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Judaism: Shoftim: Nothing to Fear But....

If we are not to fear mortal men and not armies, then what are we to fear during this period of Elul? Rabbi Zev Leff gives the answer: "Achat sha'alti me'et HaShem...." - "One thing I ask of the Lord...."
Published: Thursday, September 08, 2005 3:00 PM


"I am I forever - that is what should comfort you. Who are you, that you should be afraid of a man that will die, and forget God Who is still making you, Who is still arching the heavens and giving earth its foundations? You make yourself worry continually the whole day on account of the fury of the oppressor. Where is the fury of the oppressor now?"

So begins our Haftarah, from Isaiah 51,the fourth of the "Haftarahs of Solace". Fear is a repeating topic in the parsha, as well: "When you go out to war against your enemies, do not fear them, for I am your God. ...And the priest shall proclaim: Let your hearts not melt, do not fear, nor panic... and the police shall continue speaking to the people and say: Who is the man who is afraid or faint-hearted? Let him go home." (Devarim 20, 1-8)

And finally, fear is the opening topic of the Elul-Yamim Noraim (High Holidays) period, which we usher in every year during the week of parshat Shoftim with the saying of Psalms 27, "L'David HaShem ori v'yish'i....": "God is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? HaShem is the strength of my life, whom shall I dread? Though an army besiege me, my heart shall not fear. One thing I ask of God: to sit in the house of the Lord...."

If we are not to fear mortal men and not armies, then what are we to fear during this period of Elul? Rabbi Zev Leff gives the answer: "Achat sha'alti me'et HaShem...." - "One thing I ask of the Lord...." The word achat is an acronym: the aleph is for Eretz Yisrael, the Land of Israel; the chet is for chayei haolam haba, that I lead a life that leads me to the World to Come; and the tet is for Torah, to merit to learn and understand the word of God. These are the important issues of our time, not today's headlines and headliners.

Each Elul comes the unified cry of the Haftarah, the parsha and "L'David": Do not fear and do not be despondent. Even though in this year that is ending you may have lost many battles to the Yetzer HaRa ("your enemy", Devarim 20:1), do not be depressed. In the Gemara's discussion of this Haftarah (Chagiga 5b), the Talmud also delineates what the real issues are, and what a Jew should cry about: "Al she'efshar lilmod v'lo lomeid...." - over one who can learn Torah and doesn't; over the exile of the Shechina and the Jews; over the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash.

Rabbi Mendel, son of Rabbi Shimshon Rafael Hirsch, in his discussion of the Haftarah, asks: what is it that gives us the confidence to surge on against the meitzik, the oppressor, and despite a ghastly history of exile? The answer is: "HaShem who is making thee, who is arching the heavens and giving foundation to the earth."

The name of HaShem, the Tetragrammaton, denotes God as creator. He did not merely create the Universe with the Big Bang some 5,766 years ago. He is "osecha, noteh v'yoseid", all words in the present tense. He continues Creation, and the very fact of your continued existence should be your comfort. This idea of HaShem as the ongoing Creator, and His ongoing creation, is central to our parsha. As the Gemara notes (Sanhedrin 7b), the fact that the opening of our parsha juxtaposes idolatry (the Asheira tree) and justice (the Sanhedrin), says to us that "he who appoints an unsuitable judge is as if he planted an Asheira tree in the Temple."

Rabbi Matis Weinberg explains that our system of justice can be relied on as true, because it emanated from the Makom HaShechina, the Lishkat HaGazit in the Temple. But more than that, we could confidently rely on justice as dispensed by our rabbis and judges, but not merely because they sat next to the Shechina residing in the Holy of Holies. If so, then the Sanhedrin would have been fully empowered to judge when the Mishkan (the Tent of the Covenant) was in Shilo, Nov and Givon (for some 400 years). But that was not so. The Sanhedrin was fully empowered to judge (including capital crimes) only when it was in the Lishkat HaGazit next to the Even Sh'tiya, the foundation rock of the Universe. Only empowered by the Creator Himself, and sitting next to the site of Creation, did the judges become, "by rendering true judgement, a partner with God in the act of creation" (Shabbat 10a), this ongoing creation, fashioned by God "osecha, noteh v'yoseid", and His partner, Man.

