The Torah Portion of Shoftim
Excerpted and Translated from the the Teachings of Rabbi Gershon Steinberg ztz"l
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben Chaim ztz"l
The Torah Portion of Shoftim ("Judges" ) always falls on the first Shabbos of the month of Elul, and it is written in the Sefer M''ora Shel Torah, that this is to remind us that we need to pray that our judgment will come out well.
"Judges and officers shall you put in all your gates." (Devorim 16:18)
The Masters of Mussar (Ethics) say that every man needs to make for himself "judges and officers in all your gates". The explanation is, in the gates of himself -- for speaking, for seeing, and for eating. The Hebrew word for "your gates" is "Sha'areicha", which is spelled with the Hebrew letters "Shin", "Ayin", "Reish", "Yud", and "Chaf". These Hebrew letters are the Roshei Teivot (in English: "Initial Letters") of the Hebrew words: "Shinayim" (in English: "Teeth"), "Ainayim" (in English: "Eyes"), "Rosh" (in English: "Head"), "Regel" (in English: "Leg"), "Yadayim" (in English: "Hands"), "Keres" (in English: "Belly" -- that is to say, to be careful to avoid eating forbidden foods).
"...for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise..." (Devorim 16:19)
Yonatan Ben Uziel translates, that the bribe will cause the wise to be stupid. And in the Torah Portion of Mishpatim, its says that "the bribe will blind the eyes of those who can see" (Shemot 23:8), because the Dayan (Judge) first of all needs to know the Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat, and in addition, needs to know the trickery of the parties participating in the legal case. And that is why it says "wise", because the judge needs to be knowledgeable about the Shulchan Aruch, and "those who can see", because the judge needs to understand the trickery of the parties to the case, and the bribe interferes with both of those qualities.
"Righteousness , righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and take possession of the land..." (Devorim 16:20)
Rashi says that "righteousness , righteousness shall you pursue" means that one should make a point of going to a high-quality court. There are those that explain, that the Sages say that there is no reward for a Mitzvah in this world (since the reward will come in Olam Haba, the world to come). But for beautifying a Mitzvah, or for the making an extra effort to fulfill a Mitzvah, there is a reward in this world. And that is why it says "righteousness , righteousness you should pursue" -- you should make an extra effort and fulfill the Mitzvot in a beautiful way, "so that you will live and take possession of the land" -- that your life in this world will be good and pleasant.
"If a matter of judgment will be hidden from you, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, or between affliction and affliction, matters of dispute in your cities -- you shall rise and ascend..." (Devorim 17:8)
There are those who explain this verse as a lesson in Mussar (ethics):
"If a matter of judgment be hidden from you..." -- if you wonder why there are judgments and punishments
"...between blood and blood..." -- all kinds of punishments involving bloodshed
"...between verdict and verdict..." -- all kinds of harsh decrees
"...between affliction and affliction.. ." -- all kinds of suffering
'...matter of dispute in your cities..." -- the reason for all of the above is because there are quarrels and the people are not living in unity. What's the solution to this problem?
"...you shall rise and ascend..." -- the answer is that we should join together in unity.
"You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, Elokecha." (Devorim 18:13)
The name "Hashem" is used to indicate G-d's trait of Mercy, and the name "Elokecha" ; is used to indicate G-d's trait of Strict Justice. Therefore it is written "You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, Elokecha" -- whether He treats you with the trait of Strict Justice, or whether He treats you with the trait of Mercy, you need to serve Hashem in all situations.
"You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, Elokecha." (Devorim 18:13)
Not only in front of others should you be righteous, but also when you are alone by yourself, and only Hashem Elokecha is there with you, you also need to be righteous and wholehearted.
"When you go out to battle against your enemy, and you see horse and chariot -- a people more numerous than you -- you shall not fear them, for Hashem, Your G-d is with you..." (Devorim 20:1)
The Ohr HaChaim Hakadosh says that maybe this verse is a hint to the battle that a person has with his Evil Inclination, the battle which is known to be the greatest battle of all. In that battle there are two difficulties, first the person is not trained in warfare like his Evil Inclination which is trained and accustomed to doing battle. Second, the person is composed in such a way that he has a tendency towards everything that his animal soul desires, and this will prevent him from listening to words of Torah and Mitzvot, and also afterwards when he will stumble in many transgressions there will be added evil forces that come about as a result of his evil acts. And thus the verse (Devorim 20:1) can be explained as follows:
"When you go out to battle...and you see" -- with the eyes of your intellect
"horse and chariot" -- "horse" is a metaphor for the Evil Inclination which is a horse prepared for war, in contrast to the person, and "chariot" is a metaphor for the composition of a person which has a tendency and a desire for certain things (note: the Hebrew words for "chariot" and "composition" have the same root letters and are etymologically related)
"a people more numerous than you" -- this is a metaphor for the evil forces which are increased because of the person's evil deeds
"you shall not fear them, for Hashem, Your G-d is with you" -- the explanation is that it's true that if you had come to this battle with only your own strength, you don't have within yourself the strength to stand this battle, but since Hashem Your G-d is with you His strength is great to save you, because when a person comes to purify himself the right hand of Hashem accepts him and he becomes attached to Hashem, and in that way the evil forces that are besieging him will be overcome.
"Shake the dust from yourself, arise." (Yishayahu 52:2)
The Sages say, this is like a chicken. The explanation is, that if a chicken is dirty from dust, if you wash her with water, you will just make matters worse because the dirt will penetrate more deeply. The best advice is that she should clean herself, and she shakes the dust off. So too, everyone needs to make an effort to shake off his sins from himself, as it is written "If I am not for myself then who will be for me" (Pirkei Avot Chapter 1), and then the Holy One Blessed Be He will help him.
The Torah Portion of Shoftim has 97 verses. 14 positive commandments. 27 negative commandments.Haftora: "Anochi Anochi" (Yishayahu 51).Pirkei Avot, Chapter 1 in Israel (Chapter 6 outside of Israel).
May you all have a light-filled and happy Shabbat.
L'ilui Neshamat HaGaon HaTzaddik R' Gershon Avigdor Ben R' Chaim ztz"l, Nilkach L'Bait Olamo Yud Gimmel Tishrei 5772