(16:18) “Shoftim V’shotrim Titein Lecha-Judges and officers you shall appoint for you.” The word “Lecha”-for you- seems to be extra. It should just have said appoint Judges and officers? Parshas Shoftim is always read around the beginning of the month of Elul, when Teshuva is the primary concern. The Torah is telling us with the word “Lecha” that every person must judge himself, especially during this month, to make sure to correct any wrongdoing he might find in himself. (Shelah)
(16:20) “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof-Righteousness Righteousness shall you pursue.” The word Tzedek is repeated to tell us that the ends do not necessarily justify the means. You must pursue righteousness but only in a righteous way. (Kol Torah)
(16:20) “Liman Tichye-So that you will live.” Why is this mentioned here? All Mitzvos are for us to live. However the Torah is teaching us that we are judged by the way we treat each other. If we judge people favorably we will be judged that way as well. As in the story of R.Yehoshua ben Levi who entered heaven alive. He swore never to leave. But when the angels complained, they looked at his actions on earth. Did he ever release someone from a vow? When they saw he had not, they would not force him to release his vow.
(17:4) “Ki Savo el H’Aretz...V’amarta Asima Olai Melech-When you come to the land..And you will say I will set a king over myself.” This Parsha deals with leadership of Benei Yisroel. When they come into the land they will want to establish a king for themselves. The Torah tells us that the Navi of the generation will appoint the king which will be chosen by Hashem. Afterward he must write a Sefer Torah and it should be with him that he may learn to fear Hashem. The question is, if he is selected by the Navi he surely is someone who fears Hashem? Why now after he is set up as king would we say he must write this Sefer Torah to learn to fear Hashem? The answer is that now after he has been on this level of kingship it is important that the position not go to his head. After he has been king for a while he must relearn his Yiras Hashem. To remember that he should not put himself too much above the rest of Benei Yisroel.
When Shmuel Hanovi was asked by Benei Yisroel to appoint a king he was aggravated by their request. The question is why? The Torah itself states that a king should be appointed? There may be several answers. First their request was not for the sake of the Mitzvah but rather from their desire to be like the other nations around them. Second their request was premature as long as the Navi Shmuel was still alive Hashem performed open miracles. They had no need for a king. By asking for a king it was as if they were rejecting the supernatural way of life they enjoyed.
(19:8)”V’im Yarchiv Hashem es-Gevulcha-When Hashem will broaden your boundaries.” There are three nations whose lands were promised to Avraham, but were not conquered by Yisroel at this time. They will become part of Yisroel’s land in the future. The question is if this is referring to the future, when Moshiach will have arrived, what need is there for them to set up additional cities of refuge? It will be a time of peace where no sword will be raised against another man. The Shem Meshmuel asks this question and answers that it depends on how the Moshiach will arrive. He will come in one of two ways, either by the designated time or earlier through the merits of Klal Yisroel. This could explain the use of the word “Im” at the beginning of this Posuk and the use of the word “Ki” in the next Posuk. Both words have two meanings, but the commentators translate them both as when. “Im” could mean when or if. And the word “Ki” could mean because or when. Now according to the Shem Meshmuel it comes out that the meaning of the verse is “When Hashem broadens your boundaries” depends on how this is accomplished. If you will listen to all the Mitzvos and bring Moshiach earlier, then there will be a need for the cities of refuge because certain fixes (Tikunim) need to take place before the end of time. Certain reincarnations of previous Neshamas must run their course and take their place in the grand scale of history. On the other hand if Moshiach comes at the allotted time, there won’t be a need for the cities of refuge. All of this will have been played out during Hashem’s allotted time.
(17:17) “V'lo Yarbeh Lecha Noshim- A king should not take too many wives.” What about Shlomo Hamelech who is said to have taken one thousand wives? The Recanti explains that they were not actual women but were the thousand impure forces that the evil inclination gives to man. Shlomo Hamelech, who had tremendous thirst for knowledge, wanted to better understand man's prime motivator, he was desperate to gain insight into the lust of man. Still, even a King is not permitted to go against the Torah. Writing the Sefer Mishlei was his Tikun.
(17:18) “V'Kosav Lo es Mishneh Hatorah H'Zos M'lifnei H'Kohanim H'leviim-He shall write for himsself two copies of this Torah before the Kohanim who are Leviim.” This was to prevent any subversion of the text. The Kohanim would verify it. This was because there was in every generation those who would seek out the king and through him would try to subvert the Torah. According to some the king only had to write the Ten Commandments for it contains 613 letters which represents all of the Mitzvos.
