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Vedibarta Bam — And You Shall Speak of Them
Volume V — Devarim


by Rabbi Moshe Bogomilsky
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  Re'eihKi Teitzei  

"Judges and officers you shall appoint for you in all your cities." (16:18)

QUESTION: The word "lecha" — "for you" — is superfluous?
ANSWER: In a person's face there are seven openings: two ears, two eyes, two nostrils and a mouth. The Torah is indicating that besides judges for all cities, you should also appoint judges "lecha" — "for yourself" — i.e. you should judge carefully and police whatever you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, smell with your nostrils, and speak with your mouth.

Since Parshat Shoftim is always read around the beginning of the month of Elul, when teshuvah is primary, the Torah calls to our attention with the word "lecha," that every person should carefully judge and police his own body especially during this month, and rectify any wrongdoing committed through these senses.

"You shall not take a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise." (16:19)

QUESTION: Why is the Hebrew word for bribery "shochad"?
ANSWER: According to the Gemara (Ketubot 105b), the etymology of the word "shochad" is "chad" — "one." Rashi explains that when a judge accepts a bribe from a litigant he becomes "one" with him and therefore can no longer judge objectively the argument of the other litigant.

Alternatively, according to the Gemara (Shabbat 10a), when a judge rules a case honestly he becomes a partner with Hashem in the creation of heaven and earth. Since the judge who accepts bribery cannot offer a just decision, G-d now remains alone, without a partner.

"You shall not take a bribe... [for the bribe] perverts the words of the righteous." (16:19)

QUESTION: If he accepted a bribe, why is he called "tzaddik" — "righteous"?
ANSWER: A Din-Torah once took place before Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel of Apta. While the Din-Torah was in progress, one of the parties felt that he was going to lose, so he asked permission to leave the room for a short while. In the hallway outside the Beit Din room, he noticed the Rabbi's coat and placed a sum of money in the pocket.

The Din-Torah resumed, and the Rabbi, who up until now was beginning to formulate a certain opinion, suddenly began to change his line of thought. The Rabbi, puzzled as to why his way of thinking was suddenly changing, told the two parties that he would like to call a recess and have more time to think over the matter.

In the interim he prayed to Hashem to be blessed with the proper wisdom to see the truth. A few days later, as he was putting on his coat, he put his hand in his pocket and suddenly felt a bundle of money. The Rabbi exclaimed, "Now I understand what happened to me. A bribe is so powerful that even though it was given to me without my knowledge it had an effect on my thinking."

Thus the Torah is telling us that even though the judge may indeed be a tzaddik and would not accept a bribe, a bribe given to him, even without his knowledge, may pervert his judgment.

"You shall not plant for yourself an idolatrous tree." (16:21)

QUESTION: From the juxtaposition of this prohibition and the law of appointing judges, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 7b) derives that appointing an unsuitable judge is comparable to planting "an idolatrous tree."
Why is an unsuitable judge compared to an idolatrous tree?
ANSWER: It is not difficult to recognize an idol when it is a carved or chiseled image, but an idolatrous tree looks the same as all other trees.

An improper judge is compared to an idolatrous tree because the outer appearance of every judge is alike: A beard and peiyot, and Rabbinic garb, but the corrupt ones are rotten inside.

An honest judge is one who has a mind of his own. He does not permit people to influence him, nor does he waiver one iota from Torah teaching. An improper judge is one who permits himself to be easily influenced by those around him. He is compared to a tree since he bends and sways to all sides in the wind of public opinion, trying to satisfy the group with the most potential for advancing his interests.

"By the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses shall the condemned person die; he shall not die by the testimony of a single witness." (17:6)

QUESTION: The word "eid" — "witness" — seems extra. It could have just said "lo yumat al pi echad" — "he shall not die by the testimony of one"?
ANSWER: When the Jews would go to battle against their enemies, the special Kohen anointed for battle would address them saying, "Shema Yisrael— Hear, O Israel you are coming near to battle, let your heart not be faint..." He would begin his remarks with the words "Shema Yisrael" to tell the Jews that even if they only had the merit of the mitzvah of reciting Shema, they were worthy of Hashem's help (see 20:3, Rashi).

