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Rabbi Elimelech Biderman shlit"a on Parashat Shoftim 2019 - Part 2

Judge Favorably

Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching, and everyone is seeking ways to earn a good judgment. The Kedushas Levi advises that we should judge others favorably. When we see someone doing something questionable, we should give them the benefit of the doubt. And, in general, we should see the virtues in others and not focus on their faults. If we will do so, Hashem will judge us favorably as well. On the verse, "You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself", the Kedushas Levi writes, "The Holy One judges the Jewish nation on the day of the judgment, with His immense compassion and kindness. But we must rouse these attributes above. How? When we act with kindness and judge every Jew favorably, this rouses the same attribute and attitude in heaven and Hashem will judge all Jews favorably. “This is the translation of the verse, "You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself."This means you should prepare the judgment of heaven… by judging your fellow man favorably… Because the way a person acts to others, that is how Heaven will act with him.”

Reb Ben Tzion Feldman shlita tells some stories that teach us to judge our fellow man favorably. One story happened in the Ponovezh yeshiva during yarchei kalah. Yarchei Kalah is a learning session designated especially for community workers. The Shabbos of yarchei kalah, the gabai called up a wealthy person for maftir. Generally, the custom in Ponovezh was that a groom got maftir. This week the wealthy guest got maftir, while a groom got a regular aliyah. People started talking, “Why did the gabai give maftir to the wealthy person? Just because he has money? The maftir belongs to the groom! The groomis an orphan! The gabai shouldn’t have slighted him by giving him a regular aliyah…”

The groom heard their hushed conversation and clarified the matter. He said, “I asked the gabai not to give me maftir because I am shy, and it's hard for me to say the long haftarah…” Reb Feldman says, “Imagine, had the groom remained silent. Who would think of this explanation to judge the gabai favorably? We must train ourselves to judge our fellow man favorably, especially since our assumptions are often wrong."

Someone told Reb Feldman that he has a hard time getting along with a neighbor. They don’t fight, G-d forbid, but they just don’t get along. When they meet, it is always a tense relationship. He said, “My neighbor's son is getting married, and he gave me an invitation to his son’s wedding. But when I opened the envelope there was no invitation inside! He is hinting to me that he doesn’t want me to come to his wedding. And that's a chutzpah. I'm a neighbor, after all. If that's the way he wants it, I will stop pretending. I will make it a real dispute…” Reb Felman told him, “You must judge your neighbor favorably. Perhaps he forgot to put in the invitation.” “Did you ever receive an envelope for an invitation with nothing inside it? Did you ever hear of such a thing?” Reb Felman admitted that he never heard of such a thing, “Nevertheless, you are obligated to judge him favorably.” Later that day, this man received an invitation in the mail to some other wedding. He opened the envelope and lo and behold, there was no invitation inside. Heaven was showing him that sometimes people forget to put in the invitation, and he should judge his neighbor favorably. He saved the envelope, so he could always remember this lesson.

Once, a man learning in a kollel (place where married men learn Torah full time) was marrying off a child, and he gave out invitations to all the kollel members. They opened up the invitation, and saw he was making the wedding in the large Wagshall Hall, which is among the luxurious halls in Bnei Brak. The kollel members were shocked. This man always gave them the impression that he was poor. When extra money came into the kollel, to be distributed among the most destitute among them, he always came forward and claimed he was a worthy candidate, and that he was very poor. How could he afford to make the wedding in that expensive hall? Was he tricking them all along? Or perhaps, he takes the extra money from the kollel and uses that to rent the most expensive hall in Bnei Brak? Shortly after this incident, the kollel coffers filled with bonus money, and this yungerman came forward. He said, “Now that I’m making a wedding, I certainly need this extra bonus.” The person in charge of the distribution didn’t give him any money. “Why not? Why am I less eligible than anyone else?” The person in charge of the distribution replied, “We see you have money. How else are you making a wedding in Wagshall’s large hall?” The man replied, “If I could tell you the reason, you would understand. But I can’t tell you.” And he left. The following day, the kollel man said to the person in charge of the distribution, “I wasn’t able to tell you beforehand, but I can tell you now. I wanted to make the wedding in Wagshal’s small hall. When I spoke to the manager of the hall, he asked me who my father was. I told him. He exclaimed, “Your father saved my life in the Holocaust! I was searching for him for years, so I can repay him.” He told me to make the wedding in the large hall, and he gave it to me for free. He made a condition that I don’t tell anyone. Yesterday, I told him that I'm losing money and my respect in the kollel due to this secret, so he agreed that I can tell the story.” Reb Feldman concludes, "The entire kollel heard the story, and were ashamed they suspected him. They learned to judge their fellow man favorably, even when it seems there is no explanation." And, as the Kedushas Levi taught, by judging others favorably, Hashem will judge us favorably on Rosh Hashanah and grant us, and all Klal Yisrael, a good year.


