Rabbi Finkelstein


FIRST ALIYAH- The Torah portion opens with the command to ensure the presence of a court and police system in order to ensure law and order in the community. The Ramban, in analyzing this law cites that the present arrangement of Batei Din in cities outside of the land of Israel is a rabbinic requirement rather than Torah law, as we no longer possess the capacity of receiving the true Semicha (rabbinic ordination) that can be traced to that of Moshe. Judges in Batei Din are acting in the capacity of the agents of those who in ancient times had Semicha. Further, the jurisdiction of the Beit Din is restricted to monetary and family issues, and cannot involve itself in criminal cases, deferring to the law of the land in many instances.

The Chinuch writes that judges and police have two functions: not only to decide and execute the law respectively, but to serve as models of exemplary behaviour to the community. The community emulates the behaviour of its judges and police, hopefully, in a positive way. The motto of every court should be, ‘justice, justice you shall pursue.’

This Aliyah also refers to the rabbinic right of legislation and promulgation of law designed to protect the integrity of the Jewish community. The authority of the court is paramount. There is a debate among commentators as to whether the authority to which the Torah alludes is only in reference to the ancient Sanhedrin and its ancillary courts, or to Batei Din today.

SECOND ALIYAH- The Aliyah begins with a description of the restrictions that accrue to someone becoming king of Israel in reference to pedigree, accumulation of wealth and power. The king is a constitutional monarch in the sense he is obligated to observe the Torah laws, and to keep in his possession a Torah scroll. Whether or not there is a mitzvah to have a king in the first place is a matter of debate. The Talmud considers it to be a mitzvah. It is concerned as to whether the king is a public servant, or a public leader. When the people of Israel demanded a king to be appointed by Samuel, they were seeking a public servant. Samuel replied that the king is not allowed to be manipulated by the whims and wiles of the populace.

THIRD ALIYAH- The Torah reiterates the unique role of the Levites, and the special gifts given to the Cohanim in connection to their service to G-d in the sanctuary. The Chinuch writes that the Levites are not to share in the spoils of war, as they are to represent peace.

FOURTH ALIYAH-The prohibitions against sorcery are enumerated to include all kinds of pagan rituals designed to predict the future. Rashi writes that when the end of this Aliyah speaks of the need to be ‘complete’ with G-d, the intention is to indicate to the Jew that he or she shall not to try to determine the future through these foreign machinations, but they should trust G-d and accept the future with equanimity. The Ramban, on the other hand, indicates that one should seek out the true prophets about the future, and not to rely on soothsayers, etc.

FIFTH ALIYAH- Along with the same points enunciated by the Ramban in the last paragraph, the Torah warns us to listen to the true prophet, and to take to heart the admonitions of the seer. The Chinuch writes of the fallout of listening to false prophets, the consequence of which is the denigration of true prophets and prophecy to the detriment of the people of Israel. A classic case is the adherence of the people to the false prophecies of Chananiah in the book of Jeremiah, and the shunning of the words of Jeremiah warning of the impending destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.

The Torah also speaks of the need to establish cities of refuge for inadvertent killers on both sides of the Jordan River.

SIXTH ALIYAH- The Aliyah opens with a law against property encroachment referred to as ‘moving the marker’, prompting the Ibn Ezra to see a parallel between this commandment and the rules and regulations regarding testimony in court. The latter situation necessitating court intervention could very well be connected to the previous law regarding encroachment, as the inability to settle land claims can lead to violence.

The Torah then enumerates some of the laws in regard to the credibility of witnesses in court, and specifies that in criminal cases, two witnesses are needed to establish, corroborate or deny the facts of a case. Normally, two witnesses are required in cases involving evidentiary corroboration, except in the case of the one witness who testifies to the death of an individual, allowing his spouse to remarry. In situations involving clarification, one witness would suffice. An example would be in reference to a Masghiah, kashrut supervisor, who indicates whether a food item is kosher or not.

Further in the Aliyah, we read about the military deferments given to those who have recently become betrothed, planted a vineyard, built a home, as well as to those who are fearful of war. In the latter, Rashi writes that the soldier in question is afraid that his past life of sin could contribute, G-d forbid, to an early demise on the battlefield. The Kli Yakar also mentions that the presence of the Kohen addressing the soldiers in regard to the need to trust in G-d, etc. has also a responsibility to act in the capacity of a chaplain in teaching Torah to the soldiers. He cites that Joshua was punished after one disastrous battle with the residents of Ai for not having included in military training, the need for spiritual nourishment, namely Torah study.

SEVENTH ALIYAH- Rashi, in explaining the opening sentences of this Aliyah concerning military warfare, indicates that in matters of wars of conquest, the leader of the soldiers should first offer overtures of peace to the enemy population. However, the Ramban writes that these overtures are offered even to the seven Canaanite tribes occupying Canaan, the confrontation of which is considered to be a war of obligation. He cites Joshua as having sent out three letters to the enemy force, be it in Canaan or elsewhere, one calling for peace where the other nation would surrender, the second offering the enemy a chance to leave the country, and the third, to indicate that the Israelites are prepared to go to war if the other side does not take any of the first two options.

In the conduct of war, the Torah warns against wanton destruction of property referring to the prohibition of cutting down fruit bearing trees for wood. The Torah, as the Ibn Ezra explains, states that mankind is dependent on the preservation of the environment. From this law, we derive the prohibition of Bal Tashchit, needless destruction, in all kinds of situations.

Finally, the Torah discusses the case of the individual found dead on the highway. The neighbouring community leaders have to determine if the person in question was denied lodging and food in their communities, prompting him to leave in the middle of the night meeting his untimely death. An expiation ceremony takes place with the killing of a young calf in which the elders of the communities declare that they were not negligent and did not inadvertently contribute to this person’s death. The Chinuch writes that this ceremony will be well publicized, and that eventually the murderer will be caught