August 14th, 2021

6th of Elul 5781


Judges and Officers for our Mouths

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

"Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities [lit. gates] that Hashem, your G-d gave you, to your tribes, and judge the people a righteous judgement" (Devarim 16:18)

The Shelah Hakadosh (beg. Shoftim) explains that this verse refers to all the gateways in man's body; the openings of the mouth, ears, etc. Man must appoint officers in all these places so that no forbidden matter be allowed entry; for example, forbidden foods should not enter his mouth, nor should he allow himself to hear forbidden speech, and so forth.

The judges and officers of a person's gateways are those fences and restrictions that a person establishes for himself. Once a person has already seen the forbidden sight, it is very hard for him to lower his eyes. Especially if he is in the street surrounded by people; if he walks around with his eyes to the ground people will think he is crazy. Rather, he must establish fences and restrictions for himself that will keep him away from the challenge. Among other boundaries, he may decide not to walk in streets where immodesty is prevalent, or not to sit in the company of people who speak lashon hara and are known for engaging in arguments and strife. In this way he will save himself from temptation, for the 'guard' he appointed stops him before he enters the danger zone.

It is important to understand that those judges and officers must also work in the opposite direction. They must stand on guard and ensure that just as sin not enter man, so it should not emerge from him. Many times a person has a strong desire to relate lashon hara to his friend, or tell a story to his chavruta in the middle of their study session which will cause them to neglect their Torah study. These and other similar situations are examples of sins that can emerge from man. The task of the judges and officers is to help a person swallow his words and keep all the disturbances and prohibitions bolted inside him, not allowing them external expression.

The Gemara tells us (Berachot 34b), "Even complete tzaddikim cannot stand in the place of a repentant." The reason is because in addition to attaining their high level, ba'alei teshuva also had to eradicate their undesirable traits and as Maran Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zy"a taught, getting rid of one bad trait is seven times harder than ascending in levels of holiness. This is why ba'alei teshuva are considered more worthy than the greatest tzadikim.

Before Bnei Yisrael received the Torah they had to attain the highest possible spiritual level, therefore Hashem gave that generation great siyata d'Shmaya, enabling them to rise from the forty-ninth level of impurity. Each day they eradicated another negative trait from their hearts and entered a gate of purity, thereby achieving a level more elevated than a complete tzadik who attained the forty-ninth level of holiness. As we know, it is harder for ba'alei teshuva to battle with their Yetzer Hara for it takes great pains to constantly remind them of their past sins. They must invest enormous toil to resist the counsel of the Yetzer Hara.

My esteemed father zy"a would guard his eyes in an outstanding manner; the restrictions and guards he appointed over his eyes were above human comprehension. In addition, throughout his life he was particularly careful to guard his mouth. Not only did he never speak lashon hara or rechilut – and it was self-understood not to utter forbidden speech in his presence – but even a trace of untruth never crossed his lips, even in circumstances where people are accustomed to being lenient.

When Abba zt"l left Morocco to come and settle in the Holy Land, he took along a bag of gold and silver jewelry intended for the dowry of his daughters. The law in Morocco forbade taking jewelry and other valuable possessions out of the country, but Abba z"l was not aware of this and therefore did not hide his valuables. Rather, he placed them in a small suitcase that he kept with him.

When Abba zya"a stood in line for passport control, the man standing behind him pointed out that it is worthwhile for him to hide the jewelry he is carrying, for the official could confiscate all his valuables.

Indeed, when it was Abba's turn to present his documents, the official asked him if he was carrying any silver or gold. Abba confidently replied in the affirmative and declared all that he had with him without hiding anything. When the official asked him if he was aware that this is forbidden, Abba zt"l replied that he had no idea and if the law obligates him to leave his valuables behind, he will do so, for he had no intention of transgressing the country's laws.

The official called over the inspector who opened the case and went through all its contents. He saw that Abba was not hiding anything; he had declared everything to the official. Hashem helped and Abba zt"l found favor in his eyes. The inspector closed the suitcase, returned it to Abba zt"l, wished him a safe journey and gave him permission to continue on his way.

Unfortunately, today no-one is exempt from the Yetzer Hara's grasp. If in the past it used to be that in order to sin man had to go out to the street or enter a cinema etc., today he can sit in the Beit Midrash listening to a Torah shiur, and the cinema is right inside his pocket. We must make restrictions and fences so that we not stumble, but once we put these devices in our pocket, we are relinquishing any form of protection.