(18:13) “Tomim Tihiyeh Im Hashem Elokecha-You shall be wholehearted with Hashem your G-D” The Posuk uses both Hashem (Midas H’Rachamim) and Elokim (Midas H’din) The Gematriah of תמים עם יהו' אלהיך with its fifteen letters adds up to השבת. For Shabbos is מעין עולם הבא, where one receives the revelation, that Hashem always on every occasion treated us with the utmost of kindness and concern for our benefit. We were just not privy to see the inner truth and the silver lining.
However, we can interpret the above Posuk in a slightly different fashion. Everything that comes your way, you must respond with wholesomeness. That means that Hashem is sending tests where sometimes one’s reaction to the situation must utilize the Middah of Chesed and sometimes the expected reaction from the same person tested is the Middas Hadin. One is not allowed to lock himself into a particular Middah and say this is who I am. For instance to say, I am a Baal Chesed and worked on it for years. How can Hashem expect from me a reaction of anger and to go ahead and murder the inhabitants of an Ir Hanidachas. If Avraham would have taken that stance he would not have been able to pass the test of the Akeida. To sacrifice his son Yitzchak would have been an act depicting the opposite of his life’s work of Middas Hachesed. If this was to happen Am Yisrael would have lost one of their greatest merits. Why then was Avraham prepared to carry out the polarized opposite of his lifetime work? The answer is that Avraham was never working for himself in order to win a trophy, prove to himself and to others his greatness, or in order that a biography would be written about him posthumously. He was working solely for the Ratzon of Hashem. In such dedication there is no difference whether Hashem wants you to feed thousands of people or to kill your son. When one is able to shift between the Middos and there is no difference when you hear the calling of Chesed and the next moment the calling of Din, only then is one’s Avodah complete and wholesome. This is what the Posuk means when it says תמים תהיה עם ה' אלקיך when is your Avodas Hashem Tamim? When it is with both יהו' the Middah of Rachamim, and אלהיך the Middah of דין. (R.Shmuel Brazil)
(19:16) “Ki Yokum Ade Chomos-If a false witness is accepted.” The Parsha also speaks of the laws of false witnesses who plot to convict an innocent man. If it becomes known that their testimony was false they have done to them what they intended to do to the victim. But only what they intended to do. If it was already done, if the person was executed, then they don't receive the punishment that their victim got. If the victim of the false witnesses was executed he must have been deserving of this punishment for perhaps another reason. Hashem therefore brought about his punishment in this manner.
Why do the witnesses go free when it is after the victim’s execution? According to the Tur, if the Torah would permit the exposure of the plotting witnesses even after execution, the relatives of the executed man would themselves falsely attempt to refute the witnesses or hire false witnesses to restore the honor of the dead or take revenge.
The Gemarra in Macos explains that this is really a more severe punishment than it appears to be. For now the guilty parties judgement are taken out of the hand of man and are given over to the hand of the ultimate judge. (Macos )
(19:6) “Ain Mishpat Moves-There is no judgment of death.” If a person inadvertently killed a man, he must flee to a city of refuge to escape revenge of a relative of the deceased. He must remain there until the death of the Kohain Gadol. This applies even to someone whom the court has acquitted? Why should someone who murdered by accident be taken away from his family and home? Usually sins are atoned through sacrifice. Nothing happens by chance. If this person was placed in this situation it must be to atone for something in his past. Here the killer must expiate his sin by leaving his family and his home.