Only then could Jews have such confidence in existence that they could judge a capital case of eidim zomemim (false, conspiring witnesses), described in our parsha (Devarim 20:16-21). If two witnesses, A and B, testify that Joe killed Abel, and then two others, C and D, testify that A and B could never have witnessed that murder in Chicago because they were with Joe in Las Vegas at the time of the murder, which took place in Chicago, then the law is that we believe C and D.

Now, logic says that there is no more reason to believe C and D than to believe A and B. But the Torah says that when the Sanhedrin sits in its spot in the Temple, it can sentence A and B to death (the penalty A and B tried to inflict on the accused, Joe) based on its acceptance of the testimony of C and D. We can confidently stone A and B for the attempted murder of Joe because all of Creation is as it should be when the Sanhedrin sits at the seat of creation. But if the Sanhedrin is in exile, then all of creation is askew (in a false "matrix", for all of you who have seen the movie), appearances cannot be trusted, and the Sanhedrin may not judge.

Unfortunately, reality today is not in its true "matrix". Creation is askew. Instead of "shoftim v'shotrim", true judges and police, a respected Sanhedrin and a God-loyal police and army, we have a government that made a travesty of its army and police with the immoral Disengagement Plan. We saw the kippah-wearing Gen. Elazar Stern have the nerve to demand the dismissal of two heads of Hesder yeshivas for the "crime" of saying that the Disengagement Plan is immoral, and that the order to disengage should be refused by soldiers.

Not only was "justice, justice shall you pursue" corrupted, but if citizens tried to protect themselves from the uniformed exilers by the minimal act of "playing paintball" with them, then the full might of the "Law of Sodom" was directed against them. And despite the Nuremberg trials, which recognized the duty of soldiers to refuse immoral orders, we have the travesty of the supposed apolitical army demanding the firing of yeshiva heads, an act reminiscent of 1920s Leninist-Stalinist Bolshevism. MK Chaim Ramon had the nerve to label rabbis who have come out protesting against the government's and army's stated plan to blow up the Gush Katif shuls - in the biggest travesty since Kristalnacht - as "extremists". This, despite the fact that every anti-Semite on this globe is looking forward to the destruction as an excuse to attack every synagogue on earth ("If the Jews can blow them up, why not us?").

As far as justice and the site of the Even Sh'tiya, that point from which the Big Bang emanated, the seat of the Sanhedrin to be, I leave you with a final, disgraceful story.

A week ago, I could not get onto the Temple Mount, as the police explained to me, because they could not spare any officers to walk around with me, supposedly to protect me from Arabs. I stood at the metal detectors dumbfounded as 150 Italian tourists (who represent no problem to our shotrim, police) filed past me on their way up to the Mount. This last Tuesday, I did go up. I was the only kippah-wearing individual on the Mount. Walking 20 meters past the shotrim and Arab Wakf personnel at Sha'ar Hamugrabi, I began, as usual, to mumble Tehillim (Psalms), knowing full well that if I did so out loud, then I would be subject to eviction by the police, with the penalty of not being allowed back for two weeks. I walked past the Al-Aksa Mosque and then, in the southeast corner of the Mount, I passed a group of 100 Arab teenagers praying along with a megaphone-bearing leader (I, remember, had to murmur unobtrusively).

I then noticed that I was being followed by an Arab in a red T-shirt and jeans. As I reached the spot halfway along the eastern Wall, directly opposite the Holy of Holies, wherein lies the Even Sh'tiya, I turned to face it, still mumbling Tehillim: "...la'asot nekama va'goyim...." (Psalms 149:5)

Red-T approaches and says: "You are praying."

I ignore him.

"I said, you are praying."

I ignore.

Red-T pulls out his wallet and shows me something, saying, "Look here."

I ignore him still. And finally, "Read it. 'Israeli Police'."

Near the site of the Lishkat HaGazit, site of the Jewish Sanhedrin, I had been apprehended by a plain-clothes Arab "shoter" whose sole job is to catch Jews engaged in the crime of praying to HaShem, the "noteh v'yoseid".

May we all have a better New Year in a more sane Land of Israel.