16, 18 - 21, 9
- 40 Mitzvot
- Discover the meaning of the mitzvot
- Linguistic meaning
- The traditional sources
- Jewish thought and analysis
- Make connections
- Rashi's method
- Towards the sod
- The two Torah scrolls
- The inalterability of the Torah
- Two warnings
- The haftara
- The relevance of this world
- The level of the sod
Read and listen to the parasha
teanim Ashkenazim (Ort link)
Read and listen to the haftara
teanim Ashkenazim (Ort link)
Reading lesson of the parasha
and the prayers, all levels
This parasha teaches us 40 mitzvot
(491 to 531 out of 613) which the Shla divided into 6 pillars
(amudim) which support the world (Torah, avoda, gemilut
hassadim, din emet, shalom).
The pillar of the Torah relates
to the mitzvot that govern the Levites who study and teach
the Torah, and who do not own land but live off donations
The pillar of avoda relates
to the prohibition against planting trees on the Temple
Mount, erecting stone monuments and sacrificing blemished
The pillar of gemilut hassadim
represents the benevolence and compassion one must show
to the dead and the cities of refuge for those who commit
The pillar of din (justice)
relates to the mitzvot that govern the nomination of judges,
the bearing of testimony, the powers of the judges, and
the nomination of a king who will lead the people in the
way of the Torah.
The pillar of emet (truth) relates
to sorcerers and false prophets.
The pillar of shalom relates
to the mizvot of war, treatment of the inhabitants of Canaan,
the participation of the Cohanim, and the injunction not
to fear our enemies.
Discover the meaning of the mitzvot in the text
The parasha does not give us
just a moral and social code of life. There is much more
and those who only limit themselves to moral thought in
their interpretation of the Torah are mistaken. Moral thought
is important but it is not enough: we must also discover
the true meaning of the text by asking and answering questions
based on the particular characteristics of the Hebrew text.
Analysis of the linguistic features
of the text
We must always search for the special features of the language
in the Torah, for it is these that give us the key to understanding
First linguistic feature: the
text does not say: "you will judge according to justice"
(which would conform to the concept of the Torah as a moral
and social code), but says: "justice justice shalt
thy follow" (tzedek tzedek tirdof, Devarim 16, 2).
This leads us to the question: "why is the word justice
repeated?" The answer will enlighten us as to the meaning
of the whole parasha.
Second linguistic feature: the
structure of the first verse (Devarim 16, 18):
judges and officers
shalt thou make thee."
This leads to a comparison of the words titen lekha (towards
you) with the word alekha (over you) in the injunction (Devarim
"shum taasim alekha melekh
thou shalt in any wise set king over thee."
Why are these two different expressions used here? In order
to answer this, it is necessary to look up the references
Tradition gives us the key to understanding the Torah
After the formulation of questions, the traditional method
of study consists in referring to the sources that deal
with these questions (this is why, in addition to studying
alone or in a group, it is important to study with someone
who knows the tradition).
The Talmud, in reference to
the above text, poses many questions (Yevamot 45 and Sanhedrin
20) regarding the prophet Samuel's surprising dismay (I
Samuel 8, 6-17) when the people ask him to name a king:
"Samuel was dismayed to hear them say: give us a king
to judge over us, vayera hadavar be ein Shmuel kasher ameru
tena lanu melekh." The prophet, in fact, knew full
well that the Torah had commanded that a king should be
appointed and that he would rule according to the Torah.
This was further emphasized by the fact that it was written
that the king should have 2 Torah scrolls, one within his
residence and the other to accompany him in combat. Thus
the king would have to take the two into account in his
governance of the people, which means that the Torah represents
the domain both of the inner and outer worlds and the two
should not be confused.
Jewish thought is constructed
on a wealth of associations and not simply on logic. It
is for this reason that the word tzeded is repeated twice,
"justice, justice" (Devarim 16, 20). Thus
- on the one hand there is an appearance of similarity,
- and on the other, there is a need to discern and distinguish
differences. This is what this parasha teaches us. This
is the key and this is what will form the basis of Jewish
intelligence - that sharp analytical skill which quickly
detects falsehoods and deceptions. We have seen many times
how the Torah only reveals itself to those who are willing
to strive to understand it.
The teaching of this parasha
in the context of the whole Torah
We have seen how previous parashiot revealed to us the meaning
of creation (Bereshit), the meaning of history (Shemot),
the role of sanctity and holiness within creation, the Temple
(Vayikra), the role of the Jewish people within this sanctity,
kedusha (Bamidbar) and after a review of all this (Devarim),
the Torah now addresses itself to each individual, teaching
us how to relate to ourselves and to others (preceding parashiot),
and, here, how to think in the right way.
