SHOFTIM (Deuteronomy 15:18 21:9) — “Improve Your Vision”

THE MONTH OF ELUL

 The Month of Elul is upon us once again.  On the first day of the month of Elul, Moses climbed Mount Sinai to beg G-d to forgive the People of Israel for the sin of the Golden Calf.  Forty days later, on the first Yom Kippur, Moses returned with a second set of Tablets, and forgiveness for the Israelites.

This final month before Rosh Hashanah is a time for introspection and preparation for the High Holidays. It is a time to ask G-d to grant us a year of peace, security, health, and prosperity.  It is a time for getting our spiritual house in order. It is the time for us to make sure we are doing what’s right. (See the suggestions at the end of “Advice for the Foxholes of Life”.)

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“Improve Your Vision”

This week’s Torah Portion, “Shoftim – Judges”, always comes out in the beginning of the month of Elul.  As we prepare to be judged by G-d next month on Rosh Hashanah, it is wise to look at what the Master of the World views as the criteria for good judges.  After all, G-d will apply to us the same judicial attitudes that we apply to others.

Appoint judges … in all your cities…They shall judge the people with righteous judgment.  Do not pervert judgment.  Do not play favorites.  Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe will blind the eye of the wise and make just words crooked. Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue…   (Deuteronomy, 16:18-20)

Not every “rich” man is rich, and not every “wise” man is wise.   It depends upon your mode of reference.

The Chofetz Chaim (Brief biographies of the Chofetz Chaim can be found here and here.  Read his obituaries in the New York Times and Time magazine here.)

pointed out that if person A refers to person B as being rich, all that means is that B has more money than A; it doesn’t mean that he is extremely wealthy.  If, however, Bill Gates and Warren Buffet refer to someone as wealthy (the Chofetz Chaim’s example was Rothschild) you can assume that the fellow has more than a few dollars in the bank.

The same applies to wisdom.  I remember that when I was approaching the end of first grade, I was a bit nervous because I saw what hard work those second graders had!  The kids in second grade seemed a lot more advanced than I was.  But that was only because I was a first grader!

If, however, King Solomon, the wisest of men, referred to someone as being wise, it is safe to assume that this is a truly wise person.  All the more so, says the Chofetz Chaim, if G-d Himself refers to someone as wise.

…a bribe will blind the eye of the wise…

It is a mistake to think that we are impervious to the influences that dishonesty can have upon us.  Even if someone is on the level that the Author of the Torah refers to him as wise, that same Author warns us that his wisdom will be blinded by corruption.  Notice that the Torah says…a bribe will blind the eye of the wise… It says WILL, not MIGHT.  It is a fact, not a warning.  Bribery WILL make you blind; there is no alternative.

If I allow a favor from you to influence my actions, it will blind my judgment and obscure my abilities to discern the truth in the future.

It is a mistake to assume that we can separate intellect from integrity.  If a person has a high I.Q., but he acts in a dishonorable fashion, even his intellect is tarnished.

One of my teachers was supposed to undergo a surgical procedure that was known to very few doctors.  The doctor whom he consulted was a world famous expert in this procedure.  He was also an arrogant, obnoxious human being.  My teacher refused to go through with the surgery.  If such a person could behave so poorly outside the operating room, even his surgical acumen was suspect.

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There is a way to IMPROVE our vision.  The Sfas Emes points out that whatever concept applies to the negative, applies all the more so to the positive.

The Torah tells us that when we compromise our integrity by taking a bribe, it blinds our vision.  Then the Torah tells us, Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue…

That is why if you are looking for advice, you should ask a Torah scholar.  Clearly, he may not be well-versed in the particulars of the question.  Someone who has mastered the intricacies of the Talmud may not know the exact technicalities of a medical question.  But, if you are looking for some clear thinking advice from someone who knows how to discern the truth, look for someone whose life is devoted to truth.

If you work for righteousness, says the Sfas Emes, you will IMPROVE your vision.  If you go out of you way to relentlessly pursue truth and honesty, you will achieve the wisdom that will help you truly know the difference between right and wrong.

Have a great Shabbos.

Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz

To leave a comment about this article, or to read other readers’ comments on this article, scroll down past the archive links.

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From the Archives 

“Improve Your Vision” (2009) 

…Not every “rich” man is rich, and not every “wise” man is wise.   It depends upon your mode of reference…

… when I was approaching the end of first grade, I was a bit nervous because I saw what hard work those second graders had!  The kids in second grade seemed a lot more advanced than I was.  But that was only because I was a first grader!

If, however, King Solomon, the wisest of men, referred to someone as being wise, it is safe to assume that this is a truly wise person.  All the more so, says the Chofetz Chaim, if G-d Himself refers to someone as wise.