Therefore, each and every one of us must rid his pockets of the Yetzer Hara and stay far away from any kind of vulgarity and similar matters as much as he can. Even then, much prayer and Heavenly mercy is required so the Yetzer Hara should not be successful in making him stumble with sins that are prevalent in every corner.

The Haftarah

The Haftarah of the week: "I, only I, am He Who comforts you" (Yeshaya 51)

The connection to Shabbat: This Haftarah is the fourth of the seven special 'Haftarot of Consolation' that are read beginning with the Shabbat following Tisha B'Av. They are chapters of consolation for the Jewish people.

Words of the Sages

What Do We forget When Accepting the Yoke of Heaven?

In the middle of their journeying in the Wilderness, the Torah refers to Bnei Yisrael's future request to appoint a Jewish king, as it says (Devarim 17:14), "When you come to the Land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you, and possess it, and settle in it, and you will say, 'I will set a king over myself, like all the nations that are around me.'"

Appointing a king is not a simple event. One must first understand and internalize the essence of kingship and be ready to accept its yoke and authority. If this is the case concerning a human king, how much more so when we are talking about the King of kings, the Holy One Blessed be He.

Rabbi Michel Sholpovarsky zt"l, Rosh Yeshiva of Tiferet Tzvi, writes in his sefer Tiferet Adam: "Twice daily we recite Kriyat Shema, the section of accepting the yoke of Heaven. But do we in fact accept the yoke of Heaven upon ourselves?

"In a well-known statement, the father of the mussar movement, Maran Rabbi Yisrael Salanter zt"l, would say that a person has no problem with appointing Hashem as King over the four corners of Heaven, the seven skies and even over all the worlds, but he forgets a small point: to anoint Hashem as King over himself; to accept the yoke of Heaven upon himself!

"It is important to realize that strengthening ourselves in this area is significant preparation for the service of Malchiot – Kingship, which is the essence of Rosh Hashanah.

"The tzadik Rabbi Leib Chasman zt"l, Mashgiach of Chevron Yeshiva, once turned to his talmidim and said, 'Pay attention. I will read a section from the siddur and you tell me what I skipped.'

"He opened the siddur and read a section from the blessings of Kriyat Shema: 'Then they all accept the yoke of heavenly sovereignty from one another.' His talmidim immediately noticed that he had skipped the words '(Then they all accept) upon themselves.'

"'That is what I wanted to hear!' Rabbi Leib exclaimed. And then he added: 'I was always troubled by this question. Why did Chazal have to add the words "upon themselves"? Is the text I read to you lacking something?'

"In this way," concluded Rabbi Michel, "Rabbi Leib wished to demonstrate that the main stress in Kriyat Shema is that each one should accept the yoke of Heaven upon himself."

Walking in their Ways

Caution with What Goes In and Out

I once arrived late to a wedding; the host graciously asked a waiter to bring me the fish course that had already been served to the other guests.

While waiting for it to arrive, I wanted to use the time to drink a l'chaim with the chatan. I was seated at the head table with several other Rabbanim, and the Rav sitting next to me pointed out that the wine I had chosen did not have a standard hechsher. Since the Rav who gave the hechsher was seating at our table, I immediately realized that if I did not drink his wine, I would be causing him great embarrassment. I decided it was okay to rely on his hechsher since I knew him as a G-d fearing Jew. I poured a cup of wine, recited the appropriate blessing and drank the entire cup.

The Rav who had certified the wine noticed my act and smiled with satisfaction. I understood that I had acted correctly, for until now the guests had glanced at the hechsher and then pushed the wine away, causing him great heartache.

Several moments later the host approached. Pale-faced, he told me there was reason to suspect the fish was not kosher! Baruch Hashem I had been saved from eating this dish…

I thought to myself that those Rabbanim who did not consider carefully and realize that their stringency regarding the wine would result in embarrassing someone sitting at their table, were the ones who unwittingly sinned by eating forbidden fish. Conversely I, who was concerned about this and refrained from shaming another Jew, was protected by Hashem not to ingest something impure. For if someone is careful not to transgress, Hashem protects him that he not sin even unintentionally.

Guard Your Tongue

Reassuring One who has been Degraded

It is permissible to speak derogatorily about someone who insulted another person, so as to console the one involved. One can lessen his pain by explaining that the one who insulted him is lacking wisdom or manners, or that his words are untrue and people do not take him seriously.

It is important to assist the one who was slighted to understand the nature of the offender, so he can learn how to deal with him while preventing future occurrences of this sort.

