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Parshas Shoftim - Hold onto the Program!!!         6 Elul 5778

08/17/18 16:06:02


A standard practice in many venues of entertainment have the guests or ticket holders receive a program or playbill which is a small booklet distributed to the patrons who are arriving to attend a live theater performance, festival, sports event, etc. The program contains an overview of all the portions of the event, an outline describing the backgrounds of the principle performers, and, in the case of theatrical productions a brief overview of the plot and even a short history of the play and the playwright. Truth be told, I am pretty sure that most people who attend an event such as a symphony, opera, concert, sports event, graduation ceremony, and the like know very well who and what they will be watching. Put differently, as people enter the hall or room, they are handed a playbill or program that contains information they are already familiar with!

I’ve pondered over this and thought perhaps this could be considered to be a souvenir - like a party gift - to remember the event being attended. Highly unlikely idea since most of these booklets are strewn on the floor, stuffed in between the seats, or tossed into a recycling pile at the exit areas upon leaving the theater. In addition to not needing the program later, I usually don’t really need it even five minutes into the show. I, for one, read the entire playbill at least once through before the curtain comes down. For goodness sake we ARE at the performance; we don’t need the paper bills and information. I propose that instead of giving these things out prior to a performance, they should be distributed to the people who are not inside in order to lure them into attending a future show. The first theatre program were issued in the mid-nineteenth century in magazine format. The original theatre programme (the formal spelling for these things) first appeared in the 18th century. These early playbills were basic, with only enough pages to list the members of the cast and information regarding the play's locale and settings. They were typically only four pages: the cover, which advertised the show, a back page, which displayed the theatre layout, and the two interior pages which listed all the credits. Not all early programmes were printed; many were written by hand or cut and pasted together from the letters of other printed documents. During the days of the early British theatre, the cast was very important. Audiences were very familiar with leading actors and a particular well-regarded actor would draw a larger crowd. The programme was a kind of contract between the theatre and the audience, because if an audience paid to see a particular actor and that actor was not performing, there was immediate risk of crowd hissing, orange and rotten tomato throwing, or even rioting. This sometimes resulted in property damage and physical assault. Program bills in sports contain a lot of information that an individual isn’t necessarily familiar with, giving a person something to do during the intermission or breaks of the game.

Let’s take a fresh look at this phenom of our culture and daily life. A person who attends one of these happenings most probably already has an interest in the event. Having an interest in something usually means the person has some background and information they will be observing. Most of the information and knowledge they have is from the home and reserved for the home. More people listen to cultural events or sporting games at home than at the hall or stadium. The full range of detail is at home, while only a selection of the event will be viewed or heard live while attending. The playbill or program is that exact selection, helping the viewer to keep a focus on the program. This idea of having something more permanent at home and something light or temporary on the road is found in this week’s Torah portion.

There is a unique and special Mitzva for the king of Israel to have his own sefer Torah accompany him all the time. In this week’s Parshas Shoftim, the Torah states in Devarim 17:18 “V’Haya K‘Shivto Al Kisei Mamlachto, V’Kasav Lo Es Mishnei HaTorah HaZos Al Sefer, Milifnei Haohanim HaLeviim. V’Haysa Imo V’Kara Vo Kal Yemei Chayav, L’Maan Yilmad L’Yirah Es Hashem Elokav Lishmor Es Kal Divrei HaTorah HaZos V’Es HaChukim HaEileh Laasosam”: “When the king is established on his royal throne, he must write a copy of this Torah as a scroll edited by the Levitical priests. This scroll must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life”. The commentaries as why this verse opens with the word ‘Imo’ – ‘with him” (Lashon Nekeiva) grammatically in the feminine, and end with the words ‘V’Kara Vo’ (Lashon Zachar) ‘with him’ grammatically in the masculine?

The *Daas Zekeinim explains that not everyone is in agreement regarding the type of Torah the king of Israel carried. He says the Melech carried a Torah, a scroll that only had the Aseres HaDibros - the Ten commandments. From the beginning words of “Anochi Hashem Elokecha, Shmos 20:2 “I am Hashem your God” until Shmos 20:14 the word Reiacha (your neighbor’s) contains six hundred thirteen letters corresponding to the six hundred thirteen Mitzvos contained in the Torah. Therefore, it has the status to be called a ‘Sefer Torah’.

The Gemara Sanhedrin 21b tells us the king has two Torahs: one in his house or his palace, which was a complete Torah as we know it, perhaps the same reason every Jew has a Mitzva to write a sefer Torah and keep it in his house. The second Torah, which had only the Ten Commandments, was taken when the king traveled. He kept it with him wherever and whenever he went. Now, since the Aseres HaDibros is only one Parsha (section), the word Parsha itself is in the female form. Therefore, that Torah was ‘imo’ –‘with him’ - in the feminine. On the other hand, the Torah in his house was a complete ‘sefer’. The Hebrew word sefer is masculine and refers to the Torah in the verse V’kara Bo which is also masculine.

This is an important lesson for all of us, including our children and all members of our families to not only have a full Torah at home, but to make sure we procure it on the road as well. The Torah is not just for the home; sometimes it is far more critical to have that spare Torah with us as we travel. Make sure we take the small parts of our Jewish life and apply them when necessary. Pocket the important parts with you at all times.


*Daas Zekeinim, which means the knowledge of the elders, was written by one of the Baalei Tosafot. Some say the commentary on Chumash was authored by Rabbeinu Tam who was the grandson of Rashi.

Ah Gut Shabbos

Rabbi Avraham Bogopulsky

Rabbi Bogopulsky’s book “Developing A Torah Personality” is available for purchase directly from him


Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780