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PARASHAT SHOFTIM

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From the World of Rabbi Kook
“Life’s divine graces, exalted through their supremacy, and spreading with their marvelous naturalness and simplicity throughout the Community of Israel by way of the light of the divine ideal implanted within them, render life convenient and refined, sweet and pleasurable, through their intrinsic essence.” (Orot 112)


Rabbi Dov BegonRosh Yeshiva of Machon Meir
Message for Today: “Restore our judges as at first.”


We are commanded to appoint righteous judges, as it says, “Appoint yourselves judges and police in all your settlements… and make sure that they administer honest judgment for the people…. Pursue perfect honesty, so that you will live and occupy the land that G-d your Lord is giving you” (Deuteronomy 16:18,20). Rashi comments, “Appoint competent, righteous judges, to judge righteously.” The appointment of fit judges has the power to bring the Jewish People back to life and to restore them to their land.

Jethro, as well, in setting out to advise Moses about who are the leaders and judges fit to rule and judge the people, says, “You must seek out from among all the people capable, G-d-fearing men – men of truth, who hate injustice… let them administer justice for the people” (Exodus 18:21-22). Also Isaiah, when he saw the crisis in morals and values amongst the people, came out against the corrupt leadership, saying, “Your princes are rebellious, the companions of thieves. Every one loves bribes, and follows after rewards” (Isaiah 1:23). Yet he also comforts the people, saying that a time will come when the entire corrupt leadership will disappear, and in its stead will come a leadership of integrity and righteousness: “I will turn My hand upon you and purge away your dross as with lye, and I will take away all your alloy. I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city of righteousness, the faithful city. Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and they that return of her with righteousness.” (1:25-27)

Today, we are in great need of a leadership of integrity and righteousness. It is towards this end that we daily pray, “Restore our judges as at first, and our counselors as at the beginning” (Shemoneh Esreh). We pray for this in hopes that G-d will “remove from us sorrow and sighing” (ibid.). We need a leadership that will be sensitive to the people’s suffering, both of the public and of the individual. We need a leadership that will remain connected to the people, and will take responsibility for our people, Land and heritage, as expressed by Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaKohen Kook, who went up to Heaven on the third of Elul, seventy years ago: “It is impossible for a person truly to feel the public’s sorrow until he hallows his ways, refining his character and repenting completely. Only those with a pure soul, following a pristine path, who follow G-d’s Torah, can achieve heartfelt empathy for the communal suffering” (Orot HaTeshuvah 13:4). Looking forward to complete salvation,

Shabbat Shalom!


Rabbi Shlomo AvinerChief Rabbi of Beit EL
“Ode to the Reservist”
(and to his wife, whose spirit is ever with him)

The regiment commander has a cookie factory.
The company commander is a chemical engineer.
The platoon commander is a farmer in the valley.
The company sergeant major sells falafel.
The sergeant sells insurance.
The squad commander is a math teacher.
The simple soldier is a lawyer in a soap factory…
And they’re all excellent soldiers,
Who know how to fight with talent and devotion.
They haven’t dealt with war in a long time.
But it’s like riding a bike – you don’t forget.
This whole excellent bunch
Went into battle full of motivation,
In order to do for their children
What their parents did for them.

The regiment commander has bothersome diabetes.
The company commander has back pains.
The platoon commander feels generally rundown.
The master sergeant always has a stomach ache.
The sergeant major has warts.
The squad commander has bad flu.
The simple soldier has some kind of sinusitis
But they’re all excellent soldiers
Who know how to fight with strength and devotion
In the heat of battle
They forget that they are sensitive, delicate and refined.

And those fellows, who each day take pills
Drops, ointments and medicines
Are today healthy and strong
Like at age twenty.
From whence this miracle?
From love of their people and homeland, obviously.

The regiment commander is a sworn atheist.
The company commander wears a large, knitted yarmulke.
The platoon commander has a small, moderate yarmulke.
The company sergeant major has a ponytail and curly hair.
The sergeant has black velvet yarmulke.
The squad commander was raised religious,
— And doesn’t want to hear about religion.
And the simple soldier has a yarmulke
Folded in his pocket for when he needs it.
And they’re all excellent soldiers
Who go into battle full of faith.
Under the helmet they’re all alike,
And you can’t guess what “side” anyone is on.
And at night, when their faces are painted black,
You REALLY can’t tell.

