Divrei Torah

PARSHAS SHOFTIM 5777

Last week’s Parsha spoke about kashrus. The symbol of the non-kosher animals is the pig because it only has split hooves and does not chew its cud. It has the appearance of a kosher animal but on the inside it is not kosher. The same is true for a human being - a person also must be kosher both externally and internally.

That idea also is also presented in this week’s Parsha. In the beginning of the Parsha, the Torah commands the Jewish people to appoint judges who are honest, do not corrupt judgments and do not take bribes because bribes will blind the most brilliant of judges. Immediately after the mitzvah of appointing honest judges, the Torah teaches us the prohibition of planting an Asheira tree. An Asheira tree was a tree that looked like any other tree. However, its purpose was to be used as an object of idol worship.

The Talmud notes the juxtaposition of these two laws – honest judges and Asheira trees -  and explains that anybody who appoints non-trustworthy judges is as though he planted an Asheira tree. What is the connection between poor judges and an Asheira tree?

Rabbi Morechai Kaminetzky explains the comparison of a corrupt judger to an Asheira tree, quoting Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik. An Asheira tree is as beautiful as any other tree, but man has turned its natural beauty into a vehicle for blasphemy. A judge may have an honest appearance. He might wear a long kapote and have a beautiful flowing beard. His image might exude honesty and integrity. However, if he is inherently dishonest, then he is no better than a beautiful tree whose sole purpose is to promote heresy.  

The judge and the Asheira tree might have beautiful appearances, but they are the opposite – they bring disgrace to G-d. Like the pig, they appear kosher externally, but internally are not. 

Why would the Torah write a similar idea – the importance of internal and external kashrus - in two consecutive parshios? Perhaps it is a temptation of our nature to show one appearance while in reality be somebody different. Perhaps that is a challenge that G-d is presenting to us in preparation for Rosh Hashana? Don’t put on the appearance of somebody you’re not. When people see you, they should know what they are getting. So, this Parsha disproves that well-known saying - all good things do not necessarily come in ‘trees’.