and assisting their fellow Jews, then they will develop a sense of unity. Such feelings will breed a desire to ensure the welfare of others which will cause the court-cases that follow to be of the latter nature, wherein the litigants pursue truth. “Judges and officers shall be given to you”, i.e. one litigant will be sufficient.

With this in mind we can understand the depth of Rashi’s words. “It is worthwhile for you to appoint valid judges that will give life to Klal Yisroel and return them to their homeland.” The Mishnah[7] states, “Jealousy, desire, and honor take a person out of this world”. Also, the Gemara[8] writes that because of the sins of jealousy and enmity our forefathers were exiled from their homeland and our Bais Hamikdash was destroyed.” Therefore, when we promote love and unity for each other, as is demonstrated by the proper observance of the holidays, and we enact a judicial system devoted to the pursuit of truth, it will grant life to Klal Yisroel, because it will mitigate the selfish pursuit of jealousy, desire, and honor. Once there is no longer jealousy or enmity the eternal Bais Hamikdash will descend from heaven with the advent of Moshiach.

“I can give you a hug because I love you”

“It is worthwhile for you to appoint valid judges”

Please have in mind Chaim Yisroel Pinchos ben Shaindel for a refuah shaleimah.

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[1] Rabbi Paysach Krohn

[2] Shemos 21:22, 22:8

[3] 16:18-20

[4] Shemos 18:16

[5] Vayikra Rabbah 27:1

[6] Satmar Rebbe, Rabbi Moshe Tetielbaum zt’l

[7] Avos 4:21

[8] Yoma 9b

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