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TorahAnytimes Newsletter Shoftim

Parshat Shoftim

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik


"The TorahAnyTimes" Newsletter

Parashat Shoftim                                                                         Print Version
7 Elul, 5782 | September 3, 2022

Compiled and Edited by Elan Perchik

Rabbi Zecharia Wallerstein zt"l
Fight Fire with Fire

I’d like to share with you something which a girl going through a very difficult time wrote to me. She penned her heartfelt and authentic thoughts and feelings for the purpose of allowing her inner world to be seen and appreciated for what it is.

It’s burning inside, burning a huge hole in every part of my body

My heart is the problem … it’s on fire

It’s burning and raging with so many mixed emotions

Sparks of anger, confusion, loneliness, helplessness and despair are infused into my bloodstream, igniting my blood, sending this searing, burning sensation and leaving holes in every part of my being

Tearing through, exploding into huge, raging flames that slowly burn away all the layers until it reaches the core – my deepest part of my soul

My soul, my being, my entire “me” is oozing pain

I’m so done, I’m crisp and ashes, that I feel that every breath is a struggle and I wish it’s my last

I try to extinguish the fire

My first attempts are telling myself that the fire is not there

I know, I try denying that the burning is there and just drag some hidden emergency fire resistance cells and bring them forward because I need to move on

Or at least show people that I am

Slowly but surely, the cells emerge from their membrane, and soon they’re burnt to a crisp too

I have no more cells to spare, so I turn to my next method

I try spraying some chemicals – drugs – on the wounds, but I don’t realize that I have to cure the initial burning, the root of the flame, and I don’t know where to take the strength from

I don’t have anything big and strong enough that can stand against this fire, so I secretly spray more and more chemicals on the wound and the wounds get worse and worse, and then even really strong chemicals don’t help and the fire rages on

The wounds and burns turn into a third degree

I can’t even tolerate it on any level and it’s starting to get more and more numb

People intervene but they give me really strong drugs that are not meant for the kind of flame I have raging inside, like a clash of tranquilizers and stimulants at once

I don’t know what to do

The fire is raging and burning throughout every fiber of my being, not leaving a muscle or even a hair cell to help me carry on

And when things are burnt out, it’s hard to get back, because some things are irreplaceable and gone forever

They leave eternal scars, things like third degree burns

This girl had been through the ringer. She’d gone through early childhood trauma, felt the pains and scars of its aftermath, attempted to soothe and sedate the pain, and had mired herself in even greater despair. She was burned from the raging and violent fire within, and was done and ready to give in.

But as she sat across from me, handing me a paper with these poetic lines, I realized something. She was burning inside with a wild and furious fire, as she described. Her pain, to her, felt as if she didn’t “have anything big and strong enough that can stand against this fire.” But I told her that I believed there was something.

When a forest fire erupts and turns all the trees and thousands of acres of landscape ablaze, firefighters utilize specific methods to extinguish it. At first, a helicopter will circulate around the areas and drop gallons of water on the fire. However, if the fire has gotten out of control and has torn though acres and acres, firefighters resort to setting up, what they call, a fireline. A fireline is created by lighting fire to the area adjacent to the uncontrolled fire.

This new fire consumes all the vegetation and brush that would serve as fuel for the growing and ongoing wildfire, and thereby chokes it of advancing forward. The surface soil is reduced to mineral soil, so that there remains no available flammable material for the fire to catch onto and progress. This second, new fire also consumes all the oxygen from the raging fire, which cuts off its source of fuel.

Knowing this, it hit me like a ton of bricks. “Your pain is fire,” I said to her, “but love is also fire. And you put out fire with fire. If you are in an environment where you are deeply loved and cared for, then the intense fiery emotions of pain you are experiencing will be transformed into passionate and deep love. When that pain will come into contact with the love you feel inside, with the fireline built within, the pain will be transmuted.”

I have often said that the initials L.O.V.E. fix many of the other initials that go along with emotional stressors and clinical diagnoses. This was one of those scenarios.

And then I looked at Miriam again. “If you come to my high school, Bnot Chaya Academy, we’ll put out your fire of pain with our fire of love. We’ll create a fireline of love for you and within you, and when your pain will hit that love, there won’t be anything more for it to burn on. You’ll be surrounded by so much love that the pain will diminish.”

Miriam looked at me, mesmerized and taking it all in. And then I added more.

“The Gemara (Sukkah 52b) says that if your yetzer hara is agitating and wrestling within you, you should drag him to the beis midrash. This is recommended because if you want to douse the fire of the yetzer hara and pain in your life, drugs and other superficial pleasures won’t work. The fire of Torah will. The fiery love felt when you pray and learn with fervor and passion will create the fireline that will calm your desires and heal your pain in life. At that point, the yetzer hara will have nothing to burn on.”

Fight fire with fire. It’s the most effective way to transform a life of pain into a life of love.

Rebbetzin Chaya Sora Gertzulin
Judges, Officers and Gates

“Shoftim v’shotrim titein lechah b’chol sh’arechah…., You shall appoint judges and law enforcers in all your gates (cities).” (Devarim 16:18)

This week’s parshah, Shoftim, opens with the mandate of appointing righteous, impartial judges and law enforcers. The Ohr HaChaim teaches that both are necessary to uphold a safe, secure society.

How true are the Torah’s commandments, words that are relevant for all time.

Just this past week, the world was shocked to see footage of a most jarring, unprovoked attack which took place in Kings Plaza (a large shopping mall in my own neighborhood). A thirty-six year old man was sucker-punched on his head. Security cameras captured the entire incident. The victim fell, face down, and lay motionless on the floor. Though there were several bystanders, none came to his aid. The cameras caught an even more disturbing picture of a uniformed security guard walking right past the motionless man without even stopping to help.

