Parashat Shoftim תשפ”ב
The first verse in this week’s portion (Deuteronomy 16:18) instructs us:
(יח) שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן לְךָ בְּכָל שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר יְדֹוָד אֱלֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לִשְׁבָטֶיךָ וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת הָעָם מִשְׁפַּט צֶדֶק
18) Judges and policemen you shall appoint in all your gateways (cities) – which Hashem your G-d gives you- for your tribes: and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
After the judges render the court’s judgment, the policemen are needed to enforce it. Without policemen to ensure compliance, the decisions of the court would often be useless.
Rabbeinu Bachya (1255-1340) prefaces this week’s portion with the verse in Proverbs (3:17), which describes the Torah and its laws in the following way.
דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום
17) Its ways are pleasant ways, and all its paths are peaceful.
Rabbeinu Bachya expounds:
שלמה המלך ע”ה הודיענו בפסוק זה כי יסוד התורה ועיקרה שלום
In this verse, King Solomon informed us that the foundation and essence of the Torah is peace.
In these few words, Rabbeinu Bachya reveals a unique perspective on the role of the courts and their agents of enforcement: They are here to promote peace. How counterintuitive! When we think of a court case, we think of two sides pitted against each other fighting it out to the bitter end, until the court decides in favor of one and against the other. Many leave the courtroom arch enemies for the rest of their lives. Yet, Rabbeinu Bachya informs us that this is not the case. The role of the court is to bestow peace upon the litigants. How so?
The Torah’s laws are perfectly balanced and, as such, provide a peaceful resolution to difficult money matters between people. Invoking the divine laws of the Torah, the Judges provide a solution that is fair to both sides. When each of the litigants feels that he received a fair judgment, he has no reason to be upset at his opponent. The following story told by Rabbi Noach Weinberg זצ”ל illustrates this point beautifully.
Two non-Jewish Israeli lawyers, a husband-and-wife team, came to Rabbi Weinberg and asked him to convert them to Judaism.
“Why would two successful non-Jewish lawyers want to convert to Judaism?” he asked.
“Here’s the story.” they said. “We bought a new apartment and had a party to celebrate. We invited all our lawyer friends to join us, and, as is customary, they each brought us a gift. Knowing that we were lawyers who specialize in damages, one of our friends brought us a copy of the laws of damages by Maimonides. After having the book on our shelf for a while, we decided to see what Maimonides has to say about the laws of damages. Initially, we were amazed simply by the breadth and depth of the information. But, after studying it deeply, and seeing its brilliance, we began applying the formulas we learned from Maimonides to our cases. As we appropriately applied the formulas, each gave us the insight to the perfectly balanced solution to our case. We realized that no man could be so smart and that these laws had to be the divine laws given by God. We came to convert, because we want to be part of a religion with such a great God.”
The perfect divine laws of the Torah are there to bring peace among the Jewish people. When one of the litigants felt entitled to property in the hands of his fellow, but found out through the court that he was mistaken, he would be grateful to the court for setting him straight and not allowing him to take something that does not legally belong to him. Furthermore, he can have no complaint against the fellow who continues to have it because the court decided that it belongs to him. When looked at from this perspective, clear judgments by the court promote peace between people.
Although this sounds good on paper, in reality it is rarely the case. Losers are never happy. What is the secret to seeing things from the Torah’s point of view?
The Midrash (Devarim Rabba 5:2) adds an interesting perspective on the judges and policemen that human beings require to keep them in line. This idea is not about people at all, but, rather, little creatures that we step on all the time and from which we can learn a valuable lesson.
