|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my maternal grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my paternal grandfather Moshe Ben Yosef A”H, uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-MY BROTHER: MENACHEM MENDEL SHLOMO BEN CHAYA ROCHEL
-HaRav Gedalia Dov Ben Perel
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Yechiel Baruch HaLevi Ben Liba Gittel
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael, especially those suffering from COVID-19.
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
שֹׁפְטִים ● Shoftim
● Why would one erect an idol in Hashem’s Temple? ●
“Bribery & the Idola-Tree”
Moshe continues his national address with the commandment to establish Shoftim and Shotrim, judges and officers, to lead and enforce the Torah law among the B’nei Yisrael. Moshe Rabbeinu warns the B’nei Yisrael not to pervert justice by establishing judges who might favor one litigant over another or accept bribery. He concluded with his insistent warning, “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof L’Ma’an Chayecha V’Yarashta Es HaOretz Asher Hashem Elokecha Nosein Lach”-“Justice, justice shall you pursue, in order that you may live and possess the land that Hashem your G-d gives you.”1
Soon after, Moshe Rabbeinu would instruct the nation concerning how the judges ought to exact judgment in the court of Torah law.2 Before Moshe could do that though, immediately after his warning to the nation about the upkeep of proper judgment, Moshe commanded the B’nei Yisrael concerning a handful of what appears to be some oddly unrelated topics.
Judges and Things G-d Hates
The list of topics seems to be comprised of three items:
- An Asheirah “next to the Mizbei’ach”
Firstly, Moshe commanded the nation to plant an Asheirah, or a tree of idol worship, “Eitzel Mizbei’ach Hashem Elokecha”-“next to the altar of Hashem your G-d…”3
- Monuments of Idolatry “which Hashem hates”
Secondly, Moshe followed up with a prohibition against erecting a Matzeivah or a monument for idolatry “Asheir Sanei Hashem Elokecha”—which Hashem apparently hates.4
- “Abominable” Korbanos
Third and finally, Moshe warned the people against offering blemished animals or slaughtering an animal with the inappropriate technical intentions, both of which are apparently “To’avas Hashem,” abominable things to G-d.5
Now, what are these prohibitions doing here in the middle of the laws concerning appropriate judges and officers? These issues here do not only seem irrelevant and misplaced, but they don’t even seem necessary.
Beginning with the first two items, there were not only many reminders in the Torah prohibiting various forms of Avodah Zarah (including the most famous one in the Aseres HaDibros6), but it was only a single Parsha ago, in Parshas Re’eih, where Moshe Rabbeinu very clearly and explicitly commanded Israel, “Abeid T’abdun Es Kal HaMekomos Asher Avdu Sham HaGoyim…V’Shibartem Es Matzeivosam Va’Asheireihem Tisrefun BaEish…”-“You shall utterly destroy all of the places that the nations worshiped And you shall smash their pillars [monuments], and their idolatrous trees, you shall burn in the fire…”7
There were no secrets there. Both Matzeivos and Asheiros were called out and blacklisted by name in that passage! With these blatantly harsh laws banning the pagan nations’ objects of Avodah Zarah still in the forefront of our minds, is there a serious concern that the nation would think, at this moment, to go ahead and plant themselves an Asheirah tree?
The Insult to Avodah
As far as item number three goes, the prohibition against the offering of abominable Korbanos as well is nothing new. The original law can be traced back to Sefer Vayikra.8 And although it may not get as much attention in Scripture as the prohibitions against idolatry, it does not seem like a necessary commandment to repeat, especially in this random context. The idea that one would offer a Korban, which is designed to bring one close to Hashem, in a form which does not fit G-d’s prescription, is internally contradictory. Why would one think to volunteer a service to attain closeness with Hashem in an apparently abominable way which would only create distance?