From the Treasury

Rabbi David Hanania Pinto

Man Must Distance Himself from Challenge

A person's stature is measured by his ability to establish 'officers' who will protect him and guard him from sin. If he already stumbled and sinned, he must appoint judges who will reprimand him for his bad deeds and arouse him to repent.

The Torah commands us "Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities." Each person must contemplate the areas in which he must strengthen and guard himself; his points of weakness against which he must appoint judges and officers so that G-d forbid he should not come to stumble.  I remember a father of ten children who approached me and told me that the internet in his workplace caused him great spiritual downfall. He asked my advice on how to overcome this challenge and not allow this destructive device to lead to his decline. I told him that he must immediately quit his job, despite reservations about his livelihood; his top priority must be to guard himself and not harm his soul, G-d forbid.

It is clear that just as a few officers cannot protect an entire town full of breaches, so too it is impossible to overcome the Yetzer Hara in a place full of temptations and forbidden sights. Therefore, a person is obligated to distance himself from any challenging situation, since he cannot know if his judges and officers will have enough strength to guard him from sin.

This is the reason we say in the morning prayers "Do not bring us… into the power of challenge, nor into the power of scorn." Sometimes a test can bring a person to disgrace since he does not have enough stamina to stand up to the temptations he faces. Therefore, a person will do well if he recognizes in advance the weaknesses and loopholes that surround him. He should then take himself to safer ground where he can establish judges and officers who will guard and protect him.

The Sabbatical Year

1. When one recites the shehecheyanu blessing in Kiddush on the first night of Rosh Hashanah, it is proper to also have in mind the mitzvah of Shemittah.

2. It is incorrect to perform symbolic acts so the land should produce fruits in the seventh year. However, these symbolic acts may be performed with a slight change for the sake of 'avruyeh – enhancing'. The definition of 'avruyeh' is acts that are done to improve the vegetation, which are forbidden in the seventh year. On the other hand, acts that are defined as 'ukimi' refer to sustaining the vegetation, preventing it from damage or drying out. These permissible acts allow that which started growing before the seventh year to remain alive.

3. It is permissible to fast or pray that rain should fall in the seventh year.

Pearls of the Parshah

The Difficult Challenge of Bribery

"You shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked" (Devarim 16:19)

The Midrash Tanchuma brings the following powerful message about the enormous power of bribery:

"Rabbi Yishmael son of Elisha said: 'Come and see how terrible bribery is'!

"Someone once brought me the first of the shearing of his flock (one of the Priestly gifts). He had a court case and I was standing at the side and thought to myself: If he claims such and such before the judge, he will win the lawsuit. I wanted him to emerge worthy, even though he only gave me what really belonged to me and it was not a bribe. Nevertheless, I felt close to him whenever I saw him. And even though he asked the Beit Din to rule for him, I was still interested in knowing if he emerged worthy or not.

"This teaches about the severity of bribery, for it blinds one's eyes.

"If, when he brought me from what belonged to me and I took from what was mine, I wanted him to come out worthy, all the more so one who accepts true bribery."

In the Merit of 'Kise' He Will Sit on the Throne of Hashem

"It shall be when he sits on the throne of his kingdom" (Devarim 17:18)

Rashi explains, "If he is particular about this, it will serve as a merit for him that his kingdom should be sustained." The Kli Yakar brings a wonderful hint for this idea.

The word 'kise – throne' is an acronym for 'kesef-money, sus-horse and isha-wife'.

The verse wishes to hint that in the merit of being careful with these three things, not having too much money, too many horses and too many wives (as mentioned in the previous verses), the king will merit sitting on the Throne of Hashem, as it says (Divrei Hayamim I, 29:23) "Shlomo sat upon the throne of Hashem."

Two Torah's; Two Conducts

"He shall write for himself two copies of this Torah in a book" (Devarim 17:18)

Rashi writes: "Two Sifrei Torah – one he should keep in his treasury and the other one he must keep with him at all times."

Every Jewish king, points out the Ktav Sofer, must have two Sifrei Torah: One that he keeps in his treasury, for himself, meaning when it comes to himself he must be meticulous with all the details of the Torah. But the other one he should take with him when he is among other people, meaning, with regards to other people he must behave pleasantly and above the strict letter of the law.

A Novel Look at the Parshah

Righteous Judgement?

Only After Trying to Feel for Another and Understand the Depth of his Situation

The righteous Jerusalem residents were furious.

What happened?

They heard that a grocery owner in one of neighborhoods had brazenly left his store open on Shabbat. In those days, this public desecration of Shabbat was a rare sight.

