Shoftim: The One Who Has the Light Shines the Way ~ Tzvi Abrahams

Parshas שׁוֹפְטִים

The One Who Has the Light Shines the Way

שֶׁמֶשׁ: sun

שִׁמוּשׁ: to use, to serve

שַׁמַשׁ: shammash

שַׁמַשׁ: shammash [Chanukah]

בֵּית שֶׁמֶשׁ: Beit Shemesh

שִׁמְשׁוֹן: Shimshon

כִּי יִמָּצֵא בְקִרְבְּךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לַעֲבֹר בְּרִיתוֹ. וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיַּעֲבֹד אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לָהֶם וְלַשֶּׁמֶשׁ אוֹ לַיָּרֵחַ אוֹ לְכָל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוִּיתִי

For when you will find among you in one of your gates that Hashem your G-d gave to you, a man or a woman who will do evil in the eyes of Hashem, to transgress His covenant and go and serve other powers and bow down to them, to the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly hosts that I did not command.

שֶׁמֶשׁ: Sun

If you come from Sunderland — a euphemism for the exact opposite, “a land of no sun” — in the north of England, where I come from, there, just like the rest of England, they complain that there is never enough sun. On the other hand, with Zichron Yaakov, in the north of Israel where I live now, the opposite is true.

We are all looking for a balance, a place not too hot and not too cold, yet we never seem to be truly satisfied. However, if we were to stop and reflect on our place within the universe, then we would be in absolute awe how amazing it is that we have been placed in a state of balance with the upmost precision. A little bit closer to the sun and we would burn up, while if we were a little further away we would freeze to death. The awareness of such precise design should leave us without any doubt that there is a Designer who has orchestrated (and continues to conduct) this most amazing symphony.

But there are many people who choose not to contemplate this idea, for that would give evidence to there being an all-powerful G-d, which would mean that they would be responsible to serve Him and abide by His rules. So instead, they are forced to come up with false evidence in order to cover up the truth, which allows them the comfort to do whatever they want. The precise position of the Earth in relation to the sun, for example, is therefore just a big accident.

שִׁמוּשׁ: To Use, To Serve

When G-d is taken out of the picture, the sun instead becomes the center of the universe, just like those who say everything revolves around the sun. Thus, there is the mistaken belief that the sun is the source of all our energy.

It is true that the sun powers the earth, giving it light, warmth, and energy, but it is not the source; Hashem is the One Who powers the sun. So too a light bulb — although it gives light and heat, we know it is not the energy source.

In lashon hakodesh/the Holy Tongue, Hashem reveals to us the true meaning of the sun. The very name שֶׁמֶשׁ/shemesh shares the same root as שִׁמוּשׁ/shimush, which means “to use” or “to serve.” The sun is Hashem’s servant, just one of the heavenly hosts, like all of the mazalos/stars that Hashem uses to channel His flow of energy, and through which He powers the world. Thus, Hashem is known as ה’ צְ-בָאוֹת/Hashem, Lord of the heavenly Hosts.

שַׁמַשׁ: Shammash

The shamash is the one in shul who serves the needs of the congregation and is referred to in the Talmud specifically as the one who serves the talmidei chachamim.

שַׁמַשׁ: Shammash [Chanukah]

The shammash, the extra light that we light by the Chanukah candles, is there to serve as the light that can be used to benefit from. All the other candles are forbidden to derive benefit from, אֶלָא לִירְאוֹתָם בִּלְבָד/only to look at them. If for any reason we were to accidently use the light of the candles for our own use, we could attribute it to the shammash instead.

בֵּית שֶׁמֶשׁ: The House of the Sun

This city in Israel gets its name from the fact that in the days of the Tanach, it was a city whose inhabitants idolized the sun.

Most of the Jewish Nation in the Exile lives in the west and davens facing the מִזְרָח/east, in the direction of the Beis HaMikdash, Hashem’s house. The מִזְרָח/mizrach is called so because it comes from the expression of זָרְחָה הַשֶׁמֶשׁ/the shining sun that shines and rises in the east. Hence, we could say that Hashem’s house, unlike the song with the same name, is the real house of the rising sun!

שִׁמְשׁוֹן: Shimshon

The שֶׁמֶשׁ/sun has a dual purpose. It is also referred to as חַמָה/chammah, from lashon חַם/hot. It warms us up and helps things to grow. Too much sun can dry us out and burn us. However, the Torah is compared to מַיִם/water, whose quality can prevent us from drying out. We need the sun, but we need to be protected from it, as we say in Tehillim: יוֹמָם הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לֹא יַכֶּכָּה/by day the sun will not harm us.