This particular question brings us to the other issue concerning items one and two, Asheiros and Matzeivos. In Moshe’s warnings against the crafting of these idolatrous objects in our Sidrah, he presents them in oddly specific scenarios. As was mentioned, he commanded that one not plant an Asheirah, “Eitzel Mizbei’ach Hashem Elokecha…”-“near the Altar of Hashem your G-d…”3 Chazal understood both this prohibition and the one concerning the Matzeivos as a warning against the positioning of an idolatrous tree or monument for the sake of beautifying one’s service to Hashem.9
With this background, perhaps one can almost theoretically conceive of some possible justification for the usage of Asheiros and Matzeivos. And yet, it still does seem like somewhat of an awkward and distasteful accessory to Avodas Hashem, considering what they had formerly been used for. In fact, if it seems distasteful, it is probably because it is distasteful, as the rest of the Pasuk which we’ve cited states openly that, indeed, Hashem “hates” stone monuments; “…Asheir Sanei Hashem Elokecha”-“which Hashem your G-d hates.”4
Now, if the goal is to beautify and enhance one’s service to Hashem, why would anyone think to incorporate an object which Hashem clearly hates? Quite like offering a fundamentally abominabe Korban, is such a practice like that not oxymoronic and paradoxical by its very nature? Not only is it illogical to use such an object in the service, but it is counterintuitive and plainly offensive. It is a brazen insult to the Avodah itself.
While we’re thinking about this question, it is perhaps also fair to ask why Moshe even needed to specify that Hashem particularly hates Matzeivos. Presumably, Hashem doesn’t take too kindly to any actions or objects that are inherently associated with idol worship or anything which the Torah states is prohibited. Woud it not have been sufficient for Moshe to have stated that the integration of these pillars into the Avodah is prohibited by Torah law? Obviously, anything that is inherently insulting to the Avodah is something that G-d would hate. Why did Moshe have to add, “By the way, Hashem hates that”?
A Connection between Shoftim & Asheiros
As far as the relationship between the prohibition against planting oneself an Asheirah next to the Mizbei’ach and the commandment to instate honorable Shoftim V’Shotrim, the Gemara expounds exegetically that the appointment of corrupt judges is tantamount to planting oneself an Asheirah.10
The idea that G-d equally disapproves of both judicial injustice and idolatry is certainly a powerful one which drives home the point that G-d Himself does not fundamentally differentiate between synagogue and state, between religious service and the court system. Just as we accept that it is absolutely absurd and twisted to incorporate an idol into one’s service of G-d, it should be absolutely absurd to appoint a corrupt individual into the justice system. Thus, by placing this series of “insults to the Avodah” next to the discussion of judges, Moshe put the topic of judges into perspective, teaching us the attitude and perhaps religious zealotry which one should have towards all injustice, lawlessness, and corruption.
Indeed, while the Drashah hits the nail on the head, from the standpoint of Pashut P’shat, it is still somewhat strange that Moshe would present this whole mini-series of items which G-d does not approve of, almost as though there were a legitimate concern that someone might actually attempt to perform a service to Hashem using an Asheirah, a Matzeivah, or a blemished Korban.
The question is: Was Moshe merely making a point and adding his color commentary to the command concerning judges, or was Moshe perhaps also worried about a practical issue which warranted these prohibitions? Did Moshe actually think that someone might be led to engage in such an inconsistent, ironic and illogical Avodah? If, at the end of the day, there was no such concern, why would Moshe have gone to the length to spell out these warnings?
The Blinding Bribe
Notwithstanding the incredible influence which Moshe’s three additional warnings have on the command to appoint honorable judges and officers, perhaps there is an equally brilliant light which the topic of judges and officers sheds back on these other prohibitions against planting oneself an Asheirah, erecting a Matzeivah, or offering abominable Korbanos.
Yes, as Chazal put it, Hashem deems the nomination of corrupt judges as terrible as an Avodah to Him which incorporates objects of Avodah Zarah. But, again, who in his right mind could justify the usage of idols or anything abominable in his Avodas Hashem?
