Shophtim - 5763
“Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue” (Devarim 16:20)
and HaShem’s Response to Iyov
In Parshat Shophtim, Moshe continues his farewell
address and charge, which is the nature of Sefer Devarim, to the People of
Israel. The leading theme of the parshah is HaShem’s requirement that the
Jewish People pursue justice (Devarim 16:20), “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof.” This
would correspond, in the sense of the requirement that the Children of
Israel, the holy nation, imitate the ways of G-d, to the description that
Moshe provides in Parshat Ha’azinu (Devarim 32:4), of HaShem: “The Rock, His
work is perfect, for all His actions are just, the Almighty G-d of
Faithfulness, Righteous and Upright is He.” And His perfection also
justifies the command of the Torah in Parshat Shophtim (Devarim 18:13), “You
shall be perfect with HaShem, your G-d.”
In addition to Sefer Devarim, another work which according to the Talmud (Bava
Bathra 14b) was authored by Moshe, was the Book of Iyov, or Job. In this
work, the author poses the classic question that arises when an observer
confronts the question of whether the administration of the affairs of the
world is in fact just; namely, the question of why do the righteous suffer?
An event occurred two weeks ago that was particularly stark in its horror,
that brings that question into sharp focus. I refer to the bombing of the
bus returning from the Kotel by Hamas (may the name of that evil terrorist
band and its memory be erased!) in which more than twenty precious souls
were taken from the Jewish People, including that of a righteous and
selfless woman from the Village of New Square and her baby, and many other
children returning from prayer at the Western Wall. On the other hand, even
that horror was duplicated more than ten thousand times during the
Holocaust, in which a punishment more severe than that foretold in Parshat
Ki Tavo was administered. And on the other hand, perhaps, partially because
of the Holocaust, the Jewish People received Eretz Yisrael, the Holy Land,
the past and future site of the Temple, and of the Mashiach and the Final
Redemption. Who can count the lives and measure the blood? Who can balance
the punishment and the reward administered in the world?
I believe that this period in our history can be described as both “Kibbutz
Galuyot,” the In-Gathering of the Exiles, and “Ikvese D’Mashicha,” the
Footsteps of the Mashiach. At this time, Evil still has great power in the
world. Anti-Semitism is rife in Europe, and especially so in France. In
fact, a friend whose son-in-law is French (though he and his wife now live
in Israel) and whose uncle is the Chief Rabbi of France, told me that there
is a strong belief that the next great “Aliyah” will come from France. That
will be an “Aliyah” that is not B’Kommemiut, not with a great deal of Jewish
freedom of will and dignity, but rather an emigration driven by hatred.
Hopefully, the Nefesh B’Nefesh Program of Aliyah from North America will
remain an Aliyah B’Kommemiut.
At this stage, hopefully, HaShem will be with us and protect us, but the
reconciliation is not yet complete. Our ancient enemies still plague us.
Movies such as Mel Gibson’s “The Passion” perpetuate the idea that the Jews
killed the Christian god. Who knows how long the support of the Christian
far-Right for Israel will continue, before demands are made upon the Jewish
State from that quarter? It appears that massive Aliyah by our youth, and
Aliyah as well by others who can manage it, is the best answer to the Arabs
and our best demonstration to HaShem that we are still with Him!
Towards the end of Sefer Iyov, HaShem delivers a response to Iyov’s protests
of innocence. At first reading, it is not understandable! It seems to be a
catalog of examples and demonstrations that HaShem is the Almighty and
therefore a human being has no right to question Him. But what does superior
strength have to do with justice or morality? Furthermore, in the prayers of
the High Holy Days, we specifically refer to HaShem as “HaE-l HaKadosh,”
“Almighty G-d, Who is Holy.” And this description seems to mean that HaShem
shows great restraint, despite His overwhelming strength, in His dealings
with human beings. What then does HaShem mean in His response to Iyov?
It is possible that the response can be understood as follows: G-d plays in
an entirely different league than His creature, the human being. Bad
analogy. He is the league, the teams, the players, the arena, the umpire,
and the fans! As King of the Universe, His realm is inconceivably large.
Forces that are at His command are likewise totally beyond the human
imagination. He is called “Makom,” “Place,” because His Place is not in the
Universe; rather He is the Place of the Universe.
And yet, He has created a hospitable home for human beings on the earth.
Situated at the ideal distance from the sun, it is a comfortable world.
Beautiful blue skies, green grass and trees (the green of spring was my
mother’s favorite color), flowers of all delightful colors! Tens of
thousands of species of living creatures, sharing the planet with human
beings. All for a mysterious experiment, to see if a particular People will
accept the Torah, live by its rules of decency and morality, and teach its
principles to the other nations.
It seems fairly evident that the relationship of HaShem towards the human
race in general is as “Protector,” and is to the Jewish People as “Father.”
Otherwise, nothing makes sense! The forces at play in the Universe are too
overwhelming; the fact that we exist means that G-d wants us to exist!
Pain, suffering and death are also part of this world. But the prophet
Yeshayahu promises (25:8), “He will destroy death forever, and the L-rd G-d
will wipe tears from every face.” Apparently, “every face” includes those
who suffered in the “past.” How that could be done is beyond human
comprehension. But remember, we are speaking here about the Creator of Time.
In HaShem’s response, there are also a number of somewhat veiled references
to the resurrection of the dead. In Iyov 38:14, we find “The seal changes
like clay and they shall stand like a garment.” Rashi comments “The cast of
man’s countenance changes when he dies, to live again at the resurrection of
the dead, and they will stand up in their garments.” The captive maidens of
Israel, kidnapped by the Romans and on a ship destined for immoral purposes,
asked their eldest, “Will HaShem find us when it comes time to revive the
dead, if we jump overboard?” And they were assured by a verse in Tehilim
68:23 “G-d said, ‘From Bashan I will retrieve; I will retrieve from the
depths of the sea!’ ”
In Iyov 38:17, HaShem says, “Have the gates of death been revealed to you,
and do you see the gates of the shadow of death?” What the World-to-Come
holds is also unknown to us. We find in Yeshayahu 64:3, and the Rambam cites
this verse, “No one ever heard nor perceived by the ear, and no eye has seen
it, O L-rd, besides You, what You will do for the one who waits for it.”
Our idea of what would be “fair” compensation to someone who was condemned
by illness or injury or attack by terrorist to a lifetime of suffering,
physical or emotional, has probably also been thought of by the “Father of
In this Month of Elul, which began last week, may we take advantage of the
opportunity to effect a complete reconciliation with the Ribbono shel Olam!
And in the High Holy Days that approach, may HaShem, the Supreme Judge of
the World, silence the haters and allow Love once again to flourish between
Himself and His People!
Rabbi Pinchas Frankel
Rabbi Frankel is an Educational Coordinator at the OU