Shimshon was the last of the שׁוֹפְטִים/judges and was the leader of the Jewish People. He judged us with Torah, which gave him special strength that protected us from our enemies, the Pelishtim.

In the Gemara, Rabi Yochanan says that Shimshon was named after the aspect of Hashem that is compared to the sun, as it says: כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן ה’ אֱ-לֹהִים/the sun has the power to protect. חוֹמָה/wall also comes from חַמָה/the sun. Shimshon had the protective aspect of a wall, because a wall has the dual aspect of keeping in the heat, thus insulating us when it is cold, and shading us when it is hot. 

If we do not get enough sun exposure, then we are more susceptible to becoming depressed from lack of Vitamin D. On the other hand, too much time in the sun might give one a nice brown-colored tan, but the חוּם/brown reflects the character of Noach’s son חָם/Cham, whose descendants were cursed to be slaves. Certainly, the one who is connected to this type of sun worship is truly a slave, who wastes so much time to temporarily improve his looks.

Anyone who serves the sun instead of Hashem is considered evil in the eyes of Hashem. Even though Chazal say that the servant of the king is like the king, one who serves idolatry has replaced the king, and this is the evil that is so detestable in His eyes. 

תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ/You should be pure with Hashem your G-d.

Instead of behaving like the goyim, who turn to stargazers to predict their future, Hashem wants us to be pure, in that we should accept the future with a perfect heart without looking to outside forces, which anyway are in the realm of tumah and are therefore inaccurate. We should always follow the advice of the chachamim/wise men, even if they say what is right is left and what is left is right. 

The message that comes from the parshah is not to serve the middleman. In Hebrew, a סַרְסוּר/sarsor is a middleman, which sounds similar to the English word sorcerer, where סַר means “to veer off” or “to lead astray.” These are the mediums that Hashem warns us to stay away from because, as they have been given power, we could easily be led astray. We should know, though, that it is only a fake power. Instead, we should follow the middlemen who truly represent Hashem. The parshah is replete with middlemen: the shoftim, the king, the navi, the kohanim, and the chachamim.

נָבִיא מִקִּרְבְּךָ מֵאַחֶיךָ כָּמֹנִי יָקִים לְךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֵלָיו תִּשְׁמָעוּן
A prophet among your brothers like me, Hashem your G-d will establish for you, to him you should listen.

Interestingly, the word “gaze” used in the expression “stargazers,” comes from the Hebrew word חַזוֹן/chazon, which means a seer, someone who sees, otherwise known as a navi/prophet. The job of the navi, Hashem’s middleman, is to serve the people by guiding them and leading them in the ways of Hashem. In a similar way, the modern-day chazzan in shul has taken on the role of serving the people by leading the congregation.

We are all attracted to light, for it gives us the ability to see. Through the heavenly hosts — the sun, moon, and stars — there is physical light, which affords us the ability to navigate our way in the darkness. So too, through Hashem’s shammashim — the shoftim, the navi, the king, the chachamim — there is spiritual light, which gives us the ability to navigate our way through the spiritual darkness.

וְלֹא תִקַּח שֹׁחַד כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר עֵינֵי חֲכָמִים
Do not take a bribe, because a bribe blinds the eyes of the chachmim.

The Torah warns us not to be blinded by monetary gains. We should not be slaves to money, for money is just a middleman — it is a means by which we can serve Hashem by acquiring mitzvos, as opposed to just being a means to an end. So too if we worship the sun, which has the power to blind us; instead of the sun serving us, we will be blinded to the truth.

כִּי אַתָּה בָּא אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ לֹא תִלְמַד לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּתוֹעֲבֹת הַגּוֹיִם הָהֵם
For you are coming to the land that Hashem your G-d is giving to you, you should not learn to do like the abominations of these nations.

The Torah warns us not to be like the goyim who serve the middlemen, the ones who use mediums of magic, witchcraft, sorcery, divination, and speaking with the dead. Rather, we are on the journey to Eretz Yisrael to purify the land. Our mission as the Jewish People is to be Hashem’s סַרְסוּר/sarsor, Hashem’s middleman, for we have the מְסוֹרָה/mesorah/tradition. 

We are in essence Hashem’s ambassadors/emissaries/servants, Hashem’s שַׁמַשׁ and Hashem’s שֶׁמֶשׁ, His shining star and Hashem’s light unto the nations, because the one who has the light shines the way.