The parasha teaches us this principle (similarity/difference)
on different levels.
On the level of the peshat (literal meaning of the text),
and regarding the social organization of the community,
the king must not assume the functions of a judge nor attempt
to take the place of the Sanhedrin. Each body has its particular
function, and the history of the Jews and the destruction
of the Temple, has shown that catastrophes take place when
these differences and nuances are no longer adhered to.
This is the historical basis for the division of powers
and for the varying degrees of rights enjoyed by different
groups of people. (In contrast, totalitarian ideologies
function according to a different principle: universal rights
which do away with individual rights and which are defined
according to the dominant camp.)
Thus the answer to the prophet
Samuel's dismay is: he was surprised that the people did
not ask for a king who would rule according to the Torah,
but for a king that would rule "over them," as
is the case with other nations. The term which indicates
this is the use of the word "over" (al) instead
of the word "towards" (le). This is why they said
"like all the nations," kekhol hagoyim (I Samuel
8, 5). We now understand why Hashem said to the prophet:
"they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected
me, that I should not reign over them," lo otekha maasu
ki oti maasu mi melokh alehem (I Samuel 8, 7). This question
of obedience to the Torah is still a very real issue in
the Israel of today, and it should not be pushed under the
carpet under the pretext of focusing on the deficiencies
of political parties or the sectarian interests of religious
Other commentators of the peshat (first level of comprehension)
interpret the repetition in tzedek, tzedek as
- applying justice to oneself as well as to others,
- in speech as in action,
- before the invisible judge as well as the visible one.
These interpretations however still do not answer the problem
posed by the text, for it does not say, "judge this
and that according to justice" but "justice, justice,"
where the same word is repeated. Furthermore, we should
not need this repetition because all things possess two
levels, as is indicated in the first letter of the Torah
(beit) and in Psalm 62, 12: "Hashem has spoken once,
twice have I heard this." So let us turn to Rashi for
help in solving the problem.
Rashi and his method
Rashi possesses the art of directing
us quickly to the heart of the matter. He says simply: halokh
ahar beit din yafe, "go after a beautiful court of
justice." It is clear that we need to defer to someone
who knows Rashi's method of interpretation in order to understand
these enigmatic words. Rashi here is referring to Sanhedrin
We have often noted that Rashi's
brevity aims to direct us to the sources he is using, so
that we will examine them in order to see precisely see
what he is reporting, omitting, or modifying and why.
Here, then, Rashi has omitted
all interpretations that speak of parallelism and has only
retained: ahar beit din yafe, "go after a beautiful
court of justice" and here the Talmud adds "after
Ribbi Eliezer at Lod, Ribbi Yohanan at Beror Hayil
the light of the chandeliers at Beror Hayil proclaimed a
wedding feast there, a wedding feast there."
From this last expression, which
contains a repetition similar to tzedek, tzedek, we understand
that it was important not to say a "just" court,
but a "beautiful" court. Rashi wants to tell us
that, even at the level of the peshat, this expression has
hidden meanings. Rashi says clearly: here, the peshat of
the parasha is the sod, that which is intimate, secret and
closest to the heart. We return to the theme of love which
we have seen in the preceding parashiot. I wish to emphasize
that his this not my own personal interpretation but that
of our Sages who transmitted to us the Torah of Moshe. One
could raise the objection: why not say it out straight instead
of hiding it? Clearly it is a characteristic of Hashem to
hide the treasure of his revelation so that it will not
be found by those who will abuse it. The Proverbs tell us
this again and again. But to the person who is humble and
sincere, entry to the treasure of love and light will not
be hidden. Indeed the trail of history is riddled with massacres
wrought upon students of Hashem's Torah by those who proclaimed
love of God.
Nearing the sod
Rashi, as usual, took us to the door of the treasure, and
now we will continue with the Shla.
The Shla's analysis will take us through the level of the
drash (reflection) and the remez (symbolism) and we will
then attain the level of the sod in the commentary of Ribbi
After clearly demonstrating
the difference between the levels, the Shla demonstrates
that the similarity in tzedek, tzedek indicates that we
must connect the different levels of existence and take
into account the level of the world above in all that relates
to terrestrial affairs, but this connection must be a supple
Thus the principle of dina de
Malkhuta dina (the justice of the king is the right justice,
Gittin 10b, Zohar 3, 227a) is often mistakenly invoked to
justify obedience to the power in charge, even if it is
a foreign one or in opposition to the Torah. In fact this
principle is based on a connection between power in this
world and power in the world above.
