Parsha Shoftim

September 10th, 2016

Elul 7th 5776


Torah – The Remedy for the Yetzer Hara

Rabbi David Hanania

“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” (Devarim 16:18)

The Torah commands Am Yisrael to appoint judges and officers at the gates of all of their cities. The judges would judge justly, and the officers would grant protection for the city, ensuring that the verdict is executed. This would allow the city to function smoothly.

Isn’t it self-understood that once the nation has settled in the Land, they would appoint law-enforcers to protect the citizens? Why does the Torah find it so important to mention this?

In every civilized city in the world, there is an organized court system. This provides arbitration between citizens of that city. Court rulings are issued there. Besides this, there are officers whose job it is to keep the peace, allowing the residents to live tranquilly.

I remember specific villages in Morocco. Maybe a total of twenty families lived in each. Notwithstanding their miniscule numbers, they appointed people who were in charge of maintaining law and order, whether by means of a judicial system or by police surveillance, examining all who entered the village.

Shlomo Hamelech, wisest of men, compares the human body to a large city. The body is composed of millions of tiny particles, all working together harmoniously. It can be compared to a city made up of thousands of components which ensure its proper function.

For thousands of years, scientists have attempted to investigate the wonderful creation called the human body. They have not yet concluded their study. Each study uncovers more secrets and revelations. Just as the physical body contains limitless miracles, so is the spiritual side of man as deep as the sea. The human mind is capable of storing vast amounts of data. It can analyze and deduce in a way which even the most sophisticated machine cannot duplicate.

When a person sleeps, he can travel to distant countries in the blink of an eye. One moment, he is walking the ancient roads of the Holy Land, and the next, he is on some exotic island. Just as a large city offers all types of sites and attractions, so can the human mind lead a person to all types of places, some wholesome and beneficial, and others, full of danger and destruction.

The term your cities, is an allusion to the organs of the body. They are our entranceway to the outside world. One connects to those in his environment, interacting with them and absorbing their values, by means of his body. Included in this category are the eyes, ears, and mouth. They can be agents of sin. Regarding the eyes, the pasuk states (Bamidbar 15:39), “You shall not spy after your heart and after your eyes after which you stray.” Rashi expounds (ibid.), “The eye sees, the heart desires, and the body commits the sin.” Gazing at inappropriate “sites” arouses the heart to sin.

The Torah commands us to place guards at the gates of our body. One is adjured to close his eyes and stuff his ears from seeing and hearing the wrong things. He should muzzle his mouth from saying words of falsehood and lashon hara. What is it that provides a person with the ability to control himself ? It is the Torah, the shield and security against the plots of the Yetzer Hara (see Kiddushin 30b).

Often, improper thoughts creep into a man’s mind. They are liable to cause him to sin. One should preferably prevent situations of nisayon by protecting himself from inappropriate sights which can feed the desire to sin. But if one already fell by sighting something improper, he is instructed to appoint officers and judges upon himself. This is in the form of the Torah and mitzvot. When one is involved in these exalted pursuits, he is protected from falling into sin.

Walking in Their Ways

Processing the Procession

I once had the privilege of meeting the Chief Rabbi of Toulouse, Rabbi Amram Castiel, shlita, a former disciple of my father, zy”a. Rabbi Amram told me a fascinating story, which he had heard from his father.

Many years ago, when my grandfather, the tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Pinto, zy”a, lived in Essaouira, a camel caravan came into the city, carrying merchandise. In those days, a strong, brawny camel would be chosen to lead the procession. If anything were to happen to the lead camel, the entire convoy would erupt in mayhem. Therefore, the men in charge ensured to take especially good care of this camel.

As soon as this particular caravan arrived in Essaouira, the lead camel fell dead. All of the other camels began running amok, to the bitter cries of the leader, who realized that he was in for a tremendous loss.