1 Devarim 17:2–3.

2 Tehillim 121:6.

3 Sotah 10a.

4 Tehillim 84:12.

5 Devarim 18:13.

6 Rashi to ibid.17:11.

7 Ibid.,18:15.

8 Ibid., 16:19.

9 Ibid., 18:9.




Shoftim: Divine Dictator or Populist King ~ Rabbi Reuven Chaim Klein

fter Joseph told his brothers about his dreams, which seemed to foretell Joseph’s eventual rise to greatness and leadership over his brothers, the brothers responded, “Will you reign over us? Will you rule us?” (Gen. 37:8). Joseph’s brother were not simply waxing poetic by repeating their question. Rather, they were alluding to two different concepts. The first question asks if Joseph thought he will become a melech (king) over his brothers, while the second question asks him if he will be a moshel (ruler). What is the difference between a melech, aking, and a moshel, a ruler”?

Some explain that a melech is the king on top, while a moshel is a governor or the like to whom the king has delegated certain powers or sovereignty. However, the consensus view understands that a melech and a moshel are both the same in terms of their position of power; they differ only in how they got there.

The commentators explain that a melech is someone whose ascent to the throne is commissioned directly by the people. In other words, if the people willingly elect to anoint someone as their leader, he is called a melech. If the people do not necessarily accept their leader’s sovereignty willingly, but rather he takes it from them by force, then he is called a moshel. Rabbi Moshe Soloveitchik of Switzerland explains that for this reason the Midrash (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer ch. 16) says that a groom is comparable to a melech. Just as even the most Machiavellian melech must constantly make concessions to his people in order that they lovingly accept upon themselves his sovereignty, so too must a groom always act with patience and reliability so that his wife will continuously want to remain his partner.

The Vilna Gaon expands on this approach in differentiating between melech and moshel. He writes that the melech arises from within the camp of the masses. The melech possesses no inherent advantage over anyone else, except for the fact that the people had decided to recognize him as king; otherwise, he is their equal. The moshel, on the other hand, serves as a leader because of his abilities, not just because of the people’s whims. The moshel proves his worth in battle and the like, showing that he is more talented than everyone else. Using his abilities, he grabs hold of his constituency, and forces them under his rule. This approach explains why the Jews offered Gideon the position of moshel (Judges 8:22). That is, even though the masses willingly offered him this leadership position, he would have still been called a moshel, not a melech, because they offered him the position only due to his acknowledged military prowess.

The term melech is also applied to G-d, the ultimate King of the Universe. Interestingly, the Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16a) justifies the practice of reciting, during the Musaf prayer of Rosh Hashanah, different Biblical verses that speak of G-d’s Kingship, by explaining that G-d said, “You shall say before Me [verses about] kingship in order to make Me king (melech) over you”. By saying these verses, the Jewish People affirm their acceptance of G-d’s role as King of the Universe. But the Talmud assumed that saying those verses is not just an affirmation of accepting G-d’s kingship, but rather makes Him into a king. Why is G-d’s kingship contingent on the Jewish People’s acceptance of His sovereignty? Based on the above, the answer is clear: By showing their willing acceptance of Gd’s kingship, the Jewish People are consolidating G-d’s role as a melech of the world, as opposed to simply a dictatorous moshel.

The Vilna Gaon takes note of an apparent contradiction between two verses cited at the end of the Aleinu prayer. In one verse we say, “For to G-d is the kingship (melucha), and He rules (moshel) over the nations” (Ps. 22:29). This verse implies that G-d holds two roles: for the Jews He is considered a melech because they willingly accept His rule, and for the other nations of the world He is a moshel because He rules them despite their objections. Afterwards, however, we say, “G-d will be the king (melech) over the entire world — on that day G-d will be [recognized as] one and His name as one.” (Zech. 14:9). This implies that He will be a melech over the entire world. The answer must be that while in contemporary times not everyone accepts G-d’s role in the world, in the future Messianic Era, when all truth will be finally revealed, everyone will recognize His role and accept it upon themselves — so G-d will universally be a melech, not a moshel.




Shoftim: A Slippery Article ~ Yehoshua Steinberg

The Torah describes the matter of the unintentional slayer, whose sentence is to flee to a City of Refuge: “…And when he comes with his friend to the forest to chop wood, and his hand was pushed (ונדחה)onthe axe [while attempting] to cut the tree, and the iron skidded off from the wood and reaches his friend and he dies—he [the murderer] shall flee to one of these cities and live” (Deut. 19:5).

  1. דח – According to Menachem Ibn Saruk, the word ונדחה is derived from the root דח (a root which appears in the Pentateuch only in the Book of Deuteronomy). He groups into one category the following verses, in which the rootדח  appears in the context of pushing and passing over:

Ps. 118:13 – “You have surely pushed (דחה דחיתני) me to fall.”

Ps. 62:3 – “Until when will you plan against a man? You shall all be murdered like a leaning wall, a pushed-over (הדחויה) fence.”

