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A Shtikel & A Ma'aseh

R Pesach Siegel

Parshat Shoftim

Sep 2, 2011

I heard this most amazing story from HaBachur HaChashuv Elan Javanfard. I’ll let him tell it in his own words:

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 I came in from Los Angeles for the chasunos of two of my friends. The first one was the chasuna of Naftali Friedman. Rabbi Siegel was filling in the tena’im contract. The brother of the chosson noticed that Rabbi Siegel wrote the chosson’s name as Naftali Yehoshua instead of Naftali Yeshaya. Fortunately Rabbi Siegel had thought to bring a second copy. It was brought and filled out correctly.

 Rabbi Siegel folded up the posul copy of the tena’im and handed it to me. “What is this for?”  I asked. Rabbi Siegel, in his characteristic manner replied, “Hold on to it. It is a segulah.”

 I dutifully placed the worthless, invalid document in my bag.

 And now on to the second chasuna.

 I was present when the rebbe of my second friend arrived, three hours before his chasuna. He looked over the tena’im and the ketuba. There was an issue with the text of the tenai’m that was designated for the chasuna. The rebbe wanted the nusach of Rav Moshe Feinstein. There was no bookstore open in the area, no way to find this particular text.

 It was then that I remembered ….

 I opened my bag. The tenai’m document was still there. It was Rav Moshe Feinstein’s text!!! It was the exact thing that was needed at the time. The rebbe was able to copy over the words.

 It was min hashamayim that Rabbi Siegel told me that I should hold on to the tena’im. It was min hashamayim that I had them in my bag and saved them and thereby saved my close friend’s wedding. (And who knows? Perhaps it was min hashamayim that Rabbi Siegel made the mistake in the first place?)

If this isn't hashgacha pratis, then I don’t know what is.

This is one of the most amazing things that has ever happened to me.

Thanks Rabbi Siegel, from a distance you saved another person’s wedding!!

Always Frum,

Elan

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 Parshas Shoftim

The theme running through parshas shoftim is the topic of judges. Rashi in his commentary to perek 16 posuk 20 quotes the Sifri as saying, The appointing of proper judges is worthy of bringing life to the Bnei Yisroel and settling them on their land. What is it about appointing judges that brings life and security in Eretz Yisroel?  

The Rambam (hilchos sanhedrin perek 1 halacha 2) is of the halachic opinion that the mitzva of appointing judges is only binding within the boundaries of Eretz Yisroel. Aren't judges needed universally?  

The gemorah in meseches Sanhedrin 17a lists among the qualifications of a judge the ability to nullify "kishuf" (commonly defined as magic). The Baal Haturim (perek 16 posuk 18) notes that the gematria of "shoftim" is the same as the word "mechashef" (one who performs "kishuf").  One would assume that knowledge of the law would be sufficient in order to be chosen as a judge. Why does a judge need to possess this additional "talent"?

The Rambam in hilchos sanhedrin (perek 3 halacha 8) says that one who appoints an improper judge is equal to one who has dedicated a "matzeiva". A "matzeiva" being an idolatrous altar made of one solitary stone. The Rambam continues that if the appointed judge was elevated to his position in the vicinity of a genuine talmid chochom then the offense is compounded and it is considered as if he planted an "asheira" next to the altar in the bais hamikdash. An "asheira" is a tall tree that idolaters would worship. The Baal Haturim adds that the gematria of the word "asheira" is the same as the phrase "dayan she'eino hagun" (an improper judge).  

What is it about an unqualified judge that likens him to a "matzeiva"? Why is it that when he assumes office in the same area that a talmid chochom resides he is no longer considered a mere "matzeiva", but rather an "asheira"?  

In perek 20 posuk 19 the Torah refers to a person as a tree. What is it about a person that is analogous to a tree?  