Another way to be acquitted in the judgment of Rosh Hashanah is to become a public person; someone dedicated to helping others. Reb Yisrael Salanter zt'l explained this concept with a parable: A wealthy person met an old friend at a very luxurious hotel. This was a hotel that only the very wealthy could afford, and most people didn’t stay for more than a few days. It was simply too expensive. He didn’t know his friend had become wealthy. The last time he met him, his friend was a poor man from a poor family. He asked him, “How long are you here in this hotel?” He replied, “I’m here for two years, now.” “Two consecutive years?” “That’s right.” “But how can you afford it? The last time I saw you, you were poor.” “I see you don’t understand. I am the janitor here. I have a small room in the hotel where I sleep.” What we learn from the parable is that when one “works here” he can stay around longer. The judgment of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur is awesome and fearful. For some the heavenly court will decree life, and for others… For some, the celestial court will decree wealth and tranquility; others will not fare as well. But if a person dedicates himself to helping others, Heaven will judge him favorably for their sake. Hashem wants him to remain in this world and to have all his provisions, so he can continue doing kindness for others. Therefore, to be judged for a good year, it is recommended to be dedicated to helping others.

The Rabbeinu Yonah (Shaarei Teshuvah, 3:13) teaches, "There are commandments in the Torah that most people aren't careful with …. One is acts of loving kindness. It is a mitzvah from the Torah… Chazal say, the world stands on three pillars: Torah, Service, and Acts of Loving Kindness… This mitzvah is among the severest and from the most fundamental principles that Hashem requests from man. As it says (Michah 6), "What does Hashem ask of you? Only to do justice, and to love kindness.'”

At the end of the parashah we study the laws of the decapitated calf (eglah arufah). When a murdered man is found in the field, and no one knows who did it, the scholars of the closest town bring a calf to the field, and break its neck there. The scholars then say, "Our hands didn’t spill his blood…" (21:7). Rashi writes, "Does anyone suspect that the scholars…were the murderers?" Why must they say they didn’t kill him? "The answer is the scholars were saying they didn’t see him and allow him to travel without food and without an escort." When a person travels, it is proper to give him some food so he doesn’t need to stop to look for food while traveling, which sometimes could be dangerous. It is also important to walk him (for at least four cubits) as this creates a spiritual protection for the person when he travels. The elders were saying that they weren't guilty of transgressing these points, and therefore, they aren't responsible for the murder.

Rebbe Tzaddok HaCohen zy'a explains as follows: When a person is happy, he has more energy. Therefore, when a person leaves a city, it is important to give him food and to walk him part of the way, as this shows him that people care about him, and he will be in good spirits. If he will be attacked, he will have the energy and courage to escape or to fight back. If the people of the city didn’t supply food and escort, he will feel down, and uncared for. His melancholy feelings could ultimately cause his death, when thieves or murderers meet him and he doesn’t have sufficient courage to fight them off. In addition to food and escort, there are other ways to make people feel cared for. A smile and a few kind words tell a person that he isn't alone. Now he is empowered to face the challenges of life. If you can make it your business to help people in this way, or in any other way, you will have a merit that could help you earn a good year. Heaven says that you are needed, because so many people need you. The city closest to the corpse brings the decapitated calf. If the corpse is found exactly between two cities and it is hard to determine which city is the closest, the Rabbinical Court of Yerushalayim measures the distances, and determines which city is closer.

The Mishnah (Sotah 45:) states three opinions how to measure: "Reb Eliezer says they measure from the dead person’s stomach. Reb Akiva says they measure from the nose. Reb Eliezer ben Azarya says they measure from the throat." Reb Tzaddok HaCohen explains that alluded in this dispute are three ways to determine who is going through a hard time, and needs support and a kind word. Reb Eliezer ben Azarya says we measure from the throat. This is because one of the basic ways to know who is going through a hard time is to listen to what they say. If they tell you about their hardships, it is a mitzvah to try to help them. Reb Akiva says that you measure from the nose, because many people conceal what they are going through, and they don’t want to speak about it. But you can look at their face. If their nose is turned down, you will know that it is a mitzvah to help them. Reb Eliezer said that we measure from the stomach, because there are people who keep everything bottled up in their stomachs. There is no external sign, at all, to know that they are going through hard times. Therefore, we should strive to bring happiness to everyone, because we can never know what our fellow man is going through. Perhaps you can give him a smile and a kind word that will make his day (or his week, year, or life). As it states in Pirkei Avos, "Greet every person with happiness" (Avos 3:12) because you never know who needs it.

