Shoftim 5778

פרשת שופטים

Parshas Shoftim

First Look at Yourself and then Others Will Look at You Differently

The greatest activity that a man can engage in is the performance of mitzvos. That a mortal being is able to execute the Divine Will of our Creator is truly the noblest accomplishment. Nonetheless, the context in which we perform the mitzvos and the timing of each activity is critical, and we must be careful lest our zeal and passion to do the will of Hashem as the Torah commands bring about harmful consequences, collateral damage in today’s parlance. For example, a person might be so totally zoned into doing a mitzvah that at that very moment all other worldly things become irrelevant to him. At times this might be considered the ultimate way in which one can serve Hashem, but one must constantly be aware of his surroundings and of how all his actions even those involving mitzvos can affect those around him.

As a young child I was taught this lesson in an allegorical fashion: A fellow, when shopping for groceries, was burdened by a large number of bags and was struggling with his load with both hands. At that moment a young man who was engaged in the solicitation of charity for a worthy cause approached the hapless fellow and insisted that he make a donation on the spot, being totally oblivious to the man’s discomfort. True, the cause that the young man was seeking to support might have been laudable and at another time the solicitation might have been a meritorious deed, but in this instance it was severely lacking because timing is absolutely essential. It might be in reference to the proper way to perform mitzvos that it is written in Mishlei (Proverbs) [1], “דרכיה דרכי נועם וכל נתיבותיה שלום- Her [The Torah’s] ways are pleasant ways and all her paths are peaceful.”

This lesson can be also learned from our parsha. At the beginning of the parsha, the Torah teaches us regarding how scrupulous judges must be in upholding the laws. The Torah expresses a redundancy in the commandment: צדק צדק תרדוף, – justice, justice shall you pursue so that you will live and take possession of the land that Hashem, your G-d, gives you.” [2] The commentaries are perplexed by this redundancy of “Tzedek Tzedek tirdof.”

I once heard that the double wording of “tzedek” can be seen as to imply “tzedek b’tzedek tirdof” – meaning that not only shall justice be pursued but the means employed in the pursuit must also be just. Although a contemporary culture might subscribe to the concept that the end justifies the means, the Torah mandates us that, on the contrary, Tzedek B’tzedek tirdof, justice with justice you shall pursue.

This adds insight to the pasuk in parshas Kedoshim. The pasuk says [3] הוכח תוכיח את עמיתך ולא תשא עליו חטא – “rebuke, [yes, definitely] shall you rebuke your fellow Jew, and do not bear the yoke of his sins.

If one admonishes another, and the admonisher himself must be totally innocent of the misdeed about which he is giving rebuke. Otherwise, the chastised individual might retort snidely, “Who are you of all people to tell me such and such? Look at yourself and at how you behave!”

Indeed, Chazal does teach us [4] “First correct yourself and only then correct others!” For now, not only did the above describe his rebuke as not accomplish anything, if anything it only aggravated the situation. The miscreant who would reject that reproach has been caused to commit another sin, that of not heeding the words of rebuke. It would have been much wiser if the man giving the rebuke would have paid attention to the words of our Rabbis [5] ‘Just like it is a mitzvah to say something that people will heed to, it also a mitzvah not to say things that people will not listen to.

This then is the meaning of the pasuk, ”Rebuke, yea shall you rebuke your fellow Jew, but only if and when you do not exacerbate his bad behavior by causing him to bear more heavily, the yoke of his sins. Just as in our parsha we understood that the pursuit of justice should only be with righteousness, so too in Kedoshim, “Hoche’ach, [if you feel that you must rebuke someone], “toche’ach” you should first see whether you too need to be rebuked for the similar offense and only then can you can you proceed to lecture another person about his bad behavior. “V’lo sisa olav chait” – Only then can you be sure that you aren’t causing the additional sin of rejecting admonishment, for the wrongdoer will have nothing to say in response, and he will therefore try to better his actions.

This lesson is also learnt at the very beginning of our parsha as the pasuk says [6] שופטים ושוטרים תתן לך – Judges and police you shall place for yourself.” Reb Simcha Bunim of Peshischa [7] commented: Make ‘for yourself’ judges and police, that is, before you go and make judgments about other people, judge yourself first.

Good Shabbos.

Rabbi Dovid Sochet

[1] 3:17
[2] Devarim 16:20
[3] Vayikra 19:17
[4] Tractate Bava Basra 60B
[5] Yevamos 65B
[6] Devarim 16:18
[7] 1765–1827, he was one of the great Chasidic leaders of Chasidic Judaism in Poland

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