The tzaddik, Rabbi Chaim Pinto, heard the man’s anguished cries and the snorting of the animals. Upon hearing the cause of the pandemonium, he requested a knife. Rabbi Chaim cut open the dead animal in the area of its liver. The onlookers were aghast to discover the form of an eye inside the camel. Rabbi Chaim explained that the animal died as a result of someone casting an ayin hara. He declared that the way to revive the camel was only by having that person pass by.

Silence descended upon everyone gathered there. Not a soul stirred. The tzaddik called out once again for the perpetrator to step forward. But this time, he added a caveat. He said that if the person did not take responsibility for his evil eye, he would pay the price by losing his own eyesight. But even this dire admonition did not produce results. Since he could not accomplish anything on behalf of the leader of the caravan, Rabbi Chaim turned to leave.

Suddenly, a scream was heard from among the crowd. A man shrieked that he had unexpectedly turned blind. He finally took responsibility for his act and admitted to casting an evil eye on the camel caravan. He begged the tzaddik to pray for his eyesight to be restored.

I did not merit hearing the ending of this riveting tale. But what I did hear was enough to impress me with the holiness and virtue which exemplified my grandfather.

Likewise, I was stunned by his dedication to prevent a fellow Jew from financial suffering. He went to great lengths to remove the ayin hara from the camel caravan.

Every morning, we ask Hashem to save us from an evil eye, a bad friend, etc. How much damage can be caused by casting an evil eye upon a fellow Jew!

Tuv Ta’am – Insights

There is an old custom practiced in several communities that each day they change the Chazzan who leads the Selichot.

The reason for this is because originally it was customary for the Chazzan who led the Selichot prayers to fast that day. In order not to burden the regular Chazzan, they would honor a different Chazzan each day to lead the prayer.  

The Haftarah

The haftarah of the week: “I, only I, am He Who comforts you”

The connection to this Shabbat: This haftarah is part of the seven consecutive haftarot of comfort read on the seven Shabbatot following Tishah B’Av.

Guard Your Tongue

Judging Favorably

The Zohar Hakadosh states:

Rabbi Yitzchak says: Eliyahu did not leave until he swore before Hashem that he will always judge Am Yisrael favorably. Anyone who judges favorably, proceeds and testifies before Hashem: So and so is what this person just did, and he does not leave until favorable judgment is recorded on him.


Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

A King and a Judge

“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” (Devarim 16:18)

The parashah begins with the plural version “judges and officers – שופטים ושוטרים.” Then it uses the singular form “shall you appoint – תתן לך.” Why doesn’t the Torah write the term shall you appoint in the plural תתנו) לכם), as well?

The plural form of the word you is לכם, the letters of which also spell the word מלך (king). Hashem wanted Am Yisrael to initially appoint judges and officers without appointing a king. Eventually, these leaders themselves would appoint the appropriate king for the nation.

Am Yisrael were instructed to appoint judges and officers who were tzaddikim and feared Heaven. These judges and officers bore a heavy responsibility, as they were the ones who eventually anointed the kings over the nation. As long as they were righteous, Hashem came to their assistance, and they succeeded in anointing kings who were pious and devout.

The Torah uses the singular form “shall you,” for it speaks to the judge or officer himself. His heart should never, chalilah, become proud. First and foremost, he must rule over himself. Only afterward would he be capable of ruling the nation.

Furthermore, the singular form of “shall you appoint” indicates that Am Yisrael are a mutually responsible unit. Although the kings were invested with the power of sovereignty, they had to be careful not to lord over the nation. Considering their status as a member of the people would obviate feelings of pride and arrogance.

Moshe Rabbeinu, our great leader who gave us the Torah, is called the humblest of all men (Bamidbar 12:3). His heart never swelled over his nation. On the contrary, he constantly felt indebted to his people, who had accepted him as their leader.

Words of Wisdom

Researching the Case

“And they shall judge the people with righteous judgment” (Devarim 16:18)

This refers to the pasuk, “He relates His Word to Jacob, His statuettes and judgments to Israel.” “His Words” refers to the words of Torah, “His statuettes” refers to the midrashot, and “judgments” refers to the judicial system, which Hashem did not give to any other nation other than the Jews, as it says, “He did not do so for any other nation.”

