VOLUME 72 NUMBER 6 September 5, 2014 Elul 10, 5774
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in honor of Ms. Leban on the occasion of the birth of a new grand-daughter. Mazel Tov!
In the Hot Seat
The letter came in the mail. Very official looking, computer generated, worrisome. It wasn’t my overdue tax refund. It wasn’t an overdue library book notice. It was… jury duty.
I think the normative response to receiving a summons to serve on a jury is to groan and to begin plotting how to get out of it. So I did.
Unfortunately, it didn’t help. In fact, nothing helped. I was actually chosen to serve on a jury, for a three-day trial, in the Denver County Court system.
Well, I wasn’t really chosen. There was a random group of us seated in the juror’s chairs—two to three times the number of jurors they actually needed. Then the prosecuting attorneys and the defense attorneys took turns “challenging” certain people, i.e. sending them home. I never looked forward to such a challenge in my life.
But it never came. When the music stopped, I was in a juror’s chair. It was a criminal case.
Afterwards, an experienced attorney I mentioned it to expressed surprise that the prosecution had left me on the jury. It made me wonder. Why should he assume that I would have been struck from the jury by the prosecution? Maybe he thought I would have pulled the ole’ bar mitzvah excuse, a distant cousin of the “I’ve got a funeral” excuse? Or maybe he would have assumed that the prosecuting attorney could not possibly have been Jewish (Jewish lawyers are always defense attorneys, defending the downtrodden) and the non-Jew would certainly have let the Rabbi go.
More likely his assumption was that the prosecution, who wanted to see the defendant found guilty and sentenced, would have guessed that a Rabbi would be a merciful, forgiving guy. He would prefer to give the defendant a second chance than actually convict him. After all, Judaism is largely about forgiveness, isn’t it?
After a read through this week’s parsha, you might say otherwise. Several offenses that carry the death penalty are mentioned. The source for corporal punishment in general is in this week’s parsha. There is even a verse that discusses cutting off a lady’s hand (even though the verse only means to assess a monetary value equal to her hand, as is the halacha.) On the surface of it, there are a lot of pretty strong disciplinary measures in this week’s parsha. We must be a tough religion. Maybe the prosecuting attorney read this week’s parsha and that’s why he left me on?
Mercy and forgiveness are certainly important concepts in Judaism. A more important concept, however, is justice. Within a system of justice there is room for mercy. Justice is what gives us responsibility, the opportunity to earn reward for our meritorious behavior and the incentive to avoid its opposite. As the medrish explains, when G-d created the world, he began solely with the attribute of justice. Only afterwards did He complement it with mercy. It’s justice, even more so than mercy, that the Torah teaches.
In our society, I believe we tend to lean towards the side of mercy. Everybody wants a second chance, and will gladly accept a third and fourth if offered. Judaism is also big on mercy, we have mercy to thank for our survival as a nation. Justice, however, is our first love and consideration. For without justice, there would be no jury to sit on at all.
Brother, Can I Borrow Some Time?
If someone’s donkey is overloaded with its burden and requires assistance, we must hasten to help our fellow man and readjust the donkey’s load. However, if the donkey’s owner doesn’t join us in the effort, we are exempt from helping him. We are required to help others, but not do their work for them. Chofetz Chaim understands this matter in a totally esoteric manner. When a person exerts himself to improve and elevate himself, then Hashem will ‘hasten’ to assist and provide Divine support. However, if one doesn’t strive to amend his ways and enhance his lifestyle, then he does not merit to receive Hashem’s aid.
In our daily prayers, we beseech Hashem to grant us the ability to study Torah and imbibe its lessons. It is incumbent upon us to dedicate time from our busy schedules in order to accomplish that goal. Too often, we feel rushed and leave shul immediately upon completion of our davening, and we never quite set up a study partner or sit down to learn. If we truly ‘listened’ to our prayers and realized that we are imploring Hashem to help us gain from His Torah, wouldn’t we spend at least a few moments after davening to peek into a sefer? As time passes and we fail to take advantage of the opportunities that surround us, eventually they are no longer there.
Chofetz Chaim gives a metaphor of someone who wants to borrow money. The lender is eager to do the mitzvah of lending money, and tells the borrower to come to his house where he stores his money. However, the intended borrower never shows up to get the money. Can the borrower complain that the lender never gave him the loan? Of course not. Too often there are situations in life where if we would only seize the chance to improve our lives, we could become totally different people.
Chofetz Chaim also offers a penetrating insight that provides us with an impetus to utilize our ‘free’ moments to their fullest. He cites Pirkei Avos which states that if one toils in Torah, then he will merit much reward. However, if he abstains from studying Torah, he will encounter many distractions in life that will deter him from Torah study. The point of this statement is as follows. Of course there are many necessities of life that require due attention and which divert us from Torah study. Surely when one has to earn a livelihood, he is unable to study Torah during the time when he is occupied with his business. However, when one is not busy and has a few moments to study Torah, does he seize the opportunity or does he occupy himself instead with trivial matters? Chofetz Chaim explains that if a person only devotes time to his profession because of the necessity of providing for his family, then not only will he receive reward for Torah study when he is indeed involved, but even those hours which he has spent earning a living will be rewarded as if they were Torah study, since if it weren’t for his need to provide for his family he would be in the beis medrash studying. Hence he will merit ‘much reward.’ On the other hand, if he avoids spending time to study and exceedingly uses his time unnecessarily, then Hashem will permit other situations to occur which will also cause him to avoid Torah study. Therefore, due to his abstention from Torah study, Hashem arranges that he will experience other detours from the beis medrash, and he will have ‘many circumstances’ that prevent him from studying.
We are slowly but surely approaching Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment. At that daunting time, we are going to plead with Hashem to grant us another year of life so that we can continue to serve Him. Perhaps we need to ask ourselves a question in advance of that day. As the Heavenly Court scrutinizes our year of debits, wrongdoings, sins and iniquities. Hashem’s attribute of mercy is infinite, yet we must have a saving grace which will allow His mercy to assist us on that ominous day. We must provide at least a glimmer of hope that we are attempting to even slightly alter our ways and begin to live more so in accordance with the Torah. If we shift our priorities around and get to the important activities that we should be doing, Hashem will view our lives in a more favorable light.
Joke of the Week
When young David was asked by his father to say Shema, he realized he didn’t have his head covered. So David asked his little brother Michael to put his hand on his head. This worked for a while until Michael got tired and took his hand back.
The father said, “Michael, this is important. Could you put your hand back on his head!”
Michael retorted, “What, am I? My brother’s kipah?”
BYTE for Shabbos
The parsha says that when we go to war against our enemies, we must make sure that our ‘camp is clean’. Although each individual must do battle with his own vices and conquer them, one should wage this war within the context of the ‘camp’, i.e. together with the community. Our intent should not only be to elevate ourselves, but that each and every person in our community should also achieve success in their lives.