Parshas Shoftim ~ Torah Gems


I. Following judgments

1. ‘According to the Torah* they shall teach you and the judgments they shall pronounce to you, you shall do and you shall not deviate… ‘ (Devorim* 17.11) The Baal Shem Tov said that the Taz* and the Schach* are the last of the poskim*. For that reason we should be careful not to violate what they have ruled except to be more stringent. We should never be more lenient then they were unless there is reason for it that they would have approved of. For example a case when there is a great financial loss.  However even with regards to the works that come after the Taz and the Schach. We should not doubt their words since they have been accepted. Since they have been approved they can be assumed to be based on Ruach HaKodesh*. (p. 572 sefer Baal Shem Tov teachings of the Baal Shem Tov.)                                 * * * II. Tshuva* 2. ‘When you go out to battle against your enemy, and you will see a horse and chariot, a people more numerous then you are, you should not be afraid… who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ (Devorim 20.1) The Baal Tshuva* is called ‘exodus from Egypt’ as is known. I have said many times this is the case because he is similar to that event. [The reason being that the Baal Tshuva had at one time been a sinner, just as the Jewish people in Egypt. The Midrash compares the Jewish people in Egypt to the Egyptians. It says that ‘these served idols and those served idols.’ However the Baal Tshuva has gone out of his sins, just as the Jewish people left Egypt and entered into the service of HaShem.] It is known that from every sin that a person does he creates an angel [who stands above to argue against this person.] It is possible that a person can say, ‘How can I do tshuva when I have created such a numerous people as this? [i.e. the large army of angels from his sins.] I have done so many sins, how is it possible for me to do tshuva?’ The answer to him is, ‘the exodus from Egypt.’ The Jewish people in Egypt were sunk deep in the 49th level of uncleanliness [due to the sinfulness of the people there and their idols.] But HaShem, irregardless of this, took the children of Israel out of there. The same is with the Baal Tshuva. ‘The one who wishes to purify himself they help him.’ And he will be able after doing tshuva to rise to the level of a Tzaddik*, just as it was with the exodus from Egypt. This is the meaning of the verse: ‘When you go out to battle against your enemy.’ This refers to the battle with one’s Yetzer HaRah* and his desire to do tshuva. ‘And you will see a horse and chariot.’ This refers to the sins that he has done. ‘A people more numerous then you are [Heb. mimcha].’  This means to say that they come specifically ‘from you.’ [Heb. mimcha] They were created from you actions. ‘You should not be afraid.’ The Torah gives us a promise that we should not be afraid that our tshuva will not be acceptable because of this people [the angels created from our sins.] This is because HaShem your G-d is with you. ‘Who brought you up from the land of Egypt.’ [It is just as it was when the Jewish people] were sunk deep into the 49th level of uncleanliness.  And even so HaShem took them out of Egypt. The same is with the Baal Tshuva. HaShem will take him out [of his sins] and bring him to a high level of service in a single moment.  (p. 133 sefer Mevasar Tzedek teachings of Rebbe* Yisachar Ber of Zlotchov.)                                 * * * III. Making peace. 3. ‘When you will draw near to a city [in order to wage war.]’ (Devorim 20.10) Rashi* explains that this verse is referring to a permitted war that is not required. [The Torah requires the children of Israel to wage war with certain peoples who lived at that time, all other wars were not required but they could engage in them if needed.] The idea here is this. Just like with regards to the sicknesses that a person’s body has, it is his responsibility to guard himself from cold or heat, or from foods that can harm his body. It is even more the case with his soul that it is in his hands and his responsibility. As the verse says, ‘You shall watch for your souls.’ You should watch yourself from excessive desire for physical things and bad midos*. For this reason the war with his Yetzer* is called a ‘permissible war.’ This is because the permission and the choice [to fight it] is given to every person. He should guard himself from [following after] the desires of his Yetzer. Just as with sicknesses of the body there are times when he is not able to watch himself [from things that are dangerous.] For example when he is travelling he is not able to protect himself from cold and chose the types of food he eats. It is even more the case with the sicknesses of the soul. From time to time the Yetzer will overcome him until it is almost impossible for him to prevail.  Specifically [as Chazal* say] ‘The one who is greater then his fellow his Yetzer is greater.’ Therefore it is suggested that he should ‘try to make peace.’ He should ask of his Yetzer, ‘Why are you running after me?’ He should also pour out his words in prayer before HaShem. He should say, ‘Master of the Universe. You know the thoughts that are in the hearts of all people. That my strongest desire is to overcome my Yetzer HaRah. But what can I do since my Yetzer is greater then I am? I am not able to stand up against it. Therefore You should hear and accept my prayer and cries. And You should help me so that I will be able to overcome my Yetzer HaRah.’ With this prayer you will merit that your enemy [the Yetzer HaRah] will make peace with you. (p. 166 sefer Mogan Avraham teachings of Rebbe Avraham, the Trisker Maggid*.)                                 * * * IV. Faith and trust 4. ‘Hear Israel, today you are coming near to the battle…’ (Devorim 20.3) The Talmud* in Sotah* teaches, ‘”Hear Israel.” Even if you have only performed the mitzvah* of saying Krias Shema* in the morning and the evening you will not be given over into their hands.’ We need to understand why is it specifically Krias Shema and not any other mitzvah? The idea here is that Krias Shema is the acceptance of the yoke of the Kingship of HaShem. In a war one needs to understand that it is not our own strength, and the power of our hands that cause the victory. It is the help of HaShem. This is the idea behind the placing of the blessing for redemption [from exile] next to the silent prayer. [This is to show us] that the victory and the redemption that we will have comes only through the prayers that we pray to HaShem with trust in His help. For this reason when they approached the battle the kohen* would speak to the people. He would then start with ‘Hear Israel’ to be a remez* to them about accepting upon themselves the yoke of the Kingship of HaShem. With this we can understand what the Talmud says, ‘If one speaks between putting on the tephilin* of the hand and the tephilin of the head, he has a sin and he returns [home] from the field of battle’ [and does not take part in the war.] The question is, ‘Why specifically this mitzvah?’ [The reason is] that the mitzvah of tephilin is to bind the arm together with the head. This is to teach us that any success that we have depends upon the faith and trust in our head [mind] to make the desires and thoughts of our hearts to be used for the service of HaShem. One who separates between his hand [i.e. his own actions] and his head [i.e. his faith and trust in HaShem], and he talks between the tephilin of the hand and the tephilin of the head. He [shows that he] considers that the strength of his hands alone have given him his success. He has sinned and he is returned from the field of battle. The hosts of Israel are supposed to be faithful men and Tzaddikim. [Then] to them HaShem sends His help. This is also the meaning of what the Talmud says, ‘”All the people of the land will see that the name of HaShem is on you and they will fear you.” This refers to the tephilin on the head.’ This is as we have said above that the victory depends on ones faith and trust [in HaShem.] (p. 231 sefer Beis Aharon teachings of Rebbe Shlomoh Zalman of Potok.) ———————————————————————