The regiment commander votes Kadima
The company commander no longer votes at all.
The platoon commander likes Mafdal.
The master sergeant is a Likudnik.
The sergeant is Agudah.
The squad commander can’t decide,
And the simple soldier loves Shinui.
But they’re all top-notch soldiers
Who go into battle with faith
That the Jewish People are worth this.
And all these guys
Who don’t agree with one another
And are incapable of talking politics
Suddenly all agree
That they’ve got to put things in order once and for all,
So we can live in peace and quiet…


Rabbi Azriel ArielRabbi of Ateret
“A King Like All the Nations?!”

“Israel were commanded regarding three mitzvoth as they were entering the Land: to appoint a king… to wipe out the seed of Amalek… and to build the Temple…” Such is Rambam’s ruling at the start of his Hilchot Melachim. Yet the Torah’s language is exceedingly different from what is implied here: “When you come to the land… and you say, ‘We would like to appoint a king, just like all the nations around us,’ you shall surely appoint the king that the L-rd your G-d will choose” (Deuteronomy 17:14-15).

What these verses imply is that we are not obligated to appoint a king. Yet if we want one like the other nations have, then we must appoint the one that G-d wishes. So indeed, for example, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno, explains that appointing a king is not obligatory but optional. In his view, it is true that G-d in interested in Israel’s having a ruler, as in Moses’s words before G-d, “Let’s G-d community not be like sheep that have no shepherd” (Numbers 27:17). Yet this shepherd is supposed to be a judge, not a king.

What is the difference between a judge and a king? Both rule over the people. Both lead them out to battle. Yet the judge only rules during his lifetime. He does not bequeath his stewardship to his son after him. The king, by contrast, is “like all the nations.” Amongst them, the nation’s leadership transfers by inheritance from father to son. The difference between judge and king is not technical, but substantive. If the monarchy is transferred by inheritance, it means that the state belongs to the king. Louis the 14th, King of France, proclaimed, “L’État, c’est moi,” [I am the state]. Such are the monarchies of the nations. Sforno explains that the Jewish State, by contrast, does not belong to the leader but to the people. Therefore, leadership cannot transfer by inheritance.

Rambam’s view is different. He rules in accordance with Tractate Sanhedrin that the Torah commands us to appoint a king over Israel. Yet here we are back at square one: If this is a mitzvah, why does it all hinge on the people’s desire to place a king over them like all the nations? Ramban answers that such was the reality when Israel sought a king during the days of the Prophet Samuel. Yet it seems like this explanation does not suffice. We see that the people’s desiring a king is an essential condition for establishing a Jewish monarchy. We therefore need the explanation of the Netziv of Volozhin, who in his day was familiar with the differences between a democracy and a monarchy. He writes: “It seems that the nature of states varies in accordance with whether they are run by the king or by the people and their elected officials. Some countries cannot tolerate a monarchy. Others, without a king are like a ship without a captain. Such a matter cannot be forced by a commandment of the Torah, for the country’s running successfully is a life-and-death matter, and that overrides any positive Torah precept.”

The source of authority for establishing a kingdom is the people. If the people are coerced into a form of government they do not want, that regime will not survive, even if it is a form of government required by Halachah. In order to appoint a king, national consensus is required. “For this reason, there can be no absolute command to appoint a king until the people, seeing surrounding monarchies which run successfully, come to a national consensus to bear the king’s yoke. A Torah command then applies to the Sanhedrin to appoint a king. All the same, the Sanhedrin is not commanded to do so until the people say they want a monarchy.”

On this point, Rambam and Sforno agree. Even if a king is appointed, the source of authority remains the people, for it is their desire which established the regime in the first place. Rambam focuses on this point at length in Hilchot Gezelah (Chapter 5), where he talks about the nations’ kingdoms, whose laws we recognize as law [“Dina Demalchuta Dina”]. Yet the monarchy’s authority derives from the agreement of its citizens. He therefore concludes at the end of the chapter: “When do a monarchy’s laws hold force? When the monarch’s currency is in use. After all, the people of that country agreed on him, concluding that he is their master and they are his slaves (recognition of a currency expresses acceptance of the monarchy’s authority). If, however, the king’s currency is not accepted, the king is like a violent thief, like a band of armed robbers whose laws are not law. In the same way, this king and all his servants are thieves in every sense of the word.” According to this principle, that a kingdom derives it authority from the people, we can understand the ruling of Rav Kook (Mishpat Kohen, page 337), which provides the halachic basis for the burgeoning state of Israel: “It would seem that when there is no king… [the king’s] legal rights return to the nation in its entirety… As far as the laws of the monarchy, which has to do with the nation’s governance, certainly chosen leaders or presidents stand in place of a king.”

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