The Judge in Our Days

U’vasa el haKohanim haLeviim v’el hashofet asher yih’yeh ba’yamim haheim v’darashta v’higidu lecha es dvar hamishpat (Devarim 17:9)

The Torah commands us that when a matter of judgment is in doubt, we should go to the judge who will be in those days, so that he can instruct us regarding the proper course of action. Harav Yosef Eliyahu Henkin points out that the expression “who will be in those days” appears superfluous, as it’s obviously impossible to consult a leader who is no longer alive. Why does the Torah stress this point that seems so self-evident?

Rav Henkin explains that this phrase is not intended to specify that one must approach a living Rav for a ruling, but rather it is meant to emphasize the importance of selecting a judge who is in touch with his generation and attuned to their unique struggles. Just as the tools of conventional warfare have evolved throughout the generations and nobody would dare attempt to fight a war today using bows and arrows, so, too, the yetzer hara (evil inclination) adopts new techniques and strategies in each generation, and it is therefore incumbent upon our leaders to be familiar with the struggles faced by their contemporaries.

This explanation can help us appreciate an insight of Harav Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev. Whenever the Gemara is unable to answer a difficult question, it responds Teiku (e.g. Brachos 8a). Although this literally means that it will be left as an unresolved question, the commentators explain that Teiku is also an acronym for Tishbi yetareitz kushyos v’ibayos — when the Tishbi (Eliyahu Hanavi — Melachim I 17:1) comes to herald the impending redemption, he will also resolve and rule on all of the unanswered questions and difficulties that perplexed the Sages of the Gemara. Why was Eliyahu Hanavi specifically selected for this task, as opposed to any of the other great Torah scholars from throughout the generations?

Harav Levi Yitzchak explains that Eliyahu Hanavi is unique in that he ascended to Heaven alive and never actually died (Melachim II 2:11). As such, he is still alive in every generation, which renders him uniquely suited to answer all of the challenging questions that presented themselves throughout the centuries, since he lived through each of those generations and is attuned to their particular issues and struggles.

My dear cousin Shaya Gross, z”l, adds that although this thought is directed toward Torah leaders, it is equally applicable to parents. The technologies, philosophies and challenges with which today’s parents grew up are vastly different from those confronting their children. Just as the Torah instructs us to choose leaders who are in touch with the prevailing issues, so, too, must parents recognize and become familiar with the temptations faced by today’s youth in order to be able to relate to their children and assist them in overcoming their unique spiritual challenges.

Q: The Torah forbids (18:10) a Jew to practice sorcery. Is it permitted to perform the sleight-of-hand tricks commonly practiced by magicians today?

Q: A person who kills another Jew accidentally must flee to an Ir Miklat (city of refuge) and remain there until the Kohen Gadol dies (19:4–5). The Gemara in Makkos (9b) rules that two Torah scholars must escort him to the Ir Miklat in order to protect him from the go’el hadam should they encounter one another before the murderer reaches the safety of the city of refuge.

Why did they send two Torah scholars instead of two strong men, who would presumably be more successful in protecting him from the angry blood-redeemer?

A: The Chochmas Adam cites the Rambam, who maintains that sleight-of-hand is included in the prohibition against sorcery. He writes that his contemporaries who perform such acts of magic violate a Biblical commandment, and those who hire or command them to perform transgress the prohibition against placing a stumbling block before the blind. He adds that it is forbidden to watch such a performance unless the magician is a non-Jew, who is not included in this prohibition.

Harav Ovadia Yosef similarly rules that magic tricks that involve nothing more than quickly moving one’s hands to create the effect of performing magic are Biblically forbidden. However, Harav Moshe Feinstein is quoted as being lenient in a case where everybody knows that the seemingly magical effects are being created through natural means. For all questions of practical halachah, a Rav should be consulted.

A: Harav Moshe Soloveitchik explains that sending brawny men to escort and guard the accidental murderer on his way to the city of refuge would not be productive. When the blood-redeemer becomes aware that the person against whom his wrath is directed is being protected by two burly men, he will simply counter by attacking with four men who are even more powerful, with the ultimate result being an all-out war.

Instead, Chazal directed that the accidental murderer be accompanied by two Torah scholars. Their purpose was not to physically defend him, but rather to pacify the blood-redeemer in the event that they encountered him by explaining to him that the murderer’s actions were accidental and it would be inappropriate to respond by intentionally killing him.

The Gemara (Brachos 64a) teaches that Torah scholars possess a unique ability to bring peace to the world. The lesson that can be derived from here is that if a person attempts to resolve a dispute in a calm and peaceful manner, he significantly increases his odds of the other party responding in kind; but if he opts to pursue an approach of overpowering and defeating the other person, he will most likely end up enraging him, which will only escalate the conflict.


Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer 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.