In the verse, "Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem echad" — "Hear, O Israel, G-d, our G-d is the One and Only" — as it is written in the Torah (5:4), the "ayin" in the first word "shema" and the "daled" in the last word "echad" are written in large letters. These two letters spell the word "eid" — "witness" — informing us that by reciting the Shema the Jew is offering testimony to Hashem's Oneness.

Our pasuk is alluding to the Kohen's proclamation that when a Jew goes to battle, which of course involves mortal danger, "lo yumat" — "he shall not die" — "al pi eid echad" — if his mouth has proclaimed the Shema, which testifies to Hashem's Oneness.

"If a matter of judgment is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your cities, you shall rise up and ascend to the place that G-d, your G-d, shall choose." (17:8)

QUESTION: Instead of "bein dam ledam, bein din ledin, ubein nega lanega" — "between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between plague and plague" — it could have said "bedamim, bedinim, ubenega'im" — "[matters of] blood, verdicts, and plagues"?
ANSWER: Even in countries where democracy supposedly rules, there is rampant anti-Semitism. Regardless of the Jewish contributions to the country's welfare and society at large, when Jewish blood is spilled, it is not treated with the same seriousness as the blood of other nationalities. Unfortunately, throughout the years of our exile, much stiffer decrees and verdicts have been placed upon the Jews than upon any other people, and the "plagues" of persecution which the Jews have suffered have been especially harsh.

The Torah is telling us, "ki yipalei" — should you be perplexed and wonder why there is a difference — "bein dam ledam" — "between blood and blood" — our blood and their blood — "bein din ledin" — "between verdict and verdict" — the verdicts placed on us and those placed on others — "ubein nega lanega" — "between plague and plague"— the "plagues" the Jews endure more than any other nation — the answer is, "divrei rivot bisharecha" — "there are disputes in your cities" — lack of unity and baseless hatred prevailing in the Jewish community is the cause.

"You shall not deviate from the word that they [the judges of the Jewish courts] will tell you, right or left." (17:11)

QUESTION: Rashi quotes the Sifri that, "Afilu omer lecha al yemin shehu semol ve'al semol shehu yemin" — "You must obey the decision of the courts even if they are telling you that right is left and left is right" (see Ramban and Torah Temimah).
The simple meaning of the pasuk is that you should not deviate from anything they tell you. What does the Sifri want to add with the expression "right is left and left is right"?
ANSWER: In the alef-beit the letters shin and sin look identical except that a shin and has a dot on the top right and a sin has a dot on the top left. In the Gemara there are times when a word in a pasuk is written with a sin and the sages interpret the pasuk as though it were a shin, and vice-versa.

For instance, the Gemara (Berachot 14a) says that a person who goes for seven days without dreaming is called "ra" — "wicked." This is derived from the words of King Shlomo (Proverbs 19:23) "Vesavei'a yalin bal yipakeid ra" — "He will rest sated and not be visited with evil." The sages take the word "vesavei'a" which is written with a sin and say, "Read not "vesavei'a" (with a sin) but "vesheva" (with a shin) — meaning "seven" — and therefore derive that one who sleeps seven nights without being visited with a dream from Heaven is considered wicked. Similarly, the Gemara (Mo'eid Katan 5a) says of the pasuk, " 'Vesam derech arenu beyeisha Elokim' — 'Then preparing [lit. set] the way, I will show him the salvation of G-d' (Psalms 50:23). Read not 'vesam' with a sin, but 'vesham' with a shin: 'He who appraises' — i.e. the person who acts intelligently in all situations and can evaluate the benefits or drawbacks of a given action — 'I will show him the salvation of G-d.'" (See also Berachot 15b.)

On the other hand, the Gemara (Ta'anit 7b) says that it is permitted to hate an impudent person since Scripture states "Chachmat adam ta'ir panav ve'oz panav yeshune" — "A man's wisdom lights up his face, and the boldness of his face is transformed" (Ecclesiastes 8:1). Read not "yeshune" — "transformed" (with a shin) — but yesanei — "hated" (with a sin). Thus, the pasuk is teaching us that "ve'oz panav" — the impudent person — "yesanei" — may be hated.

Also, regarding Yaakov's words about Naftali "Hanotein imrei shafer" — "Who delivers beautiful sayings" (Bereishit 49:21), the sages (Sotah 13a) read the word "shafer" as though it were "seifer" — exchanging a samach for a sin, and explain it to mean that Naftali's family delivered the documents to prove Yaakov's burial rights in the Me'arat Hamachpeilah. (See also Berachot 57a.)