ב) זש”ה (משלי ז:ג) לך אל נמלה עצל ראה דרכיה וחכם אשר אין לה קצין שוטר ומושל … ומהו ראה דרכיה וחכם רבנן אמרי ראה דרך ארץ שיש בה שבורחת מן הגזל אמר ר”ש בן חלפתא מעשה בנמלה אחת שהפילה חטה אחת והיו כולם באות ומריחות בה ולא היתה אחת מהן נוטלת אותה באה אותה שהיתה שלה ונטלה ראה חכמה שיש בה וכל השבח הזה שיש בה שלא למדה מבריה ולא שופט ולא שוטר יש לה שנא’ (שם) אשר אין לה קצין שוטר ומושל אתם שמניתי לכם שופטים ושוטרים עאכ”ו שתשמעו להן הוי שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך
The Midrash quotes King Solomon from a verse from Proverbs (7:3). “Go to the ant, lazy person; see its ways and become smart for it doesn’t have an officer, a policeman, or a ruler.” What does it mean “learn its ways and become smart?” The Sages teach that this refers to how the ant runs away from theft. Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta told the story of an ant that dropped a kernel of wheat. All the other ants smelled it and left it alone until its owner came and took it. Look at all this wisdom that wasn’t learned from any other creature, yet the ant does so even without a judge or policeman to stop him from taking it. You (human beings) for whom I appointed judges and policemen, how much moreso you should listen to them. (It is remarkable to note that the Sages knew that it was the particular smell of the ant that deterred the other ants. Only recently did scientists discover that each ant has its own unique pheromone that it puts on the morsel of food to claim it as his. When an ant smells the pheromone of a different ant on the kernel, he knows it is not his, and will not touch it.)
The Midrash explains the message contained in the words of the wisest of all men, King Solomon. The ant has no policeman guarding him from taking something that doesn’t belong to it, yet, he will never do so. If it is not his, he will not touch it. We need to look at the ant and learn this concept. If it does not belong to me, I am not allowed to touch it.
This is the basis for the teaching of Rabbi Yochanan (Tractate Eruvin 100b)
אמר רבי יוחנן אילמלא לא ניתנה תורה היינו למידין וגזל מנמלה
Rabbi Yochanan said: “Had the Torah not been given we would have learned not to steal from the ant.”
We can ask Rabbi Yochanan: Why do we learn not to steal from the ant? Why do we not learn that we are permitted to steal from the rest of entire animal kingdom, who steal all the time? Indeed, some people believe that it is improper to steal only because, “You should do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But this reason is not ironclad. What about the person who says, “I don’t mind if people steal from me, because I want to be able to steal from them- it’s survival of the fittest, and let the stronger man win! This system works perfectly in the animal kingdom!”
Rabbi Yochanan’s statement comes from the understanding that Hashem gives each person what he has. One has only what Hashem has determined he has coming to him. The correct reason one is not permitted to steal is because it belongs to the other person. It was given to him, not to me. If I were supposed to have it, I would! This is the lesson that we learn from the ants. Once an ant has put his pheromone on a kernel and has “acquired” it as his, no other ant wants it because he knows it is not his and, therefore, will not take it.
Considering that no ant will ever take a morsel touched by another ant, would it be correct to say that “Ants are very honest little creatures who never steal!?” Hardly. They are not honest! They operate by instinct. The ant has made no moral decision not to take the kernel with the pheromone of a different ant on it! They are programmed not to take it and have no choice in the matter. After all, from where did the ant obtain the kernel of wheat in the first place? Do you really think that he was careful not to take it from someone’s field? Or has he stolen it from the owner of the wheat? Everything he “owns” is stolen goods!
But the lesson that we should learn from the ant is that because the other person’s property is divinely given to him, I should not want it at all. It should be to me like a morsel with the pheromone of a different ant, for which the ant has no desire whatsoever. With this perspective on money and property, it is easy to see how the Torah’s laws promote peace. Since each person wishes to have only his own property, he will be grateful to the court, which helps him sort it out, giving to each party only what is legally theirs.
Rabbeinu Bachya adds that the entire universe is based on שלום peace.
וכן מצינו עיקר בריאתו של עולם שהוא השלום… ונקראו שמים לפי שהם אש ומים, והנה הם שני הפכים, לא יתכן זיווגם והתחברותם כי אם על ידי השלום, הוא שכתוב (איוב כה, ב) עושה שלום במרומיו. הקב”ה נקרא שלום
And we have found that the entire creation is based on peace… The heavens are called שמים because they are a combination of fire and water (a contraction of אש ומים) two opposite forces, which cannot join as one, without peace. This is what Job referred to when he said (Job 25:2), עושה שלום במרומיו “Hashem makes peace in his high places.” Hashem’s name is also שלום, Shalom”.