Can we say that the nations of the world were not commanded to establish a judicial system? Is it not one of the seven Noahide Laws?

However, this refers to the extensive research to explore all facets of the case, which Hashem commanded only upon the Jews, because they are beloved to Him more than all the other nations. Consequently, we find that the leaders of the Jews were praised only for their thoroughness when handling cases for judgment.

(Pitron Torah)

Blinded in Judgment

“You shall not accept a bribe” (Devarim 16:19)

Once a judge agrees to accept the bribe, be becomes blind to true judgment.

Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha said: See how terrible bribery is.

Once someone came to me and brought me “Reishit Hagez – wool of the first shearing.” He had a monetary dispute to be judged by the court. I was standing off on the side and I said if he shall plead in front of the judge, so and such…, he will win the case. I was anticipating that he would win the case. Even though he did not give me other than what is rightfully mine, and he had not given me a bribe – I favored him all along. When he went to court, I asked about him if he had won the case or not.

This teaches us how terrible bribery is, since it blinds a person’s eyes.

How much more so does it blind one when it is a true bribe. After all, he brought me what is rightfully mine, and I took what is rightfully mine, but even so I anticipated that he should win the case. One who accepts bribes, how much more so will he be blinded in judgment.

The Downward Slope Leading to Death

“But if there will be a man who hates his fellow, and ambushes him and rises up against him, and strikes him mortally” (Devarim 19:11)

From this we learn; if a person transgresses a minor mitzvah, in the end he will transgress a serious mitzvah.

If he transgresses the mitzvah of “You shall love your fellow as yourself,” in the end he will transgress “You shall not take revenge,” and then, “You shall not bear a grudge,” and “You shall not hate your brother in your heart,” and “Let your brother live with you,” until he comes to spilling his blood.

Thus it states, “There will be a man who hates his fellow, and ambushes him and rises up against him.”

(Yalkut Shimoni)

Current topics

Getting Ready

In the month of Rahamim (mercy), which is also the month of Selichot (forgiveness), every Jew, at every level, wishes to reconcile with his friends and gain their forgiveness so that he can enter the Day of Judgment with a clean slate and without having others harbor hard feelings against him. The Mishnah says, “For transgressions as between man and the Omnipresent, the Day of Atonement procures atonement, but for transgressions as between man and his fellow, the Day of Atonement does not procure atonement until he has pacified his fellow.” This is common knowledge; however, to humble ourselves and ask forgiveness from others is a very difficult thing. We cannot turn to others and ask their forgiveness unless we too realize that we really did something wrong and we recognize the severity of our action.

Aside from the hurdles that accompany the process of teshuvah (repentance), the obligation to appease one’s friend until he is pacified and reconciled and forgives bears great difficulties. The one who hurt his fellow has a hard time admitting to the victim that he did not behave properly, and that he regrets what he did. He feels greatly humiliated by admitting that his fellow was right and he was wrong. It injures his pride.

Sometimes those who offended others are not aware that they offended their fellow, or they think that they acted correctly and are justified. Subsequently, they will not approach their victim to try to appease him. Many times the offended party is not inclined to forgive those who hurt him, as the Ramchal explains in Mesilat Yesharim, “Because a person very much feels his disgrace and he gets very hurt and to him revenge is sweeter than honey.” He relates to the withholding of his forgiveness as revenge. Sometimes, even if he declares that he forgives him, he does not honestly forgive him in his heart and just offers lip service. Thus he continues to bear a grudge against him.

Ultimately, even if the offender overcomes his pride and seeks to pacify the victim, he may not succeed in achieving reconciliation and will end up lacking atonement.

The question is, how can we overcome these difficulties?