In light of the above it can be explained that the Sifri is teaching us that the words of the sages should be cherished and greatly respected even if they are telling you that "right is left and left is right" — i.e. they exchange a shin for a sin or a sin for a shin.

A story is told of a Rabbi who walked into the Beit Midrash one Shabbat afternoon and noticed some students who were engaged in devarim beteilim — idle talk. The Rabbi went over to their table and said to them, "The word Shabbat is an acronym for shinah b'Shabbat ta'anug — 'Studying Torah on Shabbat is a delight.' It is also an acronym for sheinah b'Shabbat ta'anug — 'Sleeping on Shabbat is a delight.' If you are too tired to study Torah, then partake of the other delight and you will awake refreshed and in a spirit to study Torah further."

One of the students replied to the Rabbi, "The word Shabbat is also an acronym for sichah b'Shabbat ta'anug — 'Talking (shemu'esen) on Shabbat is a delight.' " The Rabbi looked at him with disapproval and said, "King Shlomo says, 'A wise man's heart is to his right, while a fool's is to his left' (Ecclesiastes 10:2). Since this cannot be taken so literally, I always wondered what he meant by this. Your remark makes me realize that he meant the following: When the wise man sees the 'shin' in the word 'Shabbat,' he places the dot above it on the right side and thus reads the acronym to indicate either that learning shinah on Shabbat or sleeping sheinah on Shabbat is a delight. However, the fool places the dot on the left side which makes the letter a sin and reads it as sichah — 'idle talk'." The students quickly understood the Rabbi's message and started learning diligently.

"When you come to the land... and you will say, 'I will set a king over myself, like all the nations that are around me.' " (17:14)

QUESTION: Since the Torah permits the Jews to have a king, why was the prophet Shmuel angry when the Jews asked him to appoint one?
ANSWER: The Torah is not opposed to the institution of monarchy in Israel, providing a Jewish king rules in accordance with the Torah and inspires the people to be totally dedicated to Hashem. However, Shmuel was upset with the people's saying "Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations" (I Samuel 8:5). He realized that they wanted to be ruled by secular and not Torah law. Their desire to give up the uniqueness of the Jewish people and emulate the nations of the world provoked Shmuel's anger.

Alternatively, the Torah says "som tasim alecha melech" — "you shall surely set over yourselves a king" — i.e., you should place yourselves under the yoke of the king and be permeated with awe of him. Shmuel was displeased when they said, "Give us a king to judge us." He understood that they wanted a king who would be subject to their control and rule according to their directions.

Alternatively, when the Jews approached Shmuel to appoint a king, they preceded their request saying, "You are old" (I Samuel 8:5). Since Shmuel was only fifty-two at the time of his death, he definitely could not be considered an old man by any means. He was therefore upset that they did not ask him to become their king. Shmuel sensed in their words that they considered the ideas and ideals for which he stood "old and antiquated," and this angered him very much.

To comfort him Hashem said, "It is not only you whom they have rejected, but it is Me whom they have rejected from reigning over them (ibid. 8:7)." With this Hashem meant, "You are indeed justified for being upset when they rejected you as their potential king, but do not feel bad because they did the same thing to Me. Shortly after My taking them out of Egypt they made a golden calf which they accepted as their god instead of Me."

"From among your brothers shall you set a king upon yourselves." (17:15)

QUESTION: A king must be from "among your brothers" and not from a family of converts. If so, how was it permissible for Rechavam to succeed Shlomo when his mother was Na'amah, an Amonite convert?
ANSWER: The Rambam (Melachim 1:4) rules, "one whose ancestors were converts cannot be appointed king unless his mother was born Jewish." The Kesef Mishnah explains that the Rambam's statement, "Unless his mother is Jewish," implies that he is qualified 'all the more so' if his father was born Jewish, even if his mother is a convert. Thus, although Rechavam's mother was a convert, he was eligible to be appointed king by virtue of the fact that his father, King Shlomo, was born Jewish.

Tosafot in the Gemara (Sotah 41b) asserts that if one parent is born Jewish, the person is considered "mikerev achecha" — "from among your brothers" — and may hold a position of authority. The office of king, however, is an exception, and to qualify, both parents must be born Jewish. If so, how was Rechavam permitted to succeed King Shlomo?