Reb Yisrael Salanter zy'a taught that someone who goes around with a sour face is a pit in a public domain, because he is causing people to be sad together with him. In contrast, those who go around with a happy countenance will be rewarded for all the people who become happy as a result.

Gaavah — Arrogance

Haughtiness is a very negative trait. This week's parashah commands the Jewish king that he mustn’t be haughty, as it states (17:20), "So his heart won't feel haughtier than his brothers…" This prohibition applies to all Jews. As the Ramban writes, "The Torah is hinting here the prohibition against haughtiness. The verse says that even a king mustn’t be proud and haughty. Certainly, everybody else should be cautious. For a king, arrogance is essentially fitting. Yet the Torah tells that he must be humble and he should consider himself an equal to all his brothers who are lower than him…" The Ramban continues, "Because arrogance is a disgusting trait and it is disgusting to Hashem, even when a king has arrogance. Pride only belongs to Hashem alone… As King Solomon writes (Proverbs 16:5), 'It is an abomination, before Hashem, all those who are haughty.' And it states (Jeremiah 9:23), 'Only with regards to the following can one have pride: the one who knows Hashem and [knows] that I…do kindness…" The Sfas Emes asks, why does the Ramban say that this verse is the source for the prohibition against arrogance. There are many other references in the Torah that prohibit arrogance. For example, in parashas Eikev, it states (Deuteronomy 8), "Lest you [will] eat and be satisfied...your gold and silver will increase…and your heart will become proud and you will forget Hashem…" There are other sources, too. So why does the Ramban say that arrogance is prohibited for all Jews , from this verse, which discusses kings? The answer is there are two forms of arrogance. One form of arrogance is to feel proud before Hashem, as though he doesn’t have to be subjugated before Hashem. As it states, "you became haughty and you forgot Hashem." The other arrogance is when one considers himself greater than others. Parashas Eikev discusses someone who thinks he doesn’t need to come onto Hashem for aid. While this week's parashah discusses when one feels greater than his fellow man. As it says, "So the king shouldn’t feel prouder than his fellow man."

A prestigious rabbi was beating on his chest on Yom Kippur. The gabbai was standing nearby and overheard the rabbi's words amidst his tears. The gabbai was astonished; he never knew that the rabbi was such a grave sinner. "For the sin of... that we sinned before you…, for the sin of... that we sinned before you…" the list was long. "I'm not giving him an aliyah today" the gabai decided. "Why should I honor the rabbi, if he is a great sinner?" At the break before Minchah, this rabbi rebuked the gabbai. "Why didn’t you give me an aliyah today, like I receive every year?" "I just found out about all your sins. I overheard your viduy (confession), and I discovered that you are a great sinner. I never knew … Someone like you doesn’t deserve an aliyah." The rabbi replied, "You're right, I'm a nobody… I'm a sinner… I admit my lowliness before Hashem. But compared to all those people who received an aliyah today, I'm far greater than them…" So we see that one can be humble before Hashem, but haughty towards others.

In this week's parashah, the Torah states the prohibition that one shouldn’t feel pride over his fellow man either. One of the benefits of humility is long life. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 92) says, "One should always be humble, and then he will live." And the Gemara (Tamid 32) teaches, "What should a person do to live? He should kill himself (i.e., he should humble himself which can feel like death)." Therefore, regarding the humility of the Jewish king, the Torah says "[The king] shouldn’t feel pride over his brothers… so he will live long on his kingdom."

Overcoming Jealousy

Reb Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin shlita received many letters when he was in prison. It was estimated that 2/3rd of all the mail went to Reb Shalom Mordechai Rubashkin, and 1/3 to the other inmates. His plight touched the hearts of many people, and they would write him letters of chizuk. Cheder children also wrote letters to him. There was one prisoner who was jealous of Reb Shalom Mordechai. He said, “You're stealing everyone’s letters for yourself.” Reb Shalom Mordechai showed him the envelopes. His name was written on them. He also showed him the letters. Many of them were written in Yiddish. Obviously, those letters weren't written to the non-Jewish inmates. The non-Jewish prisoner didn’t agree. He still felt Reb Shalom Mordechai was taking away letters that belonged others. The Baal Shem Tov zt’l teaches that everything a person hears or sees are all messages from Heaven. So, Reb Shalom Mordechai tried to understand the message Hashem was sending him via this jealous prisoner. What did it mean? Reb Shalom Mordechai realized that he was also jealous, because he was envious of all the people who are free. “Why me and not them?” he always asked himself. Hashem sent him this gentile to remind him that he shouldn’t be jealous. This was his portion, destined from Above. Just as every letter was personally addressed to him, so too, the imprisonment was destined and allotted to him.