In a conversation that was publicized with Rabbi Moshe Chaim Shlanger, shlita, the Mashgiach of Yeshivat Porat Yosef, a few ideas were raised how to overcome these difficulties. We will quote some of them:

One who finds it hard to ask for forgiveness should focus on the enormity of the damage caused by remaining without atonement. Since he is distanced from Hashem, he does not merit Heavenly assistance in his work; his prayers go unanswered and the quality of his mitzvot are affected.

By begging his fellow’s forgiveness, besides for atonement, he gains the advantage of creating peace among people. After removing the hostility between them, peace is restored. This is as taught (Pe’ah 1a): The following are the things for which a man enjoys the fruits in this world while the principal remains for him in the world to come; the making of peace between a man and his friend.

The Rambam writes that the injured party should initiate the negotiations to explore the reason for the hostility, and that is the main part in fulfilling the commandment of reproof as written in the Torah. These are his words: When a person will act unjustly to his fellow, he should not hold a grudge and keep quiet… but he is commanded to inform him and say to him, “Why did you do such and such to me,” and “Why did you aggrieve me in this matter?” It is stated in the Torah, “You shall reprove   your fellow.” This is because when the victim informs his fellow of his grievances, his fellow will apologize and ask for forgiveness. Consequently, peace will be restored between them.

Often, as we know from personal experience, the person that was offended has a difficult time forgiving the slight to his dignity. Therefore, we have several practical ideas:

1) The victim should think of the great opportunity that came his way, designed exclusively for him. Only he can take advantage of it. The person is now asking him for forgiveness for hurting him and presently wishes to do teshuvah and come close to Hashem and attain atonement, but he is prevented from doing so because the victim refuses to reconcile.

The Rambam writes (Hilchot Teshuvah 4:10), “A person may not be cruel and refuse to be reconciled, however he should be the type who is easily appeased but difficult to anger. At the time that the offender asks him to forgive him, he should readily forgive with all his heart, even though his fellow aggrieved him greatly and hurt him a lot.”

2) It is commendable for the victim who has a hard time forgiving his fellow to try to fulfill the commandment “With righteousness you shall judge your fellow,” which includes judging him favorably. The purpose is to assess the fellows action in a positive light, such as: Perhaps he did it unintentionally, or maybe he misjudged the extent of his damage, or his background and lack of education caused him to act the way he did, and other such considerations that reduce the faults of the offender, which ultimately makes it easier for the victim to forgive him.

Moreover, now he regrets his misdeeds and seeks to improve his ways. He should recall that one who judges his fellow favorably merits being judged favorably by Heaven! Who can afford to forgo such an opportunity?

3) Furthermore, the victim who has a hard time forgiving should consider that the offender who is seeking his forgiveness will remain without atonement if the victim refuses to forgive him. Consequently, chalila, his avodat Hashem will be lacking, because without atonement he will remain distant from Hashem. However, if he will forgive him, his avodat Hashem will become strengthened by the siyata DiShemaya (Heavenly assistance) which he will merit after achieving atonement. Ultimately, the Name of Hashem will be glorified in his merit.

Likewise, the victim should recall the main principle in Judaism: “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor.” Wouldn’t the victim want, if he had harmed his fellow and then begged forgiveness, that his fellow should forgive him?! After all, the Torah commands us, “Love your fellow as yourself.”

And yet, after all these tips, we need to know that there are other obstacles to achieving complete atonement, for example, if the victim’s identity is not known, or if he already died, and the like.

Therefore, one should be wise, exercising foresight, and make every effort not to harm his fellow, not by actions, or verbally, and not by oversight, because it is very possible that he will never achieve complete atonement.

How can one achieve the exalted behavior of never offending his fellow? This can be accomplished through the study of Torah; by learning daily topics in mussar and thereby constantly strengthening oneself to be an upright person in the Eyes of Hashem and in the eyes of people.


Hevrat Pinto • 32, rue du Plateau 75019 Paris - FRANCE • Tél. : +331 42 08 25 40 • Fax : +331 42 06 00 33 • © 2015 • Webmaster : Hanania Soussan