Parshas Shoftim

August 9, 2013                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          ELUL 3, 5773
Candle-lighting Time: Between 6:36 pm and 7:45 pm

This edition of Sparks of Torah is dedicated in the merit of a speedy recovery for Tinok ben Kayla Malka.



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Under the Desk

Rabbi Leban

Once there was this fellow who owned his own widget manufacturing business. He founded it and carefully nurtured it until it grew to be quite successful. After more than a decade, he felt like it was high time for a vacation to Tahiti.

Before he left, he placed one of his employees in charge of the factory. He then carefully wrote detailed instructions for operating the factory on the main office wall. Every possible circumstance and contingency was covered; all the interim manager had to do was follow the instructions.

The owner headed off to the airport, bathing suit and sunblock in hand.

Three weeks later, he returned. He pulled up to the factory to see how everything had proceeded in his absence.

The workers were sitting down near the machines. Packing tape and cardboard were everywhere, and misshapen widgets were strewn about randomly. Conveyor belts were flying around and around, and there were large pools of motor oil collecting on the floor.

The owner ran into the office to find his ‘manager.’ He was under the desk, hunting through a large pile of papers that seemed to have come from the emptied filing cabinets.

The owner stared at him, totally aghast.

“What happened here while I was gone? Why didn’t you follow the directions I left for you?!”

The employee shrugged his shoulders, which was difficult from under the desk. “I guess I forgot,” he sullenly replied.

This week we begin Chodesh Elul, the Jewish month immediately preceding Rosh Hashanah. During this month, we prepare for our upcoming meeting with the King of Kings.

Hopefully we haven’t made too much of a mess of things since last year, but let’s be realistic. It’s never a bad idea to check the instructions one more time. We would hate to be caught under the desk in a pile of papers, having forgotten to follow G-d’s instructions for the successful operation of His widget factory.



Rabbi Nussbaum

The Torah states that we may not appoint a king who is a foreigner, a non-Jew, and additionally he must be from ‘your brethren.’ What are these two criteria?

Rashbam understands that we must not look to the non-Jewish world for a leader who is well trained in war in order to lead us in battle. Our leaders are not General Eisenhowers or those who were trained at West Point. As the commentaries explain, the true leaders of the Jewish nation are men of rare caliber in righteousness and deeply steeped in erudition of the Talmud. We must remember that we do not win our wars based on the normal strategic formulae that other armies use. Rather, we depend on Hashem to assist us in our battles, and it is our allegiance to Him that gives us the power and strength to defeat our enemies.

The second criteria, that our king must be from ‘your brethren’, is a warning. Rashbam explains that without this, we would be led astray to serve idols. One may argue that in those days idol worship was rampant, and thus any king other than a Jewish one would be involved in such. However, the concept is a valid one even generations later and especially today. Idol worship doesn’t only mean bowing down to idols and serving them, it is a concept that permeates the soul and the mind of the person. Any king that we would appoint from a foreign source would have been indoctrinated in the culture and philosophy of the civilization from which he comes. Only an individual that has been exposed to Torah during his developmental years would have the ability to lead the people forward in their mission to serve Hashem in the best way possible.

The Aramaic translation of Yonasan ben Uziel adds a fascinating aspect to this mitzvah of appointing a king. He prefaces the Torah’s command to anointing a Jew from our nation with the understanding that we must continuously strive to learn Torah from Hashem. Therefore, we must select a king that we will be able to emulate and derive life lessons from. If the person that will be our king cannot relate to the people as a teacher, then we must not invest our interest in such a person.

Seemingly, if our king would not be Jewish, he would not be able to fulfill that task. This is truly a fascinating and noteworthy comment on the nature of our nation in contrast to the nations of the world. Albeit that there are many non-Jewish educators, however education and transmission of Torah are apparently not identical issues.

Although information can be conveyed, even by means of a computer, however, Torah dissemination is a totally different matter. Torah knowledge does not describe the totality of the communication of Torah from generation to generation. Rather, the source of that knowledge, the teacher who relays that knowledge to others, must embody in his daily conduct the concepts that he is articulating. This distinction defines the contrast between a Jewish king and a leader of one of the nations of the world.

The Torah also warns the king not to have too many horses. One may wonder what could be so bad if he owns a lot of horses. Ibn Ezra enlightens us that in those days the best horses came from Egypt. If we would begin to purchase horses from there, we would be inclined to return to Egypt to acquire them. Upon returning there this would desecrate Hashem because He redeemed us from there and yet we are returning there, as though we are reversing our redemption from Egypt. A true lesson in how careful one must be in honoring Hashem.


A Question for the Rabbis

The Torah prohibits destroying fruit-bearing trees even during a siege of an enemy city (Deuteronomy 20:20). Rabbi Moshe Shternbuch was asked if it is permitted to remove a non-fruit-bearing tree that is causing damage to a building. He responded that the Torah clearly permits this as the verse states, “Those trees that you know to be non-fruit-bearing, you may destroy.” However, there are later sources that maintain that if one destroys a tree of any type they will “not see blessings from this” and so Rabbi Shternbuch says that if possible one should ideally sell the tree to a non-Jew and have him transplant the tree to another location rather than destroy it. However, if that is not possible, there is no legal prohibition against its destruction if it is not fruit-bearing and is causing damage (Responsa Teshuvot Vehanhagot 5:391).


Joke of the Week

You do not need a parachute to skydive. You only need a parachute to skydive twice.



In choosing a king, there is an additional aspect which although is not required, it is preferable. He must be able to trace his lineage so that we can identify him as being one who is definitely Jewish. When we are connected to the very roots of our nation, then we are guaranteed that the king will be successful.