Food for the needy
Food for the needyFlash 90
Our parasha concludes with the wondrous Mitzvah of the ‘corpse found on the land..(and) it was not known who smote him’. We read that the elders of the nearest city are commanded to bring a heifer and to axe the back of its neck in a harsh valley. They are then required to wash their hands over the axed heifer, and ‘They shall speak up and say:Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your people Israel that You have redeemed, O Hashem; Do not place innocent blood in the midst of Your peoplr Israel’. Then the blood shall be atoned for them’.

Our Sages (Sotah 45:) expound:’Would it have crossed our minds that the elders spilled this blood?! Rather, the dead man did not come by us and we let him depart without provisions, and we did not see him, yet sent him off without accompanying him’.

But why, in that event, if they are in no way to blame, are the elders commanded to make this ווידוי: ‘confession’?

Answers the Vilna Gaon: ‘They require atonement, precisely because ‘they did not see’ this lone person! Their words are to be read as:’Our hands did not spill blood’, but ‘we did not see’- the elders are the ‘eyes of the people’, and they failed in their duty ‘to see’.

Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv adds:’From the words that the elders are commanded to utter, we can see that they are required to make a ווידוי דברים: a spoken confession; and the Sforno has taught us, in his commentary on the ווידוי מעשרות: ‘the confession of the tithes’- in the following Parasha - that whenever there is a requirement to make a ווידוי: a ‘confession’, it is because there has been a transgression that required atonement.

‘This is in fact what the elders are saying:True, ‘our hands did not spill blood’, we did not send the deceased away without provisions- which would make us responsible for his death - nor did see him, alone, yet allow him to leave unaccompanied - which would also make us culpable - but the truth is that we did not see him at all, and had we seen him, then he may not have been spared this fate- the ‘confession is ’that ‘we did not see him’’.

The Chatam Sofer offers a different explanation for the culpability of the elders:’The fact that their city was the closest one to the corpse, even though the elders themselves clearly ‘did not spill his blood’, is testimony to their culpability; they did not fulfill their responsibility to prevent crime in their city, and this is why it was from there that the unknown murderer came’.

The Gemara (Taanit 24.), in describing the criteria for a communal leader, brings the following parable:’He is likened to a bride still in her father,s house; if her eyes are beautiful, there is no need to make any further checks; if her eyes are טרוטות: ‘bleary’, then further checks are necessary’.

The commentators explain the parable, by noting that the community leaders are called ‘the eyes of the community’, because their main function, is ‘to see’ clearly, that all is well in their charge.

Rav Shimshon Raphael Hirsch adds: ‘Paramount amongst the charge that is entrusted to the leaders of the community, is the lives and safety of the people. That an unidentified corpse should be found near a city ‘on the land that Hashem gives you’ is a major affront and ‘accusation’ against the leaders; it raises the suspicion that they were derelict in their duties.

‘This is why, to enable them to absolve themselves, the Torah prescribed the very public procedure laid down in our parasha.’

Thus, if, as we have brought, the elders, ‘the eyes of the community’, did not see the unfortunate deceased, they did not fulfill their duty, and are required, like any other transgressor, to repent, ווידוי being one of the three components to obtain atonement.

Rav Yehuda Leib Chasman, brings the admonition of the Prophet (Yirmiyahu 4):’I am judging you for saying ‘I did not transgress’.

Comments the Rav:’Atonement depends upon acknowledging that you have transgressed, as this is one of the components of Teshuva.

‘In the case of the unidentified corpse, it is very likely that the elders might be inclined to avoid accepting guilt, on a varety of grounds, such as, perhaps, that the killer was not of our people.

‘For this very reason- of there being uncertainty, and an opening to evade responsibility - the Torah commanded this very detailed procedure, to stir the souls of all, that there has been a transgression, and that atonement is required.’

A parting gem from the Chatam Sofer: ‘In the concluding passage of Birchat Hamazon, we recite the words:’Once I was young and now I am old, ולא ראיתי: yet I have never watched a righteous man forsaken or his children begging for bread’.

Asks the Sage: ‘Are we to read this literally, are we unaware of there being indigent righteous people in the world?’

He answers beautifully: ‘These words are to be read homiletically: I, whom Hashem has provided for so bountifully, did not allow, whenever I saw this, that the righteous would be wanting: I would see that this did not happen!’

לרפואת נועם עליזה בת זהבה רבקה ונחום אלימלך רפאל בן זהבה רבקה, בתוך שאר חולי עמנו.