Arizal: Hebrew initials of the words: Adoni Rabbenu Yitzchok    Zechorono LeVaracha our master Rabbi Yitzchok. Better known as    Yitzchok Luria the great 16th century Kabbalist
Chazal: Hebrew initials for: Chochmenu Zichrona Levaracha (Our sages of Blessed memory) Used to refer to Rabbis of the Talmud.
HaShem: Noun used in place of G-d. Lit. The Name
HY’D: Heb. HaShem Yimkom Domov: HaShem should avenge their blood.
Mishleh: One of the books of the Tenach, called in English Proverbs.
Mitzvah (mitzvos): One of the commandments of the Torah.
nashama: Hebrew word for soul.
peshat: A method of Biblical interpretation based on finding the simple meaning in the Torah.
Rashi: The primary commentary on the Tenach.
Rebbe: Leader of a Chassidic group or a teacher
Shabbos: Tractate in the Talmud
Shemos: Second book of the Torah. Called Exodus in English
Talmid (Talmidim): Disciples of a Rebbe.
Talmud: An ancient work of Jewish law.
Tehillim: Hebrew name for Psalms.
Torah: a. First 5 books of the Jewish Bible            b. Also refers to the whole of Jewish law            c. also common term for a chassidic teaching

Tshuva: Hebrew word for repentance

Tzaddik (Tzaddikim): lit. Righteous. Another name for a Chassidic Rebbe.
Yetzer: lit. Inclination. It is Jewish belief that every Jew has both an evil and good inclination within him, that are at ‘war’ to see which of them the person will follow.
Yetzer Tov: Heb. Good Inclination
Yetzer HaRah: Heb. Evil Inclination.
ZT’L: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechor Tzaddik LeVaracha (The memory of a Tzaddik – Righteous person is a blessing.)
ZY’A: Hebrew initials of the words: Zechiso Yagan Aleinu (His merit should protect us.)
Copyright (c) 1997 by Moshe Shulman ([email protected]) All rights reserved.

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