A Brilliant Proof From the Rogatchover

V’haya k’shivto al kisei mamlachto v’chasav lo es Mishneh HaTorah hazos al sefer milifnei haKohenim haLevi’im v’haysa imo v’kara vo kol y’mei chayav (Devarim 17:18-19)

Parashas Shoftim contains the laws governing a Jewish king, one of which is a requirement that in addition to the regular Torah scroll that every Jew is instructed to write, a king must also write a second sefer Torah. The Gemara (Sanhedrin 22a) teaches that this second sefer Torah was quite small and hung on the king’s arm like an amulet so that he could carry it with him wherever he went, in fulfillment of the Torah’s commandment that he read from it at all times.

Although the Rambam (Hilchos Melachim 3:1) codifies the mitzvah for a king to write a second sefer Torah, the Lechem Mishneh (Ibid.) and Kesef Mishneh (Hilchos Sefer Torah 7:2) note that he omits the requirement to wear it like an amulet and carry it with him wherever he goes.

The Rogatchover Gaon, who is renowned for finding novel sources and proofs in the most unexpected places, suggests that the Rambam intentionally left out this condition due to a seemingly completely unrelated Talmudic discussion regarding the laws of muktzeh.

The Gemara (Shabbos 30b) rules that if a person dies on Shabbos, his body serves no use on Shabbos, and it therefore becomes muktzeh and cannot be moved. The Gemara continues and recounts that when Dovid Hamelech died on Shabbos, his son Shlomo was concerned about preserving and protecting his body, so he asked the Sanhedrin whether there was any way to permissibly move his father’s body.

They advised Shlomo to place a non-muktzeh object, such as bread, on top of Dovid’s body, which could then be moved together with the non-muktzeh item. At first glance, this Gemara appears to have no connection to Parashas Shoftim.

However, the Rogatchover brilliantly points out that if the presence of a non-muktzeh object on a dead body renders it permissible to transport, there should have been no need for the Sanhedrin to instruct Shlomo to place bread on Dovid’s body, since at the time of his death, he should have been wearing his small Torah scroll on his arm, which would have served the same function and enabled Shlomo to move the body even without the bread.

The Rogatchover posits that this difficulty is a proof that the Gemara in Shabbos disagrees with the Gemara in Sanhedrin and maintains that the king does not wear his sefer Torah and carry it with him wherever he goes, and this is why the Sanhedrin had to advise Shlomo to place bread on Dovid’s body — because there was no sefer Torah already there to serve that purpose.

When the Rambam saw this dispute between the two Gemaros, he ruled in accordance with the opinion of the Gemara in Shabbos and therefore makes no mention of a requirement for the king to wear his sefer Torah on his arm and carry it with him.

In addition to offering a most original source for the Rambam’s perplexing omission, the Rogatchover’s explanation also helps us appreciate how great scholars are able to see the entirety of the Torah before their eyes, a level that we may never reach, but which should inspire us to recognize the depth of Torah and redouble our efforts to understand it to the best of our abilities.

Q: When a corpse is found in the field, the elders of the nearest city are required to announce that they did not spill the blood of the deceased (21:7). Rashi explains that the sages clearly aren’t suspected of cold-blooded murder, but rather they must testify that they didn’t see this wayfarer leaving their city and allow him to continue without escorting him and providing him with food.

In what way would their providing a traveler with food protect him from a would-be murderer??

A: The Malbim answers that their declaration refers not to the victim but to the murderer. If they allowed him to leave their community without giving provisions for his journey, he may have been forced to murder to acquire food, and they bear partial responsibility for his actions.

The Maharal explains that when a person is part of a larger community, he is able to benefit from their accumulated merits. This may protect him even if his own merits are insufficient. Escorting him on the beginning of his journey and giving him food allows him to maintain his link to the community even when he is traveling on his own.

The Ibn Ezra suggests that if the murderer sees his intended victim being escorted by the community, he will be afraid to attack someone who has so many friends who could take revenge against him.

The Darkei Mussar questions this explanation, as the mitzvah of escorting a guest applies only to the first four cubits (6-8 feet) of his journey, and perhaps the murderer only saw his victim after this time.

Instead, he answers that if the hosts properly performed the mitzvah of hosting and escorting their guest, an angel would have been created as a result of the mitzvah that would protect the traveler on his journey.

Finally, the Alter of Kelm explains that if the townsmen escort the guest and provide him with food, he will feel important and cared about. His increased self-confidence will allow him to fight against attackers with greater strength and to successfully fend off potential killers.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef, is the author of the recently published sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.