…a bribe will blind the eye of the wise… 

Read more.

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“War, Torah-Style” (2006)

… CNN et al go to great lengths to catalog the wanton destruction the Israelis have unleashed upon the “innocent civilians” of  Lebanon.  (Who, by the way, overwhelmingly supported the Hezbollah’s abduction of Israeli soldiers and refusal to return them.)  Yet, the merciless raining down of rockets on non-military, non-threatening targets throughout     Northern Israelis largely ignored.

Yes, the Israelis are terrible people.  That’s why they risk their own lives by not firing upon terrorists using human shields until AFTER they have begun to fire their deadly rockets…

One of my earliest memories as a child is that of my mother selling Trees for Israel.  We don’t destroy things for no reason, and we certainly don’t attack people for no reason.  (By the way, speaking of trees, where is the liberal, Greenpeace, tree-hugging, spotted-owl-protecting, ANWR-blocking outrage over the million-plus trees in Northern Israel that were destroyed by Hezbollah rockets?!)…

Read more.

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“Fuhgettaboutit!”  (2005)

…The Torah recognizes that sometimes there will be a lack of clarity as to matters of Law.  That is why G-d established the Sanhedrin…

The Torah gives the Sanhedrin the right to interpret Torah Law…

But what if the Sanhedrin makes a mistake?  What if this council of the 71 greatest sages of Israel vote on how to apply Torah Law, and their interpretation is not in concert with what Moses handed down to Joshua from Sinai?…

Read more.

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“Royal Pain” (2004)

… Rabbi Chaim of Sanz was one of the great Chassidic leaders.  His followers treated him like royalty.  As is the case with many Chassidic Rebbes, he dressed opulently.  Among other things, he wore gold shoes.  (I imagine they were probably leather shoes, overlaid with gold leaf.)

One winter day, his followers noticed blood stains in the Rebbe’s footprints in the snow.  When they investigated, they discovered that the Rebbe’s shoes had no bottoms! …

Read more.

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“Candles, Kings, and Impeachment” (2003)

… The Rabbis saw a potential for “sloppy Kashruth.”  If I can put a slice of cheese on my salami sandwich, why can’t I cook a cheeseburger?  …

When I was about ten years old, I joined a Little League team. …  I knew next to nothing about baseball.  I was learning how to throw and catch in the outfield, while the coach was hitting balls to be fielded.

“Seplowitz!” yelled the coach.  “Go into left field!”

Facing the coach at home plate, I turned to my left and walked straight into right field.

“No!” screamed the coach in frustration. “LEFT Field!  LEFT Field!  On MY left, not YOURS!” …

Read more.

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“Clean Hands and Clear Conscience” (2002)

The elders … will wash their hands … and say, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see….

Isn’t it strange that the elders would make such a statement?  Do we really suspect the elders of spilling innocent blood?  Do the rabbinic leaders have to publicly state that they are not murderers?!  Would anyone actually think to accuse the LEADERS of committing this heinous crime? …

Read more.

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“Onward Jewish Soldiers” (2001)

When you go into battle against your enemies . . . The officers will address the people, and say, “Is there anyone among you who has built a new house and has not begun to live in it?  Let him go home, so that he will not die in war and have another man live in it.” (Deuteronomy 20:1,5)

How’s that for a draft deferment?  The Torah continues: “Is there anyone among you who has planted a vineyard and has not redeemed its first crop?  . . . Is there anyone among you who has betrothed a woman and not married her? . . . Go home . . . Is there anyone among you who is afraid or faint hearted? . . .Go home.” (Verses 6-8)

What a way to run an army!  The Torah almost seems to be providing a plan for anyone looking to avoid the draft without having to run to  Canada! …

Read more.

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“Advice for the Foxholes of Life” (2000)

They say that there are no atheists in the foxholes.  When the chips are down in time of need, and we have no other place to turn, we always remember G d and ask Him for His protection.  But will He answer our prayers?  Will He say, “Of course My child, I’ve been waiting for you to call upon Me”?  Or will He ask, “Now you call Me?!  Where were you all the time that you thought you didn’t need Me?!” …

Read more.

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This is the weekly message at TorahTalk.org. Copyright © 2000-2010 by Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz.  May be reprinted. Please include copyright information.

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Rabbi Yerachmiel Seplowitz is a Mohel (Brisrabbi.com) and chaplain in  Monsey,  New York. For information about scheduling a Bris or a lecture, or just to say hello, call (800) 83MOHEL.

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Published in: on August 21, 2009 at 2:20 pm  Leave a Comment  

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