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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Shoftim

Parshat Shoftim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Shoftim                                                                    Print Version
2nf of Elul, 5780 | August 22, 2020

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Daniel Glatstein
The Power Within

The Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 5:20), “Yehudah ben Teima said, ‘Be bold as a leopard, light as an eagle, run like a deer, and be mighty like a lion to do the will of your Father in Heaven.’” This is not just a Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, but also the first ruling in the Tur, the corpus of Jewish law, preceding the Shulchan Aruch, and later codified in the Shulchan Aruch itself.

When our minds mull over these words, we cannot help but wonder how we are meant to understand this. Imagine a lazy person being told, “Strengthen yourself like a lion!” Will that resonate with him? What does a lion have to do with the person? He is a human being, and not built like a lion with its strength. The two are incomparable.

Moreover, in Parshas Ha’azinu, the Torah tells us that Moshe Rabbeinu called upon the heavens and the earth to bear witness to what he was about to say, as they both would remain around as long as the world exists and would be able to serve as loyal testimonials. Rashi explains that since Moshe was seeking someone or something which would remain in existence for many, many future years, he summoned the heavens and earth, which would never cease to be.

But then Rashi adds an alternative explanation of Moshe invoking the heaven and earth as witness. Did the sun, sitting in the heavens, ever say, “You know what? Today’s a tough day! I already worked for ten days straight, and I’m going to take today off!” The sun never did this. Or, the earth. Did anyone ever plant a potato plant and a tomato emerged? The earth always produces what is put into it. Therefore, Hashem says, “Why are you, the Jewish people, different than the heavens and earth? I don’t even reward the heavens and earth for doing their job, and you I will reward! Follow their example and do what you are told to do!”

Does this resonate with you? If you were resting and were told, “Get up! The sun gets up every day; what about you?” Would that be a meaningful message? What is the comparison? The sun is programmed to get up. The sun has no other choice.
G-d created us and our psyche, and knows how we work. If the Torah thus puts this message in this way, it must be speaking to us. But what exactly is it saying?

In Mishlei (6:6), Shlomo Hamelech, talking to a lazy man, tells him, “Lazy man, go to the ant, see its ways and become wise. The ant doesn’t have a ruler or dictator standing over it, commanding it what to do, and nonetheless, the ant prepares its bread in the summer.” In the season the ant works, it gathers its food together, and collects its harvest. And yet, you, lazy man, how long are you going to stay in bed? The ant doesn’t sleep, so why do you?

But think about it, asked Rav Dovid Kronglass zt”l (Sichos Chochmah U’Mussar), previous Mashgiach of Ner Yisroel. Did the ant make this conscious decision to get up? Did the ant alarm clock go off, and it actively made the choice to get up? That is how Hashem programmed it to be. How then can you tell a human being to look at the ant and not be lazy?

The Midrash (Devarim Rabbah, Parshas Shoftim 5:2), adding facts about the ant, states that the ant has a three-floored underground house. It does not live on the top floor, as there would be leaks from the moisture and soil. It neither lives on the bottom floor, as it is dirty. It rather lives in the middle floor.

Moreover, no ant ever lived more than six months, as any creature which does not have a vertebra or sinews cannot live for more than six months. It as well only needs one-and-a-half what kernels of grain to sustain it for its entire lifespan. Yet it continues to collect and collect more and more food its entire life. In fact, says the Midrash, it was once discovered that an ant had gathered the extraordinary amount of 300 kor of wheat kernels. Yet, it only needs one-and-a-half wheat kernels to survive.
Why does the ant do this?

The Midrash explains that the ant tells itself, “Maybe Hashem will decree that I’ll live longer than six months!” But now think about it. If the ant’s life expectancy is six months, even if it were to live longer, how much longer would it be? A month? And if so, why would the ant need to gather an astronomical amount of grain; let is gather another quarter of a kernel, if any. Why would it entertain that it needs to gather so much more? And secondly, even if it would live significantly longer, it will end up living until the next harvest, at which point it can gather more food. Why then would it need to keep on collecting so much food during one harvest and work so industriously?

The key to understanding this is a passage from the Zohar, cited by Rav Chaim Volozhiner. On the first through fifth days of Creation, it was Hashem and only Hashem who was involved in the creation of the world. However, on the sixth day of creation, when man was being formed, the Torah states that Hashem said, “Let us make man.” Why the switch? Why now is it, “Let us…”? Rashi states that this is a dangerous Pasuk, as room is given for a person to conclude that there is more than one G-d.
Rashi explains that Hashem was consulting the heavenly angels and asking them if they believed man should be created. From here, we are meant to learn, that a superior is meant to consult with someone less than them. But, even so, to correct the misnomer that one may conclude that more than one entity was involve in man’s creation, the Torah later emphatically states, “And G-d created man.”

(Parenthetically, the Brisker Rav used to say that if given a choice to attend a yeshiva where there is better learning or a different yeshiva where they teach better middos, you should go to the latter. The proof is from this Rashi. Hashem had the choice to write clearly in the Torah, “And G-d created man,” or less clearly, “Let us make man.” As the Torah does phrase it in the second way, it shows that it is more worthwhile to teach middos and derech eretz than to give over a clearer lesson).