The Gemara (Pesachim 8.) states, “If there is a hole [in the wall] between your apartment and your neighbor’s, check [for chametz in the hole] as far as your hand reaches…” The Toldos Yaakov Yosef (Bo 8) explains that hole can also mean earnings, profit. This Torah law hints that if one sees his friend is earning a greater profit than he, this isn’t a reason for jealousy or hatred. Recognize that each person gets the portion designed for him. The Gemara therefore says, he should check as far as he can”and cleanse himself from jealousy.

A Good Resolution

Tzaddikim called the resolutions people make for the new year, "A new garment for the new soul for the new year." Before Rosh Hashanah, Reb Eliyah Lopian zt'l once asked Reb Aryeh Leib Chasman zt'l, "What resolution should I accept on myself for the upcoming year? Reb Leib Chasman replied, "I want you to decide, but make sure it is something you can keep." After some time, Reb Elyah Lopian returned and told Reb Leib Chasman what he chose. "Are you certain you can keep this?" "I'm certain.” “Then I want you to do only half of it."

Someone said to Reb Zundel Kroizer zt’l, "A miracle happened to me, and I want to make a new resolution to express my gratitude. Which resolution do you recommend I take on?" Reb Zundel Kroizer advised him to add just one more minute of Torah study. "If you generally learn from 9:00 to 10:00, learn until 10:01." Because one minute of Torah may appear insignificant to us, but nothing is small in Hashem's eyes. And that one good deed, will lead to many others. An old Jew passed away in Uzbekistan, and before his demise, he asked his son to transfer his body to Eretz Yisrael, when he is able to. But as it is often the way of people, things get pushed off, from one year to the next, and the son was already eighty years old, living in Eretz Yisrael, and he realized that if he doesn’t carry out his father’s will now, he will never get around to doing it. He hired Reb Mendel Ekstein (who has experience in transporting graves) to bring his father's remains to Eretz Yisrael. Reb Mendel Ekstein traveled to Uzbekistan, opened the grave, and almost fainted when he saw that the tallis covering the body had remained fresh, after all these years. The tallis is usually first to disintegrate, but miraculously this tallis remained intact. Reb Mendel never saw anything like this before. He was afraid to continue. But he was hired to do this mission, and it was the decease's final request, so he took the tallis off to see the body. The skeleton was as he'd expect it to be — the body was totally decomposed. The shrouds were totally disintegrated, too, just the tallis remained intact.

In Eretz Yisrael, the custom is to bury people without a tallis. But, with rabbinic guidance, this man was reburied with the tallis, because of the outstanding miracle that occurred. Reb Mendel asked the eighty-year-old son, “Do you have any idea why his tallis remained complete? Perhaps your father was a hidden tzaddik?” The son replied, "The day my father began wearing a tallis, after his wedding, he made a resolution that he would never speak while wearing his tallis. He kept this resolution his entire life. Apparently, in that merit, the tallis remained intact."


When you smile people smile back at you. The following story demonstrates this: Mr. and Mrs. S. found a home that was large enough for their needs and in the right location, so they were thinking of buying it. "What about the neighbors?" Mrs. S. asked the seller. "Are they friendly?" "Of course," the seller told them. "You won't have any problems in this neighborhood. They are all helpful and caring people." "Good because I don’t want to live here if they aren’t friendly." A moving truck brought over all their furniture. As Mrs. S. came to the front door, she saw one of the neighbors glaring at her. She quickly called the original homeowner and said, "Why did you trick us. You said that we'll have good neighbors, but now I see the neighbors glaring at us. They are upset we moved here." The original homeowner told her, "Put a smile on your face, and you will see that the neighbors will smile back." She did this, and this time the neighbor smiled back at her. She looked closer, and saw that she was looking at a mirror. When she frowned, the mirror frowned, and when she smiled, the mirror smiled back. The way we treat others, is the way they treat us. Therefore, one of the benefits of greeting others with happiness is that they will respond and greet you with joy, too. You will earn more friends, which is a benefit in itself, and in addition, you may be helping people in a very significant manner.

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