Isa. 27:13 – “It will be on that day, a great shofar will be blown, and those lost in the Land of Assyria and those pushed away (והנדחים) in the Land of Egypt will come…”

Isa. 16:4 – “Those who I pushed (נדחי) away shall live among you.”

II Sam. 14:14 – “…And think thoughts, so that no[thing] to push away will be pushed away (ידח ממנו נדח).” 

II Sam. 14:13 – “…So that the king will no return [he whom] he pushed away (נדחו).”

Isa. 4:4 – “If Hashem will wash away the excrement of the Daughters of Zion, and the blood of Jerusalem He will rinse (ידיח) from her midst…”

I think that we can equate this root to other roots which use the letters דח, i.e. 1. דחף (push), 2. דחק (force) 3. דחס (trample) 4. קדח (drill) 5. דחן (millet). It appears that the common denominator for all of them is that they are all related to the concepts of pressure, pushing, ejecting/dropping. We will examine each of these words individually:

  1. דחף  (pushing) – The Talmud (Makkot 7b) expounds: “If suddenly” (Num. 35:22) excludes [somebody who bumped into another at] a corner, “without enmity” excludes somebody who hates, “he pushed him” (הדפו) means he physically pushed him with his body (שדחפו בגופו). The Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah §24:6) says “And Gehazi approached to push her (להדפהּ)” (II Kings. 4:27) Rabbi Jose b. Chaninah says: he pushed her at the glory of her beauty. Similarly, The Aruch mentions that the Targum Yerushalmi translates להדוף as למדחף and Targum Onkelos (to Num. 35:22) similarly renders הדדפו as דחהי.
  2. דחק (forcing/pressing) – The word pressure (לחץ) is translated by Targum as דחק in Exodus 3:9. The word for social pressure (אוץ) is also translated asדחק  by Targum Onkelos (Gen. 19:15, Ex. 5:13).
  3. דחס (trampling) – The word דחס  denotes leaning and pushing (two different types of applying pressure). The Talmud (Yevamot 102a) relates: R. Yehuda says in the name of Rav: the permit of a sister-in-law [whose husband died without children] to the marketplace [i.e. to marry somebody other than her deceased husband’s brother] depends on slipping [the shoe] from most of the heel… because the entire pressure of the foot is borne (דחיס) by it [the heel] and Rashi explains that דחיס means that he presses his foot. Furthermore, the Talmud (there 103a) cites Amimar who says that one who performs the commandment of Chalitzah must press his foot (Rashi: into the ground). Similarly, the Talmud mentions the word דחסה (pressing) in the context of a man’s prohibition to marry a woman impregnated by somebody else because during marital relations the man might push (in Rashi’s terminology מעיכה) against the fetus and squash the unborn child.
  4. קדח – In Scriptural Hebrew, the word קדח refers to inner heat, such as “A fire is burning (קדחה) in My nose” (Deut. 32:22) which denotes G-d’s inner wrath and “…the swelling lesions and the burning fever (הקדחת)” (Deut. 26:16) which the Torah warns will befall sinners. However, in rabbinic vernacular, the word קדח refers to puncturing and/or to the instrument used for puncturing. For example, the Mishnah (Shabbat 12:1) says: He who punctures (הקודח) any amount [on Shabbat], is obligated [to bring a sin-offering]. R. Ovadia Bartenuro explains that הקודח  means הנוקב  (he who makes a hole). Similarly, the Mishnah (Keilim 13:4), when listing vessels that are susceptible to ritual impurity, mentions the מקדח, which Bartnenuro explains is an instrument used to make holes (i.e. a drill in Modern Hebrew). The thematic connection between the Bible’s usage and rabbinic usage of the root קדח is that inner heat creates a pressure which presses outwards and sometimes may pierce the body, like we find the malady called קדח in rabbinic patois. The Mishnah (Negaim 6:8) also writes that the type of burn called a קדח cannot become a mark of tzaraat and Maimonides explains that קדח is a spot which comes from a burning acidic liquid in the body which can pierce one’s skin.
  5. דחן (millet) – Millet is a type of legume mentioned by Ezekiel (4:9). However, Rabbeinu Yonah (to Brachot 26a) points out that the hallmark of this legume is that it is not commonly eaten unless it is smashed and ground (which creates halachic ramifications concerning the proper benediction to recite over this food). Smashing is the result of applying pressure so the two concepts are certainly related.

We conclude with a prayer that G-d redeem and gather the Jewish people from all corners of the world, in fulfillment of the prophecy: “[Even] if your נדחך dispersal [reaches to] the edge of the heavens, from there HASHEM your G-d will gather you and from there he will take you” (Deut. 30:4). Amen!