Shoftim v’shotrim, judges and law enforcers. When they don’t fulfill their responsibility to society, our safety and security are in jeopardy.

I am reminded of when my mother, the Rebbetzin a”h, lectured to members of the US military and their families in Fort Hood, Texas. My mother spoke about the atrocities that she and our people endured during the Holocaust. She imparted a message of how important it is for the United States, the world’s greatest democracy, to protect the rights and freedom of mankind. To be partners with G-d in making sure the horrors of the Holocaust will never be repeated.

After the lecture, a little girl had a question. “Rebbetzin, ma’am, why didn’t you call the police?”

What an American question, my mother thought. How could she possibly explain to this innocent child, growing up in a free, democratic society, that the police were equally treacherous, equally brutal, equally determined to kill them? That the Hungarian police were collaborating with the Nazis in their war against the Jews.

We read in the Torah, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof…., Justice, justice you shall pursue”.  The word tzedek, justice is repeated, to remind us how important it is to go above and beyond in the pursuit of justice. To protect man’s freedoms and liberties, even their very physical beings.

The directive to appoint judges and officers is “lechah, for yourselves.” Rav Moshe Feinstein zt”l taught that the Torah states lechah, to demonstrate that we must be accountable for our own character traits, our own actions. This message is especially timely and meaningful during the days of Elul.

As we approach Rosh HaShanah, the baalei mussar, teachers of ethics and morals stress that we should undertake a personal cheshbon hanefesh, a deep soul-searching and self-accounting, hopefully leading to refinements in our character, and improvements in our thoughts and actions.

The Shelah HaKodosh addresses the question as to why the Torah uses the words “b’chol sh’arechah, in all your gates” rather than “b’chol irechah, in all your cities.” The Shelah teaches while the literal translation of sh'arechah is gates, there is a deeper connotation for each of us to internalize. Sh’arechah, gates can be understood as referring to the seven openings, the seven gateways to the mind. HaShem gives us two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and a mouth. We know that what we see, what we hear, and even what we inhale can affect us, mind, body and soul.

How careful we must be with the messages that enter our “gates”. Our eyes, seeing – the images and videos we watch, the newspapers, magazines and books we read, all have lasting influences. Our ears, hearing – to be careful not to listen to words of lashon harah, gossip or slander. Our mouth has a double closure – teeth and lips, stressing how important it is to be careful with our words. That what we say shouldn’t be a cause of pain, embarrassment or aggravation to others. As Shlomo HaMelech wrote in Mishlei, Proverbs, “Mavess v’chaim b’yad loshon – Death and life are in the power of the tongue.” The stakes are high. Words can either make or break a person. Our tongues can build others up, or they can tear them down.

The remaining two gates to the mind are our nostrils. The gates of aromas and scents. However, there is a difference between the nostrils and the other gates. In Gan Eden, when Adam and Chavah took from the Eitz HaDaas, the Tree of Knowledge, each of the senses was involved, except that of scent. They saw the fruit of the tree, they listened to the words of the serpent, and they tasted the fruit. Their nostrils, however, remained pure – undefiled. It is for this reason, at the close of Shabbos, during Havdalah, we say a berachah, take a whiff of besamim, and allow the aroma to enter our nostrils, the gates of smell. It travels directly to the neshamah, and supplies us with that extra measure of strength – a whiff of Gan Eden. A whiff to give us koach, strength for the week ahead.

On Motzoei Shabbos it is customary to escort the Shabbos Queen upon her departure with a Melaveh Malkah. Once again, we light candles, wash for hamotzi, and recite special zemiros and tefillos.

There is one tefillah, Ribon kol haolamim, Master of all worlds, which I find especially stirring, and speaks to me in a very personal way.  In this prayer, we beseech HaShem to open for us in the coming week the numerous Gates of Blessings. There are sixty-three gates mentioned, among them the gates of long life, gates of wisdom, gates of understanding, gates of happiness, gates of redemption, gates of strength, gates of Torah, gates of forgiveness, gates of sustenance, gates of good health, gates of peace, and gates of Divine protection.

In the merit of us guarding our seven gates, may HaShem bless us by opening all of His gates of blessings.

Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
Our Inheritence

Whenever the two poor brothers would come to the rich man for charity, he'd give them each a hundred bill. Now, once it happened, that after a gap of more than a year, one of the brothers returned to the rich man alone. “Where's your brother?” inquired the rich man. “He passed away two months ago.” “I'm so sorry,” said the rich man. “May the almighty comfort you among the other mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.” “Thank you,” said the poor man.

The rich man promptly placed a crisp hundred dollar bill into the poor man's hand. “Excuse me,” said the poor man. “But you forgot my brother's hundred dollars.” “He's dead,” replied the rich man. “Yes,” said the poor man. “But I'm his brother. Why should you get his inheritance?”

The Torah considers someone who averts his eyes from the needy as though he worshiped idols. Ostensibly, the connection is difficult to understand. Stinginess is a lacking in our relationship with our fellow human beings. Idol worship is purely between us and God.

Really, every mitzvah that involves giving to our fellow beings is a reflection of our relationship with Hashem. As it says in Divrei Hayamim, the Book of Chronicles, “Everything is from you, and it is from your hand that we have given to you.” We have nothing to give except the giving itself. Everything else belongs to God.

The medieval Torah commentator, the Rosh, writes, “Do not make gold and silver your folly, for this is the beginning of idol worship.” When we give charity properly, we are acknowledging that we are merely the stewards of our wealth, that it's not ours. In addition, by using our possessions to serve God, we testify to the fact that the world has a purpose, that the point of life is not self-gratification. We acknowledge that we and everything we have is part of God's plan to bring this world to a state of perfection.

That's both our inheritance and our bequest.

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