VOLUME 67 NUMBER 6
August 16, 2013
ELUL 10, 5773
PARSHAS KI SEITZEI
Candle-lighting Time: Between 6:28 pm and 7:36 pm
This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in memory of Lary Herz’s father, ob”m, on the occasion of his first yahrzeit.
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Who’s Side Are You On?
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 modern American society, 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.
How Much Does that Ticket Cost?
The World to Come, Olam Haboh, is described by our Sages in such laudatory terms that we cannot even comprehend what it is like. Yet, we do know that whoever merits going there will experience tremendous proximity to Hashem and incredible reward for the mitzvos that he has performed in this world. Therefore, it would seem that tremendous sacrifice must be required in order to gain entry into that coveted dimension of paradise.
However, upon examination of this week’s parsha we notice that if one sends away a mother bird before taking the young birds, he merits an unbelievable reward, i.e. length of days in the World to Come. Isn’t this incredible? Is it so easy to achieve the World to Come?
Sforno comments that this mitzvah entails and embraces the idea of dealing kindly with Hashem’s creation, perhaps a precursor for today’s concern for our rapidly disappearing natural habitat for each region’s wild animals. Although one is allowed to take the young birds for his needs, even so, the mother bird is permitted to escape and bear another brood that will continue the existence of the species. Obviously, this trivial act doesn’t register on the global level and that particular species of bird would probably not be so adversely affected if on occasion someone would indeed take the mother bird as well. Nonetheless the Torah recognizes even this negligible act of sympathy and compassion. And so this individual, who has not performed some tremendous act of courage or heroism, is entitled to a portion in Olam Haboh. This is both fascinating and quite difficult to understand.
Perhaps we may suggest that the ultimate distinction which enables a person to be close to Hashem are those very actions which emulate those particular attributes that we ‘admire’ in Hashem. The greatness of Hashem doesn’t lie in His vast might to defeat our enemies. Rather it is in the daily benevolence of which we are the fortunate recipients. Such a mighty and powerful Ruler of the Universe, yet the needs of each and every person are fully recognized and attended to by Hashem. It is mind-numbing to appreciate the millions of acts of largesse and generosity that occur every single moment across the globe. Although effortless for Him of course, still the evident concern and desire to care for all living creatures is pronounced and manifest.
It is possible that we focus too strongly on our own needs and forsake what others could benefit from. Sometimes those ‘others’ may even be our own family members. Too often we ignore the needs of those closest to us and primarily concentrate on the necessities of individuals that we are only somewhat associated with. The Heavenly Court does not make such distinctions when dispensing its vast resources throughout the world. All of mankind and the entire animal kingdom are included in the universal plan to insure the ongoing existence of every living creature as so clearly indicated by the mitzvah we earlier discussed.
We are slowly but surely approaching those days when Hashem decides who will merit yet another year to trod upon the earth and achieve more mitzvos. Also there will be those that will not merit that opportunity. What divides us and tilts the judgment in our favor? Clearly, one who expends his time and energy on behalf of others is more likely to be considered as an asset to his community and people. Now is a vital time to assess where we stand. Are we self-seeking in our conduct, only assuring that all is well with our personal lives or do we also have a strong focus upon others?
A Question for the Rabbis
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein was asked if smoking marijuana was permissible. He responded that it is forbidden and gave a number of reasons. First he mentions both the physical and mental health risks of marijuana as sufficient reason to forbid its use. Also, if marijuana use is illegal by state law, then Jewish law requires obedience to that law, and hence it would be prohibited by Jewish law. He also assumes that one’s parents would object, and hence the obligation of respect for parents would also forbid its use. He then cites the case of the “rebellious son” from our parsha, who is described by the Talmud as being addicted to meat and wine, which will inexorably lead him into a life of crime (Sanhedrin 70a). Rabbi Feinstein maintains that the case of the “rebellious son” teaches us a Biblical prohibition against engaging in addictive behavior and consuming addictive substances (Igrot Moshe, Yoreh Deah 3:35).
BYTE FOR SHABBOS
The Talmud states that we predominantly receive reward for performance of mitzvos in the World to Come. However, a mitzvah which involves showing understanding and empathy for others is compensated even in this world.
Joke of the Week
The shinbone is a device for finding furniture in a dark room