Since the instruction, "From among your brethren shall you set a king upon yourself" is preceded by the words, "Som tasim alecha melech" — "You shall surely set over yourselves a king," the rule of being "from among your brethren" only applies to the first member of a family who is being set upon the people as a king but does not apply to his descendants who inherit the throne after him. Their kingdom is not considered a rulership from anew. Proof to this is the fact that the son of the deceased king, needs no anointing (Rambam, Melachim 1:11). Therefore, although Rechavam's mother was a convert, he inherited the throne from his father King Shlomo, whose both parents were born Jewish.

"So that he will not return the people to Egypt... for G-d had said to you 'You shall no longer return on this road again.' " (17:16)

QUESTION: If it is forbidden to return to Egypt, why did the Rambam and other Torah scholars take up residence there?
ANSWER: Since the prohibition is worded, "You shall no longer return on this road again," the Jews were only commanded not to return from Eretz Yisrael to Egypt with the same itinerary with which they traveled from Egypt to Eretz Yisrael (i.e. through the desert). The Rambam traveled to Egypt from Spain, and thus the prohibition did not apply to him.

Alternatively, it is prohibited to live in Egypt only when Eretz Yisrael belongs to the Jewish people. However, when Hashem decreed that we be exiled and dispersed to all corners of the world as a result of our sins, Egypt became just like any other part of the Diaspora. Now it is only forbidden for a Jew to intentionally move out of Eretz Yisrael to another country, otherwise one may live in any country including Egypt.

Alternatively, it is only forbidden to move back to Egypt to live there permanently. However, it is permissible to live in Egypt temporarily for personal reasons, such as business. If afterwards one decides to remain there permanently, while it may be questionable, one does not violate a negative commandment of the Torah.

The Rambam originally did not return to Egypt with the intention to take up permanent residency. However, once he had achieved popularity as a great physician and had held the post of personal physician to the Sultan and many other high government officials, he was compelled by the government to remain.

"And he [the king] shall not have too many wives." (17:17)

QUESTION: The Midrash Rabbah (Shemot 6:1) says that when King Shlomo married more women than he was permitted, the letter "yud" of "velo yarbeh" — "he shall not have too many" — came before Hashem and complained: "Didn't You say that no letter in the Torah can be nullified? King Shlomo is not following your edict!" Hashem responded: "Shlomo and thousands like him will be nullified, and not one iota of your letter will be touched."
Why did only the letter "yud" complain and no other letters of the words "lo yarbeh" — "he shall not have too many"?
ANSWER: Ruth of Moab was the ancestor of King David and King Shlomo. Because of the pasuk: "Lo yavo Amoni u'Moavi bikehal Hashem" — "An Ammonite or Moabite shall not enter the congregation of Hashem" (23:4) — some may have considered Ruth unfit to marry into the Jewish people, thereby rendering King Shlomo unfit to reign.

However, since the word "Moavi" is written with a yud, our sages (Yevamot 69a) interpreted this commandment to include only the males of Moab and not the females. Were it not for the extra yud in the Torah, Ruth would not have been permitted to marry into the Jewish nation and King Shlomo would not have reigned. Thus the yud came before the Heavenly throne and said: "Thanks to me King Shlomo is what he is, and yet he does not follow the 'letter' of the law meticulously!"

"It shall be that as he sits on the throne of his kingdom." (17:18)

QUESTION: Grammatically, instead of "cheshivto" — "as he sits" — it would have been more correct to say "beshivto" — "when he sits"? Also, the word "vehayah" — "it shall be" — seems superfluous?
ANSWER: A newly appointed king makes resolutions to conduct himself morally during his reign. Moreover, according to the Jerusalem Talmud (Bikkurim 3:3), when a person ascends to leadership, all his sins are forgiven and he begins with a clean slate. Unfortunately, as time goes by, people tend to forget their resolutions, and the king, who is only human, also tarnishes his clean slate.

The word "vehayah" denotes simchah, joy and happiness. The pasuk therefore states: "Vehayah" — "It shall be a cause of happiness and joy if — 'cheshivto al kisei mamlachto' — throughout all the years of his reign he will remain as virtuous as he was on the day he ascended to sit on the throne."