Hashem’s name is Shalom, peace? This strikes us as unusual. Why would such a common word be a name for Hashem?
To qualify as Hashem’s name, an appellation must portray a characteristic unique to Hashem. If a human being can do it, it cannot constitute Hashem’s name.
Hashem has every good quality. He is, for example, the essence of חסד – kindness, but חסד is not one of Hashem’s names because Avraham Avinu reached the ultimate level ofחסד . Hashem is אמת – truth, but man can also reach a level of absolute truth.
In our daily prayers, we quote the above verse from Job (25:2) עֹשֶׂה שָׁלוֹם בִּמְרוֹמָיו – Hashem makes peace in His high places. What is the need for peace in the high places? Where is the conflict that needs appeasement?
Rashi explains. עושה שלום במרומיו – אש ומים בלולין ואין מים מכבין את האש Fire and water are mixed up, yet the water doesn’t extinguish the fire (and the fire doesn’t evaporate the water).
Rashi’s source, the Midrash, similarly tells us:
ילקוט שמעוני שמות – פרק ט – רמז קפו
אפילו מלאך עצמו חציו אש וחציו מים והוא עושה שלום בו
Even an angel itself is half water and half fire, and Hashem makes peace in it. (The water doesn’t extinguish the fire and the fire doesn’t evaporate the water.)
To create peace between fire and water — two opposing forces– Hashem must know the exact point, down to the atom, at which the heat of the fire does not evaporate the water and the wetness of the water does not extinguish the fire. That line, allowing the perfect balance between these two opposite forces, is something that only Hashem knows. Hence, only Hashem can make peace between the opposing forces in the world. This is why שלום is a name for Hashem.
Wherever there are two opposing forces there must be a balance between them, or one will perforce eliminate the other. The word שלום – peace is related to the word שלם , which means whole. When each component is whole and needs nothing from its opponent to be complete, there will be peace.
This helps us understand the importance of שלום in creation. The world is made up of many different opposing forces. When Hashem created the world, He judged each of the forces in nature and limited it so that it would not encroach on the opposing force. Placing the correct limitations on each of the opposing forces allows them to coexist and create the balance in the world. When Hashem’s perfect balance is maintained, the world functions flawlessly. When the balance in nature is thrown off, negative consequences are sure to follow.
The balance in creation is astounding; from the perfect balance among the hundreds of billions of stars and galaxies, to the incredible balance in the many systems in the human body, down to the balance in the electron’s orbit, as it circles the nucleus millions of times per second.
In every corner of our universe, Hashem maintains the perfect balance necessary for the universe and everything in it to exist. In one instance, the precision of the balance is 30 decimal points (That’s .1 with 30 zeros after the decimal point). That means that if the number was off by even that miniscule amount, the whole balance in nature would be thrown off. After many years of scientific research that has revealed the complexity and precision in every aspect of creation, we appreciate even more Rabbeinu Bachya’s statement, “And so we have found that the entire creation is based on peace…”
When King Solomon said that the foundation and essence of the Torah, is peace, this would have to apply to all the Torah’s laws including the laws between man and Hashem. How does, for example, the Torah instill peace through laws of eating kosher or of wrapping tefillin on one’s arm?
Rabbeinu Bachya addresses this matter also.
כל מצוותיה של תורה הן שלום לגוף ולנפש, שלום לגוף הוא שכתוב (שמות טו, כו) ויאמר אם שמוע תשמע לקול ה’ אלהיך והישר בעיניו תעשה והאזנת למצוותיו וגו’, שלום לנפש כי מצד קיום המצוות תשוב הנפש טהורה לשורשה, כענין שכתוב (תהלים יט, ח) תורת ה’ תמימה משיבת נפש, ותהיה מדת השלום שואבת אותה
All the laws of the Torah bring peace to the body and soul. It brings peace to the body as the verse says (Exodus 15:26), “If you listen to the voice of Hashem and do what is correct in His eyes, all the sicknesses that I place on the Egyptians I will not place upon you.” It is good for the soul because after performing the mitzvot on this world, the soul will return pure to its source in heaven.
