This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
The latest article is posted here once a week. You can search the archive for past articles.
Parshat Ki Teitzei (5768)
This week we as we approach the end of the Book of Dvorim we find Seventy two commandments, more than any other weekly portion in the Torah.
Among them is the following sentence.
"If there will be a fight between people, they should go to court and they will judge them and find innocent the innocent and guilty the guilty." (25:1)
Is this really necessary? Would we think that without this the judges would condemn the innocent or justify the guilty? What is the Torah telling us here?
To understand this here is a story,
The third Rebbe of Chabad, Menachem Mendel (nicknamed the 'Tzemach Tzedik) was known for his powers of prophesy, ability to give blessings that worked and his super human grasp and knowledge of both the mystical and revealed aspects of the Torah.
But nevertheless, when he once graced a large group of his followers with his presence at a wedding party and asked them what they would like him to say words of Torah or a Chassidic story they answered almost in unison ….. a story.
These Chassidim happened to all be great Talmudic scholars and deep mystical thinkers in their own right but they knew that a Chassidic story can open the heart and activate the soul in a way no other words of Torah can.
The Rebbe smiled, cleared his throat, the room became totally silent, everyone leaned forward to listen and all eyes were upon him as he began.
"Once there was a Chassid, his name is not important, but he lived not far from here with his wife and five children. He made his living by managing a small inn where he would sell whisky and rent rooms to the travelers that passed by.
"For a while G-d helped and he eked out a meager living. He always paid his rent on time and managed to provide for his family but then he fell on hard times. Maybe it was the weather or the economy or just bad luck but week after week, month after month there was almost no business at all.
"Needless to say he was never able to pay his monthly rend and at the end of the year all he had was debts; he owed money to the local grocery, to the teacher that was teaching his children and to a few other people that he borrowed from. But worst of all; he owed a full year's rent to his landlord.
"Well, it so happened that this landlord was a Jew and, to his good fortune, not just an ordinary Jew but a Chassid and follower of the same Rebbe as he himself.
"So our innkeeper went to his Rebbe and begged him to convince his landlord to have mercy and push off the payment for another few months.
"Of course when the landlord heard his Rebbe's request he complied with a full heart and even agreed to wait for another full year for payment… but only on the condition that the innkeeper pays his monthly rent.
"The innkeeper thanked his landlord profusely for his understanding, thanked the Rebbe for intervening and promised that from now on he would never miss a payment. He would save up money to pay his debt in full even BEFORE the year was up.
"But it didn't happen. In fact, business was even worse the next year that it was the year before and after twelve more months of not receiving rent the landlord presented himself at the innkeeper's door twice as angry as last year and demanded that he either pay in full or leave immediately! If necessary he would even call the police!
"So with no choice and completely against his nature the innkeeper again ran to the Rebbe and begged that he save him a second time from the evil decree. The Rebbe again called the landlord and the next day he was again standing before him. But this time he wasn't so compliant. The landlord was mad and rightly so!
He was losing money! The innkeeper had to go. He wanted to rent the inn to someone else! He was even willing to erase the debt. One year was enough, two years was too much but this would be the third year and THREE years was impossible! 'How long can this go on?' he cried out.
"The Rebbe agreed with every word he said but promised him it would be all right and asked him to do him a personal favor; to have mercy and not throw an entire family into the cold!
So, the Chassid, totally against his will and better judgment gave his debtor another chance.
"But when the third year proved no better than the previous two things came to an end and he landlord presented him with a letter of eviction.
The innkeeper again ran to the Rebbe and the Rebbe again called the landlord to ask for a reprieve but this time ….. the landlord didn't come.
"So the Rebbe wrote him a letter asking him to give just one more year but he ignored it. He waited till the weather was a bit warmer, evicted the entire family and with no trouble found another innkeeper, forgot the entire episode and went to another Rebbe for advice and blessings.
"Well, the ex-innkeeper and his family wandered for awhile moving from poorhouse to poorhouse but it wasn't long before he and his wife, broken hearted, fell ill and passed away. His children were distributed among relatives and other kind people and the entire incident became history.
"But there is more. Several years later the landlord also passed away but when he got to heaven he discovered that he had to stand trial for evicting the family.
"He tried to protest that he had done no sin! The innkeeper owed him money and didn't pay. According to the Torah he had every right to evict him immediately but he didn't. He gave him three years! And in the end he even lost all that money. Why should he suffer?
"But the prosecuting angels rebutted that he went against his Rebbe! And not only that, but he really didn't NEED the money. He should have trusted in G-d more and given another year. Because of him two people died and five children suffered!
"The innkeeper saw that things looked bad for him so he took a different strategy. He replied in his defense that the heavenly court was not qualified to try his case being that they were souls without bodies and had no way of really understanding what was involved here; what money really is and what it can make people do.
"The heavenly court deliberated for a while and actually agreed to his claim!
"They disqualified themselves as judges and decided to chose people that had been in the world; the souls of the Rabbi Yoel Sirkes and Rabbi Yosef Caro (Known as the Bac'h and Bait Yosef known for their genius commentaries on a legal book called the 'Tur') who were well versed in monetary matters would settle the case.
"But our hero again objected. He said that these two holy men had been in heaven for over two hundred years ago and certainly had forgotten the pressures of making a living. He wanted a living court of living people in this physical world to decide his case."
At this point the Tzemach Tzedik paused in the story, looked around at the Chassidim who were intently listening and announced:
"I say that the landlord is innocent! What do you say?"
Suddenly they realized that they themselves were the judicial court that the landlord demanded! The story was actually occurring right now and they were part of it.
They spontaneously answered, almost in unison, "Yes! We say … INNOCENT! INNOCENT!!"
The Tzemach Tzedik shook his head in agreement, stood and returned home.
This answers our question. The purpose of a true judicial court is to not only punish wrongdoers but to find a way to bring out the best in both litigants.The word in Hebrew for being innocent is the same as the word for being righteous; 'Tzadik' and according to the Torah 'All Jews (and those gentiles that observe their Seven Commandments) are Tzadikim' (Isaiah 60:21). The only reason they are guilty of sins is because the evil selfishness in them temporally covers this over. In fact the word for guilty; 'Rasha' also means 'evil' (see Tanya Chapt. 1)
So this is the explanation of "Find innocent the innocent." namely; find the righteousness hidden in each person and reveal it. And how is this done? Through 'Finding the guilty, guilty' namely identifying the selfishness that covers this good for what it is; not the person himself but a mere covering.
This, in a big way, will be the work of Moshiach, and it has already been begun by the Rebbes of Chabad, especially the last two Rebbes.
They, more than any others, stressed that every Jew is holy and every gentile is potentially righteous (as was Noah).
We just have to bring it out like the Rebbe did in our story and find everyone innocent, righteous and joyous with….
May you all be written and sealed for a good year with.....
Copyright © 1999-2017 Rabbi Tuvia Bolton. All rights reserved. No unauthorized reproduction or copying of this material shall occur without prior permission.