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

QUESTION: Why does the pasuk emphasize "kisei mamlachto" — "throne of his kingdom"? It should have just said "vehaya kesheyimloch" — "it shall be when he reigns."
ANSWER: The Torah forbids a king to amass too much "kesef" — "silver" — for himself, to have too many "susim" — "horses" — and to have too many "nashim" — "wives." These things can corrupt him and distract him from his responsibilities. The first letters of the words "kesef" — "susim" and "ishah" spell the word "kisei" — "throne." If he wants to reign securely, he should always remember that "kisei mamlachto" — the success of his kingdom depends on observing the Torah's instruction regarding the three things for which "kisei" is an acronym.

"So that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren and not turn from the commandment right or left." (17:20)

QUESTION: The words "yamin usemol" — "right or left" — are superfluous. It could have just said "and not turn from the commandment"?
ANSWER: The Torah despises haughtiness and praises humility. According to the Gemara (Sotah 4b) conceit and haughtiness are equivalent to idol worship. In discussing the Noahide laws, the Gemara (Sanhedrin 56b) learns from the pasuk "vayetzav Hashem Elokim al ha'adam" — "And Hashem commanded the man" (Bereishit 2:16) — that it is forbidden for them to worship idols because the word "tzav" means idol worship.

When the people murmured against Moshe and Aharon in the wilderness, complaining about the lack of food, Moshe responded "Venachnu mah" — "For what (mah) are we? [Since we are insignificant, why are you inciting complaints against us?] Not against us are your complaints but against Hashem" (Shemot 16:7-8).

Thus, the word "mitzvah" has in it the letters which spell the word "mah," which is an allusion to humility and self-nullification, and also the word "tzav," which is a reference to idol worship.

The Torah is instructing us that the king must have a Sefer Torah to which he can constantly refer to, so that his heart will not become haughty and turn from the mitzvah right or left, implying not to delete the letter mem which is at the right of the word mitzvah, or the hei which is at the left. In this case, only the letters tzaddik, vav remain, which spell the word "tzav," hinting that his haughty behavior is comparable to idol worship.

"You shall be whole-hearted with G-d, your G-d." (18:13)

QUESTION: The pasuk should have stated: "Tamim tiheyeh lifnei Hashem Elokecha" — "You shall be whole-hearted before G-d, your G-d" rather than "with?"
ANSWER: There are many people who act very piously when they are in public, but when no one sees them, their behavior is wanting. The Torah is teaching that even when one is "Im Hashem" — "alone with G-d" — i.e. when no one sees him — he should be pious to the highest degree.

The phrase "tamim tiheyeh" — "you shall be complete" — has the numerical value of nine hundred and ten, which is also the numerical value of the word "Tishrei." This hints to us that especially during the month of Tishrei, when Jews look forward to a "ketivah vachatimah tovah," — to be inscribed in the book of good life for the coming year — they should make an extra effort to repent and be tamim — complete in one's relationship with Hashem.

Alternatively, superficially, to be "tamim" — "complete" —seems like a difficult task. Therefore, the Torah advises us, "im Hashem Elokecha" — "with Hashem your G-d" — remember that Hashem is with you. If a Jew bears in mind that Hashem is always with him and watches everything he does, it will be easy for him to be "tamim" — a complete and righteous Jew.

A story is told of a coachman who once had a venerable Rabbi as his passenger. Seeing a vegetable garden, the hungry coachman stopped the wagon and climbed down to eat something. As he was reaching down to pull out a vegetable, the Rabbi shouted, "Be careful, someone is watching." The frightened coachman ran back to the wagon, and after looking around said to the Rabbi, "Why did you frighten me? I do not see anyone." To this the Rabbi replied, "Hashem is watching."

"You shall be wholehearted with G-d, your G-d." (18:13)

QUESTION: To what extent should one strive to be "Tamim" —"wholehearted?"
ANSWER: The concept of being "tamim" is found twice in the Torah:

  1. In our pasuk in regard to the relationship between man and Hashem.

  2. Concerning the red heifer, which the Torah says should be "parah adumah temimah" — "a completely red heifer" (Bamidbar 19:2).

According to halachah, the heifer must be so completely red that even two off-color hairs disqualify it. However, if there is only one hair of another color, it is still considered temimah — complete (see Bamidbar 19:2, Rashi).

