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כפר לעמך ישראל אשר פדית

Atone for Your People Yisrael that You have redeemed. (21:8)

The Midrash Tanchuma (Haazinu) quotes the Toras Kohanim concerning the above pasuk: Kapeir l’amcha Yisrael, “Atone for Your People Yisrael.” This applies to the living; asher padisa; “that You have redeemed,” refers to the departed. This teaches that the living redeem the deceased. Therefore, it is our custom to memorialize the memory of the departed on Yom Kippur by praying for them, setting aside tzedakah, charity, in their behalf. I might think that tzedakah has no effect once a person passes on from this world. Thus, we learn from asher padisa, through the medium of tzedakah. The Midrash continues describing…

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תמים תהיה עם ד' אלקיך

You shall be whole hearted with Hashem, your G-d. (18:13)

Rashi explains this to mean that one should follow Hashem with perfect faith, not being concerned about what will occur in the future (as was the custom in those days to seek out the counsel of diviners and astrologers). This means accepting whatever befalls a person with wholeheartedness and absolute conviction, recognizing it as the will of Hashem. Once, during the Middle Ages (as quoted by Horav Eli Munk, zl, in The Call of the Torah), a holy man gave a kemeiah, amulet, to someone who was anxious about the future. He warned him not to open it for an…

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לבלתו רום לבבו מאחיו ולבלתי סור מן המצוה ימין ושמאל

So that his heart not become haughty over his brethren. And not turn from the commandment right or left. (17:20)

The Torah demands that the Jewish king maintain a sense of humility, shying away from anything that might present him as pretentious and vain. The fact that he is king neither gives him license to act haughty, nor does it allow him to feel that he is better than anyone. With his position comes enormous responsibilities, as well as temptation to accede to a yetzer hora, evil inclination, that will play with his subconscious, encouraging him to act pompously and to use his office for personal gain. Monarchy, as with all leadership positions, is not a free pass. It creates…

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צדק צדק תרדף

Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue. (16:20)

If we know of one imperative that hardly requires an injunction concerning its primacy, it is the pursuit of righteousness. Nonetheless, the Torah not only feels the need to mention it, but to mention it twice; tzedek, tzedek, “righteousness, righteousness.” Everyone is involved in mitzvah performance (or so they claim), but even the execution of the most significant mitzvah must be carried with spiritual and moral integrity. A mitzvah should not be carried out at the expense of others. To appropriate funds for the needy – funds that have been “earned” in a less than reputable manner – is not…

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על פי שנים עדים או שלשה עדים יומת המת

By the testimony or two of three witnesses shall the condemned person be put to death. (17:6)

The word shnayim connotes two. Yet, later in this parsha (19:15), the Torah uses the word shnei (eidim) to specify two witnesses. Why does the text change from one pasuk to the other? Horav David Cohen, Shlita, quotes the Gaon, zl, m’Vilna, who distinguishes between shnayim and shnei (although both words mean “two”). Shnayim refers to two people (or objects) which come together or meld together as one unit, while shnei refers to two individuals, separate and/or disparate, who just happen to be together. In other words, shnayim is a “two” which maintains a stronger sense of unity. With the…

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תמים תהיה עם ד' אלקיך

You shall be wholehearted with Hashem, Your G-d. (18:13)

Temimus, simple faith, is not so simple. It takes a special person, whose faith in Hashem is unequivocal, to achieve temimus. It requires one: to live a life of acquiescence; to ask no questions; to believe that everything is for the good; to maintain wholesome belief in Hashem that everything that occurs in one’s life is Divinely orchestrated. The tamim lives only in the moment. The future is completely in the hands of Hashem. Horav Pinchas Koritzer, zl, teaches that only two mitzvos or observances are to be carried out with Hashem: temimus, wholehearted faith; and tznius, modesty. (Hatznea leches im…

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כי ימצא חלל באדמה

If a corpse will be found on the land. (21:1)

The Torah relates the halachah of eglah arufah, the axed heifer, which is used to atone for the murder of a Jew whose death came about possibly due to communal neglect or indifference. A public ritual is performed, during which the elders of the community closest to where the corpse is discovered declare their innocence and non-culpability in this incident. They then pray for forgiveness for the Jewish People. Baal HaTurim notes that the laws of eglah arufah are placed between “two wars”, the parsha of going out to war which is in Parashas Shoftim; and the war at the beginning…

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ידינו לא שפכה את הדם הזה

“Our hands have not spilled this blood.” (21:7)

Chazal (Sotah 45b) ask: “Did anyone suspect the elders of committing murder?” They mean to say that they did not see the traveler (deceased) and had no part in allowing him to go on his way – alone, without food or escort. If the elders would have been guilty of this neglect, they would be considered as having (his) blood on their hands. The elders/leaders of a community have an enormous responsibility. When they renege their responsibility, and, as a result, someone is hurt – they have blood on their hands. The commentators debate whose blood the elders are atoning….

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שופטים ושטרים תתן לך בכל שעריך... ושפטו את העם משפט צדק

Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities… and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. (16:18)

Titen lecha, “Shall you appoint” (Literal translation: shall you put for you/yourself). The Kli Yakar derives from you/yourself that, before one concerns himself with helping others, he must first judge himself. Make absolutely certain that your house is in order before you reach out to others. How true this is. There are some who occupy themselves with reaching out to others as an excuse, in order to delay addressing their own personal issues. In a similar vein, Horav Simcha Bunim, zl, m’Peshischa, explains Shoftim v’shotrim titen lecha, “Judges and officers shall you appoint” in the following way: As long as…

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שפטים ושוטרים תתן לך... לא תטה משפט לא תכיר פנים ולא תקח שחד

Judges and officers shall you appoint in your cities… you shall not pervert judgment, you shall not respect someone’s presence; and you shall not accept a bribe. (16:18,19)

The Torah exhorts us to appoint honest judges who will adjudicate accordingly. It then follows up with three rules (so to speak) for keeping the judges “honest”. They should not pervert judgment; they should treat everyone equally, regardless of the litigant’s financial portfolio or eminence and power; last, they should not accept a bribe – even if the bribe comes without strings attached. Once one has accepted anything from another person, he becomes predisposed to him and the judgment that he renders might in some way be biased. The appointment of judges is obviously critical for the healthy growth of…

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