Let us first try to understand what the essence of a "matzeiva" is. Rashi tells us (perek 16, posuk 22) that a "matzeiva" is made of one stone, as opposed to a "mizbe'ach" which is comprised of many stones. The "mizbe'ach" is an acceptable form of worship when used in the service of Hashem. The "matzeiva", on the other hand, is unacceptable even when not offering sacrifices to avoda zara. It was a statute of the idol worshipping Canaanites to utilize "matzeivos". The Ramban is bothered by the fact that the Canaanites were known to use "mizbeichos" as well. Why, then, are "matzeivos" singled out? He answers by saying that their temples were never devoid of "matzeivos" but only some of them had "mizbeichos". Why is it that "matzeivos" were used, overwhelmingly, in the practice of idolatry?   The mishna in Pirkei Avos (perek 4 mishna 8) exhorts a talmid chochom against serving as  a lone judge. Even if he has attained a status of a "yachid mumcheh" (an outstanding talmid chochom), it is preferable for him to join together with others. The Maharal explains that there is only one being who is truly one, Hashem. Hashem has no need of anything outside of himself in order to complete or complement himself. One who sits in judgement alone is making a comparison between himself and his creator. He is ascribing to himself G-dliness. Just as Hashem is one so is he. It is preferable for him to join with two other judges. They complement each other and from amidst the three of them emerges one judgement, the majority opinion. The purpose of having an odd number of judges is in order for three to become one (Sanhedrin 2b). There will always be a majority opinion, and the minority joins with the majority once the vote has been taken (Tosafos, Meseches Baba Kama 27b). In the same vein, the purpose of our being is to harness together all the many facets of creation towards one common goal. In this manner we emulate the middos (traits) that our creator displays to us. A "mizbe'ach" exemplifies this concept. We serve Hashem by taking many stones, bringing them together to form one entity.  

A "matzeiva" is one stone. One who worships through a "matzeiva" is expressing the thought that he is one, perfect, without the need to combine with others. This is the understanding behind Hashem's rejection of this form of worship (see Kli Yakar).  

Let us take a moment to try and understand trees. A tree possesses multiple roots that extend beneath the ground and bring it nutrients from many sources funneling them into the singular trunk of the tree. It is there that a process takes place, all that has been absorbed into the tree combines together as one to produce a living extension of the tree. It is for this reason that the Torah refers to a person as a tree. He is the repository of all that he takes in from his world. It is through him that all becomes one and through his efforts he brings "fruitful" life to the world.   

A judge must be a "navon" (parshas Devorim perek 1 posuk 13), one who possesses "bina". Bina is the ability to assimilate all incoming "chochmah" and finding the common thread that binds everything together. Then it becomes possible for the "chochmas HaTorah" to bear fruit, in the form of applying the "chochmah" to previously uncharted areas. Not every circumstance is directly covered by the words of the shulchan aruch. In order to be a decider of Jewish law a judge must be a "navon".  

The Kli Yakar states that the root of the word "shochad" (bribery) is the word "chad" (sharpness). He explains that a judge who accepts a bribe cannot be successful in the pursuit of oneness. It is as if he is cut up with a sharp implement.  

An unqualified judge is likened to a "matzeiva". He does not see himself as one who must perfect himself by gathering wisdom to himself. He feels that he is a self contained unit. He is perfect, he is one. But in reality he is a barren stone (Commentary of the Maharik on the Rambam).  

If he is appointed over the talmidei chachomim of the area, not only is he a void, a barren rock. He is overshadowing the true standard bearers of the Torah.  He is towering over them as an "asheira" tree, whose height raises it above the heads of all. The Ramban states that the purpose of the "asheira" was to be seen. He defines the word "asheira" as view (see parshas Balak, perek 23 posuk 9). His offspring, his fruits, run counter to the purpose of creation. It is as if an "asheira" was planted next to the bais hamikdash, the point of contact between our world and the true world.  

(The Maharal in Pirkei Avos states this as an additional reason for a judge not acting alone. In order to judge others one must be above the litigants. One person cannot be above those who he judges when he needs to complete himself.)  

Now it is self evident why a judge must not only be cognizant of Jewish law but must be knowledgeable in the nullification of "kishuf". "Kishuf" is the power in the world that sets itself against the oneness of Hashem. The very word "kishuf" means "makchishim pamalia shel maala", in opposition to the heavenly hosts.  

A dayan's purpose is not limited to deciding questions of law. By using his faculty of "bina" he affects the world. The world is closer to the goal of oneness through his efforts. The prime location for this being in Eretz Yisroel, the focal point of our devotions. For this reason the appointing of judges has the special status of a mitzva only in Eretz Yisroel.  

By fulfilling the commandment of appointing only proper qualified judges we bring everlasting life to ourselves and will deserve to reside in Eretz Yisroel "lonetzach" (forever).

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