While it is true that the red heifer with one non-red hair is still considered Temimah — complete — when it comes to man's relationship with Hashem, one should strive to be absolutely complete — not off even by one hair.

"When G-d will broaden your boundary... Then you shall add three more cities to these three." (19:8-9)

QUESTION: Why in Messianic times when Eretz Yisrael will be expanded to include the lands of the Kenites, Kenizzites, and Kadmonites, and there will be peace in the world, will there be a need for three more cities of refuge?
ANSWER: The Rambam (Melachim 12:1) writes that even when Mashiach comes, "Olam keminhago noheig" — "The world will continue in the way it was accustomed to." The difference between the Messianic era and the pre-Messianic era will only be with respect to shibud malchiyot — the yoke of government — which will be taken off the people so that they will be free to immerse themselves in Torah study. The glorious future the prophets and sages predicted, when all evil will be removed from the earth, refers to the second phase of the Messianic era, which will happen years after Mashiach reveals himself. However, the expansion of Eretz Yisrael will take place immediately, and thus there will be a need for additional cities of refuge.

Alternatively, the Gemara (Shabbat 12b) relates that Rabbi Yishmael once inadvertently did something forbidden to do on Shabbat. Since, in the time of the Beit Hamikdash one would have to bring a sin-offering for such an act, he recorded in his book that when the Beit Hamikdash will be rebuilt he will offer a fat animal. Extending this example, although there will be no murders committed when Mashiach comes, the cities of refuge will be needed to accommodate those individuals who committed murders inadvertently in the pre-Messianic era.

"It shall be that when you draw near to the war, the Kohen shall approach and speak to the people." (20:2)

QUESTION: The Rambam (K'lei Hamikdash 4:20,21) rules that all positions of authority a person achieves are inherited by his children. Exempted from this is the "Kohen mashuach milchamah" — "the Kohen anointed for battle." Though he is designated and anointed in the same way as a Kohen Gadol, his children do not inherit his position. Why is there a distinction?
ANSWER: Inheritance is a sign of continuity. When a son inherits the position held by his father, he continues in his father's footsteps and extends his good deeds. The Torah generally regards war as something to be avoided except in situations of dire necessity. It is, thus, one instance where continuity is undesirable. By not allowing the son of the Kohen anointed for battle to inherit his father's position, we are demonstrating the prominence of peace in the Torah perspective.

The Gemara (Ta'anit 31a) says that on Tu B'Av (the fifteenth of Av) it was customary for the girls to dance in the vineyards to attract suitable mates for marriage. In order not to embarrass those who were poor, everyone would wear borrowed clothing. The daughter of a king would borrow from the daughter of a Kohen Gadol, and the daughter of the Kohen Gadol would borrow from the daughter of the deputy Kohen Gadol. The daughter of the deputy Kohen Gadol would borrow from the daughter of the Kohen anointed for battle, and the daughter of a Kohen anointed for battle would borrow from the daughter of an ordinary Kohen.

From this order of succession, it appears that the deputy Kohen Gadol is of a higher stature than the Kohen anointed for battle. However, this seems to contradict the rule in Gemara (Horiot 13a) that in the event of pidyon shevuyim — redeeming a hostage — the Kohen anointed for battle has priority?

In view of the foregoing, the difference is easily discernible. The Kohen who was anointed for war is comparable to a Kohen Gadol, and therefore he has priority over the deputy in the matter of pidyon shevuyim. However, where the children of these men are concerned, since the concept of inheritance does not apply to the Kohen anointed for battle as it does to the deputy Kohen Gadol, the daughter of the Kohen anointed for battle is ranked lower than the deputy Kohen Gadol's daughter.

"Then the officers shall speak to the people saying, 'Who is the man who has built a new house and has not inaugurated it? And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it? And who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go and return to his house.' " (20:5-7)

QUESTION: The Rambam (Dei'ot 6:11) rules that one should first have a source of livelihood, then build a house, and afterwards get married. How does this correspond with the order of these pesukim, which first mention building a house and then a source of livelihood — planting a vineyard?
ANSWER: When one plants a vineyard, for the first three years it is arlah, and use of the fruit is prohibited. In the fourth year, the vineyard must be redeemed by bringing the fruits or their value to Jerusalem. Since our pasuk refers to one to whom redemption of a vineyard is relevant, obviously he has owned a vineyard for four years. Thus, the Rambam's rule that first a person should establish a source of livelihood and afterwards build a house accords with our pasuk, because though building a house is mentioned first, the planting of the vineyard actually preceded it.