Indeed, the letters of the word
dina are the same as those of the word adonut, the Lord,
and the judgments of the Sanhedrin were meant to reflect
the judgments of the King of Kings.
In a commentary on another parasha,
the Shla demonstrates the link between the word dina and
the spiritual legacy of the children of Yaakov, represented
in the figure of Dinah, Yaakov's daughter. He also demonstrates
this connection at the highest level of sefirot.
This one example shows us how
the Torah demands that we distinguish different levels and
functions and that we understand their inter-relationship.
It is through the Sages that we have understood this rule
of the parasha.
The Torah teaches us that the
universe and everything within it is based on this dual
structure which demands great agility. The constant analysis
and reflection demanded by the study of the Torah helps
us attain this agility. The Talmud is an intellectual form
of gymnastics which we need in order to be able to discern
and then to make connections. This is a far cry from politics
based on interest groups or public opinion polls.
Without the simultaneous respect
of these two rules, which are complementary and not contradictory,
the world will not survive, but will fall victim to extremist
forces which are destructive because they are unilateral.
This is what the Shla wanted to show us at the beginning
of his commentary: these are the pillars of the world. Neither
the Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) nor Mishle (Proverbs)
are simple Jewish folk tales; they summarize the principles
on which the Jewish world is organized and they show us
what is at the heart of things.
A well-known example of the
distortion of these principles is that of the judges at
the time of the destruction of the Temple, who based themselves
on the din, the strict reading of the Torah in this world
and did not take into consideration the link with the merciful,
rahamim, Torah in the world above. It is said that the Temple
was destroyed because of this.
This double principle (difference and connection) also helps
us to understand the need for two torot (written and oral),
which are, in fact, one Torah in two different forms. The
reduction of the written and oral Torahs into "one"
new testament which simplifies this complexity was, naturally,
an aberration in the eyes of the Sages who understood the
Torah, which was the result of ignorance.
The two Torah scrolls
The Shla stresses this duality through the verse which says
that the King will have two Torah scrolls, "it"
(feminine) will be with him and he will read in it (masculine): vehayeta imo vekara vo. It is this inter-relationship
between masculine and feminine which enables the realization
of the divine plan and the hoped-for union, of the sefirot
of Tiferet (masculine dimensions) and Malkhout (feminine
dimensions). This is what David alludes to when he says:
"of this (feminine) I am certain," be zot ani
voteah (Psalm 27, 3 and Psalm 119, 56). This is what tradition
and the Shla teach us. If there is a similarity in my poems
and in my style of writing, it is because of the strength
of their warmth and gentlenes, divre hakhamim be nahat nishmeim,
the words of the Sages, which are sweetness and calm, are
heard (Kohelet 9, 17).
Do not amputate the Torah
Those who only see the one-dimensional side of the Torah
(injunctions, obligations and judgments) are simply projecting
onto it their own one-dimensional perspective, for the Torah
has two sides, feminine and masculine, separate and connected.
The world cannot flourish if it pursues just the masculine
side and only wholesale destruction would ensue. This essential
teaching of the Torah is not sufficiently understood.
We could add that this is taught in Pirkei Avot, The Ethics
of the Fathers (5, 20) which is not just a simple book of
morality; it rigorously defines the principles of Jewish
morality according to the teachings of the Torah. It does
not state simply that we must be strong but says this with
complementary and opposing images:
--- be strong as the leopard and
light like the eagle,
heve az kanamer..vekal kanesher;
--- fleet as the hart and..mighty as the lion, ratz ketzvi
These principles of judgment and conduct are so important
that Rabbenu Yaakov (1270-1343), known as the Tur, opens
his monumental work on the halakha, Arbaa Turim, with this
inscription on the first page.
The Torah and Shabbat represent
the art of this happy balance between masculine and feminine,
between what is similar and what is different. This balance
should apply to our smallest thoughts, and to all aspects
of social and everyday life.
This teaching of the Torah excludes therefore two religious
One) the tendency to view religious practice only as a social
code of law, ignoring the inner meanings and the fact that
they govern both man's relationship with God and with his
fellow men. This is why in Tractate Berakhot 28b, Ribbi
Eliezer gives "4" answers and not just one to
his students who wish to know how to attain the level of
the world above (ve nizke va hen le haye haolam habba) in
- be attentive to how you treat your friends,
- teach your children to think as they learn,
- place your children on the knees of the Sages,
- be aware, as you pray, of who you are praying to.