The Avos D’Rebbe Nosson (Ch .31) states that G-d created in man everything that exists in this world. G-d created forests, and G-d also created a forest within a person – their hair. Hashem created wild animals in the world, and similarly within a person – the intestines. G-d created salt water in the world and also within a person – their tears; doors in this world – teeth; sweet water in this world – saliva. The list goes on and on, as Avos D’Rebbe Nosson enumerates in specific detail.

Whatever exists in this world exists in a person. Every tree, celestial body and chemical exists in man. Now we can understand, explains the Zohar, why man is the finality of creation. G-d created everything Himself each of the first five days of creation. On the sixth day of Creation, G-d summoned everyone together – sun, moon, fish, birds, stars, tigers, lions, bears, gorilla – to have a “meeting.” There was one last thing to create, though the problem was that there was no longer any raw material to create it from. “What do you want from us?” asked the animals. Each animal was thus asked to give a small donation. Each one was to take a part of their personality, ability and give it towards the creation of man.

Man is therefore microcosm a of the universe. In man is the power of the entirety of creation. Whatever was created on day 1 and 2 and 3 and so on is in man. Man has within him the power of the sun, the water, every bird, every fish, every wild animal and every domesticated animal. Every force in creation has been condensed within man. Man is called an “olam katan,” a small world. When G-d therefore said, “Let us make man,” He was not talking to another g-d. He was talking to the sun, baboon, killer whale, snake and mule, and said, “Let’s create man.” And every single item of creation came together and donated their strength and personality. That is what the Torah means.

Man is, by far, the most dangerous of all creation. A lion is therefore not as dangerous as a human being, because a lion is only a lion; it’s not a tiger or killer whale or shark. Look at the most destructive of men and what can be done. Could you imagine a lion with the intellectual ability of a human being?
This is why Avraham told Avimelech that where he lived lacked in “fear of G-d” (Bereishis 20:11). And this is also why, at the very end of Koheles (11:13), we are told that the entirety of man is to fear G-d. Man is not just a sophisticated animal and ten percent fear of G-d. A man, in his truest sense, is entirely fear of G-d. To the extent that you fear G-d, you are a man. What does this mean?

Take a lion. Can you put him in a small little fence? Of course not. You need iron chains to shackle him. What do you do to keep a gorilla in check? A lot. But man is every vicious animal in the world. What type of bars and chains do we need to keep us in check? The answer is that there is only one thing: fear of G-d. Without that, man is the most destructive force in the universe. To the extent that he doesn’t fear G-d, he is an animal.

The Gemara (Pesachim 49b) says that you are not allowed to travel alongside an am ha’aretz, ignoramus. This is because someone who doesn’t fear G-d is dangerous. Imagine a lion coming to your door and asking if you’d like to take a little stroll in the forest. Someone who doesn’t have yiras shamayim, fear of heaven, can thus be a menace to the world, if kept unchecked.
This is what it means, explains Reb Elchonon Wasserman, that the entirety of man is fear of heaven. Without fear of heaven, you are merely a collection of every animal in the world, untamed and wildly uncultivated.

The Pasuk says, “Let us make man in our form, in our image and he should dominate the fish of the sea, the birds of the heavens and all the animals.” Literally, this means that man controls all of creation and will be able to create the means to harness the world, which we have done throughout the centuries. But, on a deeper level, the Pasuk means to underscore that man needs to dominate the fish, birds and animals within him. He is meant to keep them in check. And the way we do that is with fear of G-d.

The Mishnah in Pirkei Avos, explains Rav Dovid Kronglass, means to tell us that when you are in bed and don’t feel that there is any way you can get up, you must realize that there is a lion inside of you, and you have the power within you to overcome any obstacle. Any barrier you have can be broken through. Chazal can tell us to rise like a lion because we have the strength of the lion inside us. We must be careful because we don’t want to use this force to harm someone. But we can harness that power to overcome sluggishness and laziness.

It is a very compelling message, which should resonate with us. When we wonder, “What talent do I have? What am I going to be in life? What are my abilities?” the truth is that every human has been programmed with such infinite forces – ability, might, creativity, agility, ambition, boldness – all of which lay dormant within us. We cannot ever say, “I can’t” because we have been endowed with deep waters of wisdom. It is all a matter of pulling it forth and unleashing it.

“What is going to be of my kid? Does he have it within him?” Of course he does. Believe it. G-d gave it to him; they have what it takes. They have even more than what it takes. If we would appreciate that we have the boldness of the leopard, power of the lion, agility of the eagle, and swiftness of the deer, when we would hear our internal alarm clock go off, we would spring into action.

We have all the power within.

Rabbi David Shelby
Spare a Coin, Spare a Life

As a certain Rabbi Schwartz walked into yeshiva one morning, he noticed an unusual sight. In the parking lot, there stood a stunning motorcycle. While it was certainly a scene uncommon to the yeshiva premises, Rabbi Schwartz didn’t think too much about it, and simply carried on with his day.