Not the type to sit with their arms folded, the residents gathered to protest this violation of the holiness of Shabbat. But the owner wouldn’t budge. His cash register showed a large profit on Shabbat and it was hard for him to consider giving it up. Since he was not a man of weak character, he was not afraid of the threats and not convinced by their explanations. All he listened to was the sound of the coins that jangled in his register.

One Erev Shabbat early afternoon, an elderly Jew entered his grocery store. Even the irreligious residents felt warmly towards him, for it was impossible not to love the Gaon and tzadik, Rabbi Aryeh Levin, father of prisoners, who took care of every Jew with great love and devotion, no matter his situation. Rabbi Aryeh entered the store and sat down on a chair in a far corner, facing the direction of the cash register where the owner stood and served his customers. The hour was relatively early and some of the customers were buying their last provisions for Shabbat.

Slowly the sun began to set; Rabbi Aryeh was still sitting in the corner looking at the owner. At first he thought that the elderly Rabbi Aryeh had entered his store to rest a bit from the way, but after two hours he understood that something out of the ordinary was taking place. He approached Rabbi Aryeh and asked him: "Can I help the Rav with something?"

Rabbi Aryeh looked at him with his warm eyes and burst out crying: "Precious Jew, I have no need for help. But I heard you keep your store open on Shabbat and I wanted to understand why you do this. I have been sitting here for two hours and I can see that you earn substantial profit. I well understand your difficulty to relinquish the temptation of so much money. But what can I do, my son," Rabbi Aryeh sobbed while warmly pressing the owner's hand, "We are obligated to observe the Shabbat."

The owner was shocked and declared: "Rabbi, many people tried to persuade me to close my store. Yet none besides you came to my store and tried to understand the great challenge. I promise you that from this Shabbat onwards my store will remain closed…"

This story illuminates the query that arises from the command in this week's Parshah:  The judges are told to judge the people with righteous judgement. This warning seems a bit strange: If someone does not judge righteously, surely he will not be appointed as a judge?! But Rabbeinu Avraham ibn Ezra explains that this warning applies to the judges: When you judge, judge the people with righteousness. And how does this warning apply to those who are not judges?

Chazal have taught us, "One should only judge what one sees with one's eyes." As an allusion, one can say that every Jew serves as a judge when he reproves someone. The Torah warns him "They shall judge the people." When you rebuke him for his deeds, you must not just make do with what your eyes see, but try and feel for him, try to understand the depths of his situation and look past the actual act. This is what will cause the outcome to be a righteous judgement.

Now during Elul, this can be our preparation for the Day of Judgement. We should try not to judge others before attempting to understand their difficulty. Remember: something that to one seems to be clear-cut can appear to someone else as an exemption due to temporary insanity. We will be rewarded for this effort measure for measure, and on the Day of Judgement, Heaven will also try to find a way to judge us favorably. Sometimes people refrain from judging their friend favorably since the positive conclusion seems to be irrational. However, the truth is that this does not stem from rationality but from hard-heartedness. If they would they love each other, they would certainly jump at any possibility that vindicates their friend.

A story is told about a chatan and kallah who took upon themselves to welcome the Shabbat early. However, on the first erev Shabbat after their marriage, the kallah was slightly preoccupied and when she remembered about the agreement she had made with her chatan, it was already a few minutes late. She hurried over to her Shabbat candles and to her surprise, saw that they were already lit! Her new husband had lit the candles in her place! She did not think it was appropriate to ask him about this, but she was filled with disappointment. He decided to light the candles himself just because she was a few minutes 'late'?! She sat through the sheva brachot feeling broken.

The kallah's mother realized she was upset and pressed her to tell her what was going on. After telling her mother what had happened, her mother burst out crying and told her husband what their daughter's chatan had done. The kallah's father decided not to approach the chatan, but felt so dejected the entire Shabbat, the sheva brachot that cost him so much money brought him no joy.

On Motza'ei Shabbat the father approached a Rav and asked his advice on how to react. The Rav maintained that the story sounded strange. Everybody knows how the kallah anticipates lighting the Shabbat candles for the first time. It was surprising that her chatan would do such a thing.

The Rav went to the chatan to clarify the matter. The chatan suddenly grasped what had happened and explained: "I lit the oil lights to prepare them for my wife, intending to blow them out, but just then there was a sudden knock on the door so I went to open it. My father-in-law had arrived so I sat with him and forgot to blow out the lights…"

This is one of the most telling examples of how to judge one's fellow favorably.


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