Two) the tendency which has split the world into two and
purports that Judaism relates only to earthly relationships;
and the tendency to devote oneself to study without putting
it into practice.
This non-Jewish, simplistic
approach can be heard today among those who,
- deny the validity of what is written about the sacredness
of the land of Israel, claiming that this is a form of idolatry
and makes men forget to carry out the mitzvot that apply
to their fellow men;
- claim that only peace and humanism are important since
it is written that the Temple will descend from Heaven only
when there will be peace between men.
But the Torah warns us against
this tendency to separate the spiritual world from the terrestrial
world. Those who claim that such separation is written in
the Torah are simply applying to it one-dimensional sociological
or political forms of analysis which are alien to the Torah.
Indeed, there is no separation
in the Torah (tzedek, tzedek) for man's relationship with
his fellow men is inextricably linked to his relationship
with hessed, God and his Will, either when He created the
world, when He made man in his image, or when he sustains
man at every moment of his existence in the unending miracle
of life. This theme is constantly repeated in the Torah,
in the phrase: "thus spoke Hashem, I, no one else but
me." Suppressing this transcendent source that is at
the heart of Jewish life, is like destroying Judaism itself.
Another example of radical extremism which leads to separation,
is the tendency of certain religious leaders to separate
politics from religion and to claim that the practices of
the people are not "Jewish" because the State
of Israel is not explicitly based on halakha. All such attempts
have always ended in failure.
This extremist way of thinking
appears to be logical and justified only when separated
from its context - this is what is called a sophism or specious
Thus the Greek sophists proved
that it is impossible to move forward for one only ever
attains half the journey, which is infinite. This is a claim
which does has nothing to do with reality.
The goal of sophistry among
intellectuals (and it must be shown for what it is) is destruction
of life, absurdity, and ultimately the sadistic destruction
of the weak by those who are their intellectual superiors.
It is a cruel form of domination which substitutes for the
Torah and its all-encompassing teachings, a partial ideology
which ignores the complex relationship between hessed-din
(benevolence-justice) and rahamim (mercy) in Judaism.
It is the same extremism which
wants to eliminate from Judaism all "unconformists,"
sinners and those who do not know how to pray perfectly.
This elitist tendency is inhuman and alien to reality.
The basis of our world
In actual fact, our world is based entirely on twinning
(tzedek, tzedek), on going "towards" el, le),
on seeking (tirdof, thou shalt follow, Devarim 16, 20),
and of quiet closeness and intimacy (devekut, adhesion).
Taken as a whole, our world is imperfect, complex and mediocre
and, in their wisdom, our Sages established the rule that,
even if it is forbidden to pray without cavana (intention),
it is better to pray a little with intention rather than
to pray a lot without intention. They also ruled that if
a person begins to study without disinterested and upright
intentions towards God (lo lishma), he will in the end study
with respect for God (lishma), and that it is difficult
for individuals Jews to keep all the mitzvot but the entire
people are beholden to be responsible for each other. And
so it is in every family.
(Advanced students can study an in-depth commentary on the
issue of lishma-lo lishma in Rav Ovadia Yosef's book Yehave
Daat, Volume 3, question 74.)
This true Jewish approach is the rule on which the world
is based, which is that of hessed (benevolence) where God
treats man like a father or mother treat their child, knowing
that knowledge and maturity take time.
It is important to understand
these nuances in order to avoid situations where, under
the pretext of adhering strictly to the law, one rejects
beginners from the path of Torah and one replaces the complex,
living Torah by unhealthy dependency on sophist, and extremist
masters and by social ideologies that always lead to catastrophe
and bloody conflicts.
The Torah posed problems: the Talmud continually analyzes
them, and in Tractate Sanhedrin it unmasks those who falsify
Jewish thought, laws and practices.
We must also turn to the haftara (for this parasha it is
Isaiah 51, 12-52, 12) in order to understand the meaning
of tzedek tzedek. Here we see how the external, logical
and social laws of the Torah are sustained by the emotions
and warmth of the inner Torah, and how social codes are
part of the divine plan based on love and kindness. This
plan is that of Hashem and applies to all Jews: it is not
part of a social or political ideology that has been added
to Judaism to balance it.
Order Nezikim deals with all
these fundamental questions and Ribbi Yehuda always directed
his students to these questions (Sanhedrin 106b). This is
why I chose Baba Kama (the first tractate in Nezikim) as
the basis for learning the Talmud in my book Lev Gompers.
