Parshas Shoftim 5774

VOLUME 72 NUMBER 5     August 29, 2014      Elul 3, 5774

Workout Season
By Rabbi Raphael Leban

Every year, towards the end of December, there is a universal American custom. We take a look in the mirror, pinch a little here, squeeze a little there, and sincerely resolve to take better care of our bodies. More exercise, a few less desserts, a bit more sleep.

There’s another universal custom, a complimentary one, which takes place around the middle of January. According to this ancient national custom, we note that the resolution lasted less than two weeks, take the mirror off the wall and give up until next year.

I would like to humbly suggest a possible solution to the problem. This year, every day after the resolution is made, at an early hour of the morning, we’ll sound an alarm. A piercing shriek that could wake the neighbors, lasting fifteen seconds. The noise will serve as a reminder. Today, keep your resolution. Go jogging, eat a salad, skip dessert, whatever. Just stay on the program.

Then, we’ll pick a day, a month later, as a national day of assessment and reward. For those who listened to the sound of the alarm and shed a few unwanted pounds, there will be a celebration and they’ll receive fabulous prizes for the rest of the year.

For those that dropped the ball and slept through the alarm, we’ll give them ten more days, with the option to celebrate on the tenth.

Sound like a plan? Who knows, maybe this year we’ll get farther than two weeks.

As the Jewish Year draws to a close, we also have some ancient national customs. About this time of year, we look back at our year, peer closely at this behavior or that one, and sincerely resolve to take better care of our souls. A little less gossip, a bit more Torah learning, improved relationships with the family.

In order to keep our spiritual self-improvement program on track, we even have an alarm. From the very first day of Elul, the last Hebrew month of the year, (which started this week) we blow the shofar every morning after services. A good loud set of blasts – tekiya, shevarim, terua, tekiya. Then we say a chapter of Tehilim (Psalms), which reconfirms our uplifting spiritual commitment.

At the end of the month comes Rosh Hashana. All those who have really made some serious improvements in last year’s behavior can start celebrating immediately.

Anyone who hasn’t gets ten more days. Then, on the tenth of the New Year comes Yom Kippur – the last chance to hand in your spiritual evaluation forms. For the rest of the year, it’s fabulous prizes based on past success and future potential.

Sound familiar? Our ‘Spiritual Trainer’ has a great program set up for us. And who knows, maybe this year we’ll make just enough progress to make Him proud.

by Rabbi Dovid Nussbaum

The Torah enumerates numerous sins which we are commanded to abstain from. Firstly it is abhorrent to utilize one’s children in the service of idol worship by passing them through fire. This needs little explanation. In the same verse, the Torah lists many practices involving witchcraft and sorcery which also categorized as abominations. The juxtaposition suggests that there is an equivalence drawn between potential incineration of one’s children and involvement in necromancy. What’s the connection?

Nachmonides has a lengthy dissertation explaining this issue which is quite fundamental to our understanding of how the world at large functions. Hashem created this world with an organizational hierarchy that we do not see from a quick glance at creation. But it truly exists and in a descending pyramidal order there are forces that orchestrate and manipulate those influences that in turn control other forces that affect this world. The intricacy of this configuration exceeds the limits of our comprehension but the entire world is subject to this dynamic. The mystics expend much of their writings discussing the collaboration of the various components of this universal structure. It is the celestial engine that propels the operation of the cosmos. This is the process that Hashem uses to sustain and control the universe.

Genuine sorcery can effectively disrupt and disturb this elaborate, complex order. Besides the obvious interruption of the standard operational system that is in place, there is a critical tampering occurring. Hashem allows this tinkering, since he gave us some degree of control of this world, however this corruption is tantamount to direct insolence and defiance. This reveals pervasive contempt for Hashem’s plan for the world and more so seeks to eradicate His command of the creation and its mechanisms. Substituting another force in place of Hashem does not just border on the concept of idol worship; it is rather the embodiment of idolatry itself. Therefore, the Torah groups these sins with the act of idol worship referred to in the beginning of the list. Resultantly, it is regarded as an atrocity, an action which is repulsive to Hashem.

Subsequently, this corrupt behavior leads us to stray from our trust in Hashem. We can no longer be confident that our best interests are His singular intent, because we have destroyed our connection with Him. Our relationship with Hashem has been absolutely devastated. Although it is reparable, nonetheless it will entail comprehensive and extensive effort to restore our prior state of connection.

Ibn Ezra understands that the fundamental sin of the various sorceries is that we cease to depend on Hashem for leadership and direction. We assume instead that our abilities are so far-reaching that we no longer need to bank on Hashem to navigate through life and its vicissitudes. It is the ultimate mutiny when man relegates Hashem to a status inferior to himself.

In fact, this rebellious attitude goes much deeper. When we depend on Hashem for our stability and ongoing existence, we live in a world which goes beyond the natural sequence of events that dictate what transpires. However, when we chart a course based solely on man’s intelligence, then we subject ourselves to the laws that control the world in its normal state. We can no longer anticipate that Hashem will offer extraordinary intercession when such is required. Rather, we must provide for our own needs and not expect that He will afford us of his Divine resources.

Malbim offers another insight. When we are commanded to trust Hashem, it alludes to the idea that all events that occur are ordained by Hashem. We must scrutinize the seemingly ordinary so that we can appreciate the concealed hand that is always manipulating and orchestrating. It is so easy to slip into the casual mode of assumption that events are random and meaningless. This is the approach adopted by the majority of humanity. However, we must realize our commitment to identify the Divine which exists within the mundane. And even if we can’t detect the Heavenly Court’s dominion within the situations that are taking place, still we must strengthen our resolve to continuously pursue that goal to ‘see’ Hashem in all that is happening.

Joke of the Week

Found in a kosher fortune cookie:
Zen is not easy. It takes effort to attain nothingness. And then what do you have?  Bupkis.


The Torah commands a Jewish king to have two Torah scrolls. Isn’t one enough? When a person becomes great he is more accountable than the average person.