Every mitzvah in the Torah is perfectly suited to the human being. No mitzvah is too difficult for a Jew to perform. Hashem our Creator knows our limitations and He designed the mitzvot to be perfectly balanced. They are challenging but not impossible. By rising to the challenge and performing the mitzvah, one grows to a higher spiritual level and comes closer to Hashem.
There is another aspect to how the Torah brings peace to the body and soul. Like fire and water, body and soul are two opposite forces. The body was crafted from the dust of the earth, and the soul, blown into man by Hashem, is a completely spiritual entity, a “piece” of Hashem so to speak. These two contradictory forces continuously place their demands on a person that he satisfy their needs. The body wants to indulge in all the world’s physical pleasures, while the soul has spiritual aspirations, to perfect itself and rise to higher spiritual levels.
A person must engage in physical acts to live and survive in this physical world. One must eat, sleep, and, to keep the world going, procreate. How can one become spiritual when he must engage in physical actions? It would seem that as one engages in physical pleasures, they would influence him to become a very “earthy” person. How, then, is a Jew expected to become spiritual?
The Torah provides the answer to this conundrum. By exercising your soul to decide which physical pleasures you engage in, and by exercising your soul to decide when and how much to indulge your body in the physical pleasures, you transform the physical pleasures into spiritual acts. Since they are guided and controlled by the soul, they are no longer in the domain of the body seeking satisfaction. Rather, they are in the soul’s domain determining what the body needs so it can continue to survive and serve Hashem.
The Torah gives us very clear guidelines in all areas of human endeavor. These guidelines afford us the opportunity to exercise our souls in all of our decisions, which creates the balance – the שלום – between the body and soul. In this sense, the foundation and essence of the Torah is peace.
This week’s portion’s opening verse says, “Judges and policemen shall you appoint for you in all your gateways.”
The commentaries wonder about the usage of the word “לך” for you in the verse. Why the seemingly extra word?
Metaphorically, they explain that this commandment applies not only to the leaders of every community to appoint judges and officers, it also applies to each of us to appoint judges and officers for our gateways. Which gateways are they referring to? The Sheloh Hakadosh (R. Isaiah b”r Abraham haLevi Horowitz, 1560-1630) explains that there are seven gateways in a person’s body: his two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and mouth. These seven gateways require judges and policemen. A judge is required to determine what should be allowed to enter or to exit these gateways, and policemen are needed to enforce the judgments.
Our eyes are gateways to the world around us. How hungry they are to see something new or something unusual. The images that enter through our eyes have the power to influence us in profound ways. We must be vigilant judges to discriminate between the images that we may view and those that will have a negative influence on us. We must use discretion where we direct our gaze, judging if what we wish to look at will bring benefit to our soul or not.
Our ears are the gateways to our minds, even more than our eyes. Although “a picture is worth a thousand words,” sometimes we don’t know the words that should accompany the picture to explain what we are seeing. Without the proper explanation, we may misinterpret the picture completely. Hence, the words that enter through our ears must also be carefully judged and screened. They may contain lashon hara or slanderous words against the Torah. We must open our ears to hear words of Torah and wisdom, which will make us more learned in Torah and better human beings.
Our mouths have the power both to kill and to build. The words that leave our mouth must be carefully judged and screened to be sure we are not spreading lashon hara or slander. We must be careful not to allow words that will hurt others to leave our mouths. We must also be sure to open our mouths to say words of encouragement and praise that will help others feel good and grow greater. We must also carefully guard our mouths by being discriminate as to which foods enter our mouths.
(The Sages did not speak about the nostrils, but I am sure that you will come up with something after a little thought.)
A gateway symbolizes a transition from one domain to another. An important decision in life may be described as a gateway to a new frontier. In this regard also, the Torah is teaching us to use discrimination in all of our decisions. Use the Torah’s value system as the medium by which you make all of your decisions. All the ways of the Torah are peace and they will always bring you the decision that will instill the greatest amount of peace in your life.
18) Judges and policemen shall you appoint in all your gateways (cities) is the secret to peace in Creation, between people, and, ultimately, within oneself.