The entire teaching of this
parasha and commentary are found in Isaiah 51, 7 whose literal
1. Listen towards me, you who know justice, shimu elai yodee
2. people of my Torah in their hearts, am torati ve libam.
Do we not try (thanks to the teachings of the Sages) to
listen, do justice, be together, and love God and he loves
The level of sod
In order to fully understand the true meaning of parasha
Shofetim we must now turn to its inner, secret meaning,
This is found in Mahsof lavan,
the commentary on the Torah by Ribbi Yaakov Abuhatzera,
a luminary of Morrocan Jewish scholarship whose work elaborates
on every level of meaning.
I shall present here just one
small example. The divine presence, the shekhina, is not
"all powerful." In this world, it takes the form
of a lack which is called dal (meagre) or din kashe (strict
justice): This is expressed in the concept tzedek, justice,
which has the same gematria as zo hi nekuda (this is the
In contrast, when all Israel
will study the Torah for love of God (lishma), then a he
is added to the word tzedek and it becomes tzedaka, benevolence
that is kindness and mercy (hessed and rahamim). This is
seen in numerous combinations of letters and numbers in
the verses of this parasha.
It should be stressed that the
level of the sod is based on the analytical methods of the
peshat, for it is in fact part of the peshat.
" Re-read the parasha in
" Ask yourselves questions on your own tendencies to
simplify or take extremist positions, and on your level
of suppleness or strictness in your judgments, reactions,
" Check to see if the source of your conduct is in
" Try to maintain balance in your discussions and judgments.
--the 6 pillars which support the world:
Torah, avoda, gemilut hassadim, din, emet, shalom.
" the phrase: tzedek, tzedek tirdof, (Devarim 16, 20).
Hebrew lesson for all levels
A common error in pronunciation
and understanding of Hebrew.
Even learned students make the
mistake of reading the first sentence of the parasha thus
(Devarim 16, 18):
shoftim ve shotrim titen-lekha bekhol
Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all (thy gates)
The correct pronunciation is
as follows and is quite different:
shofetim ve shoterim titen-lekha bekhol
It is important to read the
Torah correctly, since everything in it has meaning, for
the Torah is the word of God and must be respected without
adding or reducing.
This mistake is made innocently
and is simply out of ignorance of some basic rules, which
I shall lay out as simply as posssible.
The rule for the meteg
The vowel sheva (two vertical dots) is a silent e when it
is under the second letter of a syllable (i.e. under the
letter l of the word pal).
But there are two instances when the sheva is pronounced:
- at the beginning of a word (as under the first letter
of the word bekhol); so one must say beni, my son and not
bni, as is often mistakenly pronounced. One must say bene
yisrael and not bnei yisrael.
- in the middle of a word when the syllable can be linked
to the beginning of another word. This is the case here
in the words: shofetim ve shotrim. Eliminate the particule
ve which means "and."
Why is the syllable with the sheva linked to the next word?
Because the syllable that precedes it has a vertical line
beneath it (a meteg, or brake) which creates a break. Thus
the second syllable which is fe must be pronounced as thought
it is at the beginning of a word.
Examples when there is a meteg
1st example: as above, we say shofetim ve shoterim, not
shoftim ve shotrim.
2nd example: There are many
instances in eshet hayil, the song one sings on returning
from synagogue on a Friday night, in honor of the Torah,
the shekhina and one's wife:
" mistake: darsha tzemer ; correct pronunciation =
" mistake: haita kaoniyot ; correct pronunciation =
" mistake: zamma sade ; correct pronunciation = zamema
" mistake: hagra ; correct pronunciation = hagera
" mistake: kapa parsa: correct pronunciation = kapa
" mistake: marvadim asta: correct pronunciation =
" mistake: sadin asta: correct pronunciation = sadin
" mistake: pia patha: correct pronunciation = pia
3rd example: in the Saturday
" mistake: ve shamru: correct pronunciation = ve
" mistake: ve shamru bene: correct pronunciation
= ve shameru vene
4th example: at the beginning
of arvit, there is a meteg under the first syllable of barekhu.
" mistake: barrkhu: correct pronunciation = barekhu
This is a frequent mistake which is found in nearly all
the conjugations of this common word in our prayers.
Readers who are knowledgeable
about these things could say: "but there are other
factors which you have not mentioned
." I would
respond that it is important to teach the Torah correctly.
Try to practice these rules,
and if you say they are helpful, I will list other examples
" mistake: toratkha ; correct pronunciation = toratekha