Divrei Torah

PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5776

In his week’s Parsha we read about the resolution of disputes between two parties. The Torah states that you will bring your disputes “to the judge who will be in those days.” Later in the Parsha, the Torah also says that you will bring your disputes “to the judges who will be in your days.” 

Now, there is an obvious difficulty with these two verses. Why does the Torah state that you will go to judges in your days? Can you bring your disputes to somebody who does not live in your time?

Rashi tackles this difficulty and explains, “Even if he is not like other judges who were before him, you must listen to him. You have none but the judges who is in your days. Yiftach in his generation is as Shmuel in his generation. You must treat him with respect.” 

Yiftach and Shmuel were both judges. Yiftach was the most ignorant of the thirteen judges in the Book of Judges, while Shmuel was the greatest of the judges. The Torah teaches us that we must treat the judge who is in office at that time with respect, no matter how learned or ignorant he may be. As much as you might prefer a judge or halachik authority from a previous generation, it won’t happen. You must go with what you have. 

There were people in our time who knew the Chafetz Chaim and the Chazon Ish – Rabbi Avraham Yeshayhu Karelitz. A person might say that I wish we had them back instead of the rabbis in our generation. So, the Torah is teaching us that we cannot do that. G-d gives us our leaders in our generation and we must follow their lead. 

Perhaps the Torah is teaching us another lesson with these words . . . we must appreciate what G-d has given us – appreciate what we have. There is so to end to what people can complain about. But, what about appreciating all of the good with which G-d has blessed him? 

I knew a man who passed away two years ago around the age of 95. He would swim daily. One day I asked him how he was. He replied, “I got up this morning, looked in the mirror and saw my face. I guess I am fine.” That response is the essence of the first prayer we say every day, “I thank You G-d that You restored my soul to me.” It is an attitude of the appreciation of life that G-d has given us - our health, and how much we can try to accomplish because of that.

The ease with which we can keep kosher in this country also seems to be often under-appreciated. The kashrus agencies – with the assistance of the various governmental agencies – make keeping kosher so much simpler than anywhere else in the world. You can go into a grocery store in the middle of Wyoming, Montana, North or South Dakota and find kosher products or buy milk without a challenge. Try shopping in Europe, where the kashrus symbols are not printed on the labels. Try buying milk where camel milk has become popular. Think about that the next time you shop – how much we should appreciate what we have here.

How about appreciating our ability to have a Jewish education? In this country, a person has the ability to obtain as high or low a level of Jewish education as he wants with no recriminations. There are numerous opportunities available to advance one’s Jewish education. Whether a person is starting school or retired, there are classes of various levels available. If we remember back to Russia in the days of the Iron Curtain – before 1990 – obtaining a Jewish education was done at the risk of one’s job and “freedom”.

What about appreciating that G-d has given us a Jewish state? Whatever can be said about the internal politics of Israel, thank G-d it is here. What would be with the Jewish people if, G-d forbid, there was no State of Israel? Israel may not be the utopian fantasy land we have created in our imaginations over the troubles of exile, but in Israel one can truly live a Jewish life. We have Torah like at no other time since perhaps the first Bais Hamikdash. It’s difficult to describe, but the people of Israel, observant and secular, have a certain Jewish flavor. That is much harder to find here in the exile.

We must cope with the hand G-d deals. We can either view life as a constant disappointment – what could have, should have, would have – my child could have been this or that – or appreciate the gifts of life. My child may not be a doctor, but thank G-d he supports himself and has stayed out of jail! Life sometimes requires a little perspective to see how far we have come. We cannot be ignorant of the challenges that confront the Jewish people, but we are living in a historic era of opportunity. We must thank G-d every day for the enormous blessings he has bestowed upon our generation and may those blessings continue in the coming year which is upon us.