And here is where the the preceding discussion of judges becomes relevant. Moshe warned that it is absolutely forbidden for a judge to accept a Shochad, or a bribe. However, he did not just lay out the prohibition, but he provided a very straightforward rationale, something which is not typical in the presentation of Mitzvos; “Ki HaShochad Y’aveir Einei Chachamim ViSaleif Divrei Tzaddikim”-“For the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise ones and it will twist the words of righteousness.”11 Granted, Moshe was only borrowing from Hashem’s example, as Hashem had declared the same prohibition with the same rationale way back in Parshas Mishpatim12, but one has to wonder why the rationale was necessary, in any event. The simple prohibition should have sufficed.
However, with a deeper analysis of the connection between Shochad and the abominable “insults to Avodah” listed above, there will emerge a solution that is so glaring, it is blinding. Much like the prohibition of accepting Shochad, concerning the prohibition against the incorporation of abominable objects in one’s Avodah, Moshe spelled out the evil of such an act, that “Hashem hates” such things. It was a strange addition, because again, the prohibition alone should have sufficed. Why would anything further need to be said? The answer is hidden in the rationale itself.
Indeed, the whole idea behind the prohibition against a judge’s acceptance of Shochad is that the bribe itself creates an inescapable bias and necessarily blinds the recipient, such that the Torah forbids the acceptance of a bribe even if the recipient has full intentions of carrying out justice honestly.13 Since the Shochad sways the heart and blinds the eyes, its recipient’s mind does calculate the situation objectively, so that even if a given prohibition is obvious and explicit in the print of the Torah, he will somehow rationalize his performance of the forbidden behavior. Thus, preempting any rationalization, the Torah specifically provided a rationale that the Shochad invariably obstructs and impairs the judgment of even the wisest, most honest, and most righteous judge who accept it.
This blinding ability of the Shochad is not merely present in the literal bribe, but it permeates all of life and all sins of the Torah, including the most obvious and abominable ones such as those associated with idol worship. That is because when one is caught up in that situation where there is either an external or internal Shochad, where one has what to gain from his sin, one can then rationalize and justify even the most crooked sins “which Hashem hates.” One can even become so corrupt as to misconstrue and misrepresent those sins as embellishments of his Avodas Hashem!
In this way, the Shochad is really none other than the hidden craft of the Yeitzer HaRa, one’s Evil Inclination. For as long as there is a Shochad, the Yeitzer HaRa has all it needs to draw one into the clutches of sin, at which point he could convincing one to plant an Asheirah or erect a Matzeivah as part of his service to Hashem, or to offer an offering in precisely the way which is abominable to Hashem.
Following the Einei Chachamim & Divrei Tzaddikim
In the end, when appointing a leader, becoming a leader, or even judging one’s own actions, it is vital that one is extra careful to avoid biases quite literally by all costs. One must not be fooled and blinded by the art of the Yeitzer HaRa that is the Shochad. Yes, like an idol or tree of pagan worship, Hashem hates it, and like a blemished Korban, it is abominable and insulting to Hashem. But, beyond that, as we’ve established here, by accepting the Shochad and being governed by one’s Evil Inclination, one risks justifying the possession of an abominable object of foreign worship himself. Therefore, Shochad has to be cast outside our every “court procession” so that our judgment may be guided by none other than the Ratzon Hashem as it is presented by the laws and ideals of the Torah which are the true Einei Chachamim and Divrei Tzaddikim, the only true eyes of the wise and words of righteousness.
May we all be Zocheh to strive for intellectually honesty in Avodas Hashem as well as all areas of life, leaving as little leeway as possible for all bribes and Evil Inclinations, and Hashem should remove them from our hearts for good with the coming of the Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah BiYomeinu! Have a Great Shabbos!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Devarim 16:20
- 17:1; See Rashi citing Sifrei 147 and Zevachim 36A-B.
- Shemos 20:2-5 and Devarim 5:7-10
- Vayikra 19:5-8
- See Rashi to 16:21-22 citing Sifrei 145.
- Avodah Zarah 52A
- Devarim 16:19
- Shemos 23:8
- See Rashi to Devarim 16:19 citing Sifrei 144.