Later that afternoon, as Rabbi Schwartz began walking outside after finishing teaching, he noticed a man getting onto the motorcycle. Pausing, Rabbi Schwartz tried catching a glimpse of the man, and to his great surprise, it was none other than a previous student of his who had graduated over six years ago.

Making his way over to his student, who he had now identified as Yosef, Rabbi Schwartz began striking up conversation. As it turned out, during those past six years, Yosef had gone to Boston, though he had now returned to his hometown and decided to make his first stop be the yeshiva which he had loved so dearly.

“I miss everyone here!” Yosef began. “I miss all the rabbis and the boys, and I came here to learn a bit, as well as give the yeshiva a check from my maa’ser money for all the six years I have not been here.” Yosef pulled out his checkbook, wrote out a check and handed it to Rabbi Schwartz. After some more chatting, Yosef hopped on his motorcycle and took off.

For the next few days, Rabbi Schwartz taught his classes and attended to his normal schedule. Until one day, he received a phone call. “Is this Rabbi Schwartz?” “Yes, speaking…” “Do you remember how a few days ago, one of your old alumni came to visit you on a motorcycle?” “Sure, I do!” Rabbi Schwartz replied emphatically. “Is everything okay?” “Everything will, G-d willing, be okay.”

“Yosef was on the highway yesterday with his motorcycle and unfortunately got into a major accident. You cannot imagine the miracle it is that Yosef is alive today, and he has asked for you to come and visit him in the hospital.” Rabb Schwartz did not hesitate, as he immediately began making plans to head to the hospital and visit Yosef.

As Rabbi Schwartz arrived, he saw Yosef all bandaged up. “Rabbi,” Yosef muttered between breaths, “you can only imagine how terrible the accident was…” As Yosef continued talking, in walked a police officer, holding a piece of metal. “I found this piece of metal fifty feet away from the site of the accident. It flew off the motorcycle!” Both Yosef and Rabbi Schwartz were awestruck to hear this, and continued talking both with utter shock and gratitude that Yosef was still alive.

“Rabbi, do you know why I am alive today?” Rabbi Schwartz could not think of anything. “Think about it,” prodded Yosef. “What was the last thing I did before saying goodbye to you?” Now Rabbi Schwartz caught on. “You gave the yeshiva a check. You gave tzedakah.” “Rabbi, that’s what saved my life. Our Sages teach, ‘tzedakah tatzil mi’mavet – charity spares one from death.’”

“And Rabbi,” continued Yosef, “it also answers another question that I’ve had for the past six years, ever since I’ve graduated from high school.” Yosef paused for a moment, catching his breath and realizing the incredible foresight relating to what he was about to say.

“In my graduating yearbook, the school included one specific verse, taken from anywhere in Tanach, and placed it underneath the picture of each of the graduating students. Rabbi, I used to collect tzedakah during Mincha in school. They added the Pasuk underneath my name which said, ‘tzedakah tatzil mi’mavet – charity spares one from death.’ I had never understood why. There are many verses in Tanach which reference the mitzvah of tzedakah. Why, out of every other verse, was that one chosen? Now my question has been answered.”

Yosef went on to recuperate, regain his strength and live with even more passion and fervor as a Jew. He never forgot how he had personally experienced the power of tzedakah as a life-saving act of kindness, and made the giving of tzedakah his mantra for life.

Rabbi Moshe Bamberger
No One But You

A poor man once knocked on my door, collecting for a particular tzedakah cause. After hearing a little bit about his need, I welcomed him inside my home. Before I knew it, my children had gathered around him and were talking away. He went on to show us pictures of his family, which eventually lead to me writing out a nice check to him.

Before he left, he said to me, “I want to tell you something. What you did for me was the perfect form of tzedakah. I once went to a rich fellow and asked for tzedakah, and was told, ‘I don’t deal with my own tzedakah. I give it to my rav and he has full discretion to give to whomever he would like.’ After hearing this, I realized that while he was definitely performing the mitzvah of tzedakah, he was losing out on a precious opportunity to teach his children the value and importance of giving tzedakah by outsourcing it and delegating it to someone else.”

There are certain things in life that bring maximum benefit when they are done by you and only you alone. To hand it off and place the burden of responsibility on someone else may be more convenient, but it is less than ideal.

The Chofetz Chaim once hosted a guest in his home, who was hesitant to allow the Chofetz Chaim to wait on him and assist him. He preferred that he take care of himself, and the Chofetz Chaim merely provide him the bare minimum necessitates of lodging.

The next morning, right before davening, the Chofetz Chaim approached his guest and said, “Please give me your Tefillin; I’ll put it on for you.” The guest was taken aback. “What do you mean that you’ll put it on for me? I have to do it myself!” “Well, hachnassas orchim, hosting guests, is the same way. I want to do it myself, and not assign it to you!”

There are things in life that we must do ourselves and not substitute other people in our place. As a Jew, a parent, husband, wife, child, brother, sister, friend, chavrusa, neighbor, boss, employee or member of a shul. We are to look inward to see what can be done; not outward. The answer is to be found right where we are.

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