(19:17) “V’Hashoftim Asher Yihu B’Yomim H’Haim-The judges that will be in your time.” What other time could the Torah mean? The reason these apparently extra words were written was to teach us that only someone who has the experience of those times, can understand and judge properly. This is why Eliyahu HaNavi, who did not ever die, will answer all disputed questions. For only someone who has experienced all of human history can truly judge. (Berditchive Rebbe)
(20:5) “V’Dibru H’Shotrim el- Ha’am Leimore Mi Ha’Ish Asher Bonoh Bayis Chodosh V’lo Chancho Yelech Vyoshev L’Beiso-Then the officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘Who is the man who has built a new house and has not inaugurated it? Let him go and return to his house...” The Torah records three categories of people who are exempt from military service: “Ha’ish Asher Banah Bayis Velo Chanacho” - the man who built a house and has not yet inaugurated it, “Ha’ish Asher Natah Kerem Velo Chilelo” -the man who planted a vineyard and has not yet redeemed it, i.e. has not benefited from the fruit of his labor, and “Ha’ish Asher Aras Isha Velo Lakacha” - the man who betrothed a woman and has not yet married her. Many of the commentaries understand this law to be a practical measure. A soldier who falls into one of these three categories will be preoccupied with the thought of what he left back home, and consequently his performance will be impeded. His lacking performance may even impact negatively on his comrades, lowering their morale. Therefore, the Torah releases him from his duty as a soldier. Why does the Torah specifically choose these three situations to release a soldier from his military duty, when there are numerous other situations which could cause a soldier to be preoccupied? Rashi comments that the soldier is released due to “Agmas Nefesh” - “torment of the soul”. If Rashi is interpreting that his mental state will cause him to be ineffective, why does Rashi not simply say that the soldier will be preoccupied? The Talmud teaches that forty days prior to the formation of a fetus, a heavenly voice proclaims the future spouse, residence, and livelihood of this child. Forty days prior to the formation of the fetus is the moment of conception, when all the genetic data contained in the DNA of the fetus has already been formed, i.e. the intelligence, appearance, abilities and propensities of the child. This data, which makes up the basic definition of the child, is present at conception. Why does a person’s spouse, home and livelihood have to be determined at conception?
Clearly, Chazal are teaching us that although these three factors appear to be external to a person’s essence, they are major factors in defining and expressing the essence of the person. A spouse is the completion of a person’s soul. A person’s home and profession are both manners in which he is defined; a doctor is called by the name “Doctor”, for the profession has become his name. Similarly, a person is known as a Ba’al Habayis, for having a home has made him complete. The Rambam gleans from these verses that a person should have a livelihood and own a home prior to marrying a woman. It is apparent that the Rambam interprets planting a vineyard as an example of having a livelihood.
The Torah is teaching us that beginning a marriage, starting a new business and owning a new home create a particularly strong preoccupation within a person, for they define his very being. The inability to complete these processes, together with the knowledge that another person may harvest the fruits of his labor, brings torment to the soul of the soldier, for it is these three ways that a soul both defines and expresses itself.
(20:19) “Ki H’Odom Eitz Hasodeh Lovoy Ponecha Bamotzur-Is the tree of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you?”According to the Maharal, the subject of the rhetorical question at the end of the verse is man, not trees; it is people who are being compared to trees, rather than trees to people. Trees put out branches, twigs, and flowers and they ultimately provide fruit that nourishes the hungry. Similarly, man is expected to be productive and labor to produce fruit. The fruit that only man can grow and the nourishment that only he can supply is moral behavior, and the pursuit and attainment of knowledge to add to the world's store of knowledge and wisdom.
In other words, people were not placed here on earth to harvest its fruits and reap its benefits and simply consume. The earthly inputs that we enjoy are like the soil that supports the growth of fruit bearing trees. Just as the fruit-bearing tree transforms the nourishment it derives from the soil into edible fruit, so must the human being make use of the inputs provided by the earth to make himself sprout and grow until he is productive and provides his fruit - wisdom and good deeds.
In this week’s Parsha the Torah discusses the laws pertaining to preparations for war. In next week’s Parsha (Ki Saitzei ) the Torah continues with this theme. In between we have a seemingly out of place law (Eigel Arufa) which does not involve war but rather a procedure performed when a corpse is found on the road between two cities and it is not known which city is responsible. Why is it here? What the torah is teaching by placing this law here is to value every human life. When involved in battle, the life of one individual can be lost. The Torah wants us not to become so insensitive that we might ignore the value of a life. Therefore right here is the time for that lesson to be learned.
(21:9) “V’Atoh Tvaer H’dom H’Noki-And you shall remove the innocent blood from your midst.” What does “removing innocent blood” mean? When a corpse is found on the road, and the culprit is unknown to the judges, they perform this Mitzvah of Eigel Arufah. In doing so they remove any guilt of them being responsible for the death by not accompanying the traveler when he left their town. This is the innocent blood. However worms exit from the slaughtered calf and form a trail leading to the guilty culprit. This is hinted in the phrase “V’Atoh Tvaer H’dom H’Noki-And you shall remove the innocent blood from your midst.” the final letters of each of these words form the word Remah-Worms.