"Is the tree of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you?" (20:19)

QUESTION: The Gemara (Taanit 7a) interprets the words "ha'adam eitz hasadeh" literally — "man is the tree of the field" — actually comparing people to trees, and learns that just as one is careful with the fruit one eats, one should be careful from whom one learns Torah.
What lesson can we derive from the tree?
ANSWER: Unlike all other plants, which die after a season or two, the tree stays alive continuously for many years. The uniqueness of the tree is due to its roots, the stronger and deeper the roots, the healthier the tree.

The roots of the Jew are his faith in Hashem and attachment to authentic Torah teachings, as conveyed to us by our forefathers, the patriarchs Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov. Every Jew is exposed to many different "seasons" during his lifetime. Unfortunately, some succumb to temptation and neglect their affiliation with Hashem and Torah. The ability to be a staunch Torah-observant Jew throughout an entire lifetime depends on the strength of ones "roots.".

"Only a tree that you know is not a food tree, this one you may destroy and cut down." (20:20)

QUESTION: There is a rule in halachah, "Safeik de'oraita lechumra" — "When there is a doubt regarding a Biblical law, we must act stringently" (Beitza 3b). The Rambam (Tum'at Meit 9:12) states that acting stringently is only a Rabbinic dictum concerning how to act when in doubt in a Biblical matter, but according to Torah law itself, leniency is permissible. If so, why does the Torah state emphatically that "only a tree that you know is not a food tree," may be cut down, which seems to imply that if it is a safeik — doubt — whether it is food tree or not, one must be stringent and not cut it down?
ANSWER: When dealing with a safeik there is a difference whether it is "itchazeik isura" — if "there was already an established prohibition" or not. If at one time it was definitely forbidden and now we are confronted with a doubt whether it should still be forbidden or not, then the Rambam agrees that we must act stringently even according to Torah law.

The Rambam (Melachim 6:9) explains that this verse is talking about an old fruit tree which produces very little and does not compensate for the effort involved. Since this tree was known to bear fruit, it is "itchazeik isura" — "there was already an established prohibition" — on cutting it down, and therefore it may not be cut down unless it is known definitely that it does not produce fruit.

Alternatively, there are two types of doubts. One is a doubt which in no way can be verified, and the other is a doubt which is only due to lack of information and expertise. In the case of a doubt which cannot be verified, the Rambam's opinion is that only due to Rabbinic dictum must we conduct ourselves "lechumra" — "in a stringent way." However, regarding a doubt which can be verified — although presently information is lacking — then even according to Biblical law one must be stringent.

Though an ordinary person may not have the knowledge to verify if a tree is fruit-bearing or not, a professional gardener or a botanist knows how to establish the tree's status. Therefore, the Torah says that the fact that you have a doubt is not sufficient to permit you to act leniently, and the tree may only be cut down only if you know definitely or can verify that it is not fruit-bearing.

"If a corpse will be found on the land... your elders and judges shall go out... Our hands have not spilled this blood." (21:1-7)

QUESTION: Prior to this, the Torah discusses the laws of war. Immediately following this, in the next parshah, the Torah again discusses war.
Why is the law of the eglah arufah — the calf whose neck is broken — discussed between the pesukim on war?
ANSWER: During war there is much bloodshed and loss of life. Often soldiers become callous, and the value of human life, does not impress them. The Torah is teaching that even if it is in between wars and many are losing their lives, the death of an innocent person must be accounted for, and may not be taken with complacency.

A lesson to be learned from the eglah arufah is that a Jew who is alienated and detached from Judaism cannot simply be written off of us as a product of the times and part of a statistic. It is incumbent upon all of us to make sure that he is spiritually "alive" as a Jew, so that we will be able to claim without any hesitancy, "yadeinu lo shafcha et hadam hazeh" — "we have not caused this spiritual shedding of blood."

When Yaakov parted from Yosef, the last halachah he taught him was about eglah arufah (see Bereishit 45:27, Rashi). Possibly, Yaakov meant to impart to Yosef the teaching that even though he might become leader of a mighty nation, he should remember that every person is important and that the highest authorities of the land are responsible for him.

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