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Parshas Shoftim - Coming & Going                     Rosh Chodesh Elul 5783

08/18/2023 08:58:03 AM


Summer 2023 in the Northern Hemisphere began on Wednesday, June 21 and ends on Friday, September 22. In the United States, particularly regarding cultural events, the summer season  begins on Memorial Day, last Monday of May, and ends on Labor Day, first Monday of September, coinciding more closely with the meteorological definition of summer. The Jewish, especially the Orthodox summer, season runs from July fourth until Labor Day. The heat of the summer typically begins with the fast of Tammuz until Rosh Chodesh Elul. Regardless of ‘official’ dating of this season, summer is the time for travel, for move-ins and out of a location, a time for hosting and visiting.

Beth Jacob has the opportunity of hosting many visitors to San Diego who come from all over the world. These visitors are a wonderful complement  to our family members and old members of the community who return to visit. As we like to show our hospitality and cordialness, we wish a Shalom Aleichem (welcome) to those new arrivals and visitors and a Tzeischem L’Shalom (farewell) to those who are departing. As  tourists and visitors arrive and depart, I always welcome visitors and newcomers and also wish safe travels and a good new year to those leaving. Recently, I began to think about which group of people should be welcomed first -  the new arrivals or those who were leaving?

The first example that came to mind occurs every Friday night when we sing a song for the angels. We begin with Shalom Aleichem and end with Tzeischem L’Sahalom. In truth, this is not the best example because the same angels are coming and going in contrast to different parties arriving and leaving at the very same time.  We’ve also frequently had visiting guests as well as out-of-town company who have stayed with us, literally using the guest room as a revolving room, saying good-bye to one group before welcoming the next, saying Tzeischem l’Shalom first and then Shalom Aleichem, welcoming the next visitors. ,

A slightly different component of a Jewish greeting is when the first person says ‘Shalom Aleichem’ (peace upon you) but the person to whom it was said replies ‘Aleichem Shalom’ (loosely translated as ‘upon you should be peace ‘). I once heard the reason for the flipping of these two terms as follows: One of the names of God is Shalom.  Through the act of each person offering the expression, the name of Hashem serves to work as bookends, solidifying the expressions, thereby transferring or giving the blessing to each other.  

The following is a beautiful insight presented in a sicha (discussion) given by Rav Menachem Mendel Schneerson z”l. When Jews meet their goal there is peace and unity. It should also be added that in the salutation and response of ’Shalom Aleichem’/‘Aleichem Shalom’, the first and the last word is Shalom, indicating the dictum: “The beginning and the conclusion are interconnected.” In actuality, it is the first word of the salutation, Shalom, which invokes the supernal power of peace and unity in a manner of “from above downwards” (albeit, still in potential) which later evokes the actual effectuation of the unity of separate forces and elements as indicated by the response Aleichem Shalom.  At the first moment of the initial encounter of two Jews, they agree and proclaim that their goal is to bring peace and unity, thereby creating the potential for eventual unity out of diversity. This encounter of unity between two Jews may take place at any time, even on a weekday, in any place, even a public domain, and in any milieu. The result will be unity and peace. After researching the common exchange among Jews, I thought of a connection to one of the tragic stories/mitzvos in the Torah regarding the Eglah Arufah, the breaking of the calf’s neck.

In this week’s Parshas Shoftim the Torah states in Devarim 21:5: "ונגשו הכהנים בני לוי כי בם בחר ה' אלוקיך לשרתו ולברך בשם ה', ועל פיהם יהיה כל-ריב וכל-נגע"  “The Kohanim from the tribe of Levi shall then come forth. [It is these priests] “who God has chosen to serve Him and to pronounce blessings in God’s name, and all who are entrusted to decide in cases of litigation and leprous signs”. A quick synopsis of this mitzvah is as follows. "If you find someone slain in the land – and it is unknown who killed him, your elders, your judges, must measure the closest city nearest to the corpse. The elders of that city bring a calf that has never pulled a yoke or been worked.  The elders of that city bring this calf down to a ‘hard’ valley that will not be worked and not planted, and there, in that valley, they decapitate the calf. At that point we pick up the verse whereby the Kohanim perform this ceremony.

Rav Yitzchok Punok in his sefer Kehilas Yitzchok explains that the Kohanim are required to have proper Kavana/ intent and concentration during the Birkas Kohanim, the Priestly blessings. When the Kohanim utter the last three words וישם לך שלום , and establish for you peace, the kohanim are stating there shall be peace among the Jewish people. The peace between the people of Israel does not only mean peace with our enemies; it means an internal peace among our Jewish family. The blessing should make sure there are no arguments that result in punishments to Klal Yisrael. The blessings of the Kohanim are intended to spread throughout the entire Jewish People so that  there will no longer be machlokes/dissension amongst our brethren. How much more so that there will never come to harm a fellow Jew let alone one Jew come to kill another Jew! When the Kohanim have the proper thoughts in mind, when they feel sincere devotion from the depth of their hearts, all negative thoughts or animosity between Jews will be removed. The impact of this blessing is so powerful it will remove any trick that the Satan could use  to make us stumble, and it will remove any leprosy. Ultimately, the bracha will serve as a protection assuring that a Jew would never take the life of another Jew, as mentioned in the storyline discussed in Parshas Shoftim regarding what to do when a Jew is found murdered on the road. The Kohanim were chosen to serve Hashem and to bless Bnei Yisrael in the Name of God which is the name of Shalom. 

Although not everyone is a Kohein, we all nevertheless have the ability to work towards creating a peaceful, loving environment, as did the Kohanim when giving  the blessings. When we invoke the name of Hashem through the word ‘Shalom’, a feeling of brotherhood is created among the Jewish people to never harm their brother. When we greet a fellow Jew, including those we’d never previously met, we offer a greeting which is, in essence, a bracha to bring us closer together - and he responds in kind. Wishing each other well and using Shalom, both when coming and when going, will surely give safe passage to the visitor and the stranger alike. Perhaps the city that is responsible for the death of the man killed never gave a warm Shalom Alecheim or Tzeischem L’Shalom upon arrival or upon their departure.  A thought to internalize!

Ah Gutten Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Fri, July 19 2024 13 Tammuz 5784