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Parshas Chayei Sora - Freedom                           24 Cheshvan 5779

11/02/18 09:48:46


This Dvar Torah is dedicated to the memory of Joyce Fienberg, 75, Richard Gottfried, 65, Rose Mallinger, 97, Jerry Rabinowitz, 66, Cecil Rosenthal, 59, David Rosenthal, 54, Bernice Simon, 84, Sylvan Simon, 87, Daniel Stein, 71, Melvin Wax, 88, and Irving Younger, 69

Of Blessed Memory who were murdered Al Kiddush Hashem.

There are many turning points in history - some subtle; others abrupt. There are changes which come over time and changes which are sudden. Last Shabbos was that abrupt and sudden change in American Jewish history. I’m not here predicting a doomsday effect. I am not saying nor implying that we should all evacuate, (although it may be a good idea) but rather to point out that life as a Jew in America continues to evolve through different phases over time, and this is now a major one. This horrific event is a different kind of terror attack, clearly defined as anti-Semitic. A Synagogue was attacked and Jews were murdered in cold blood just because they were Jewish.

I was trying to do the math, comparing September 11, 2001, which changed the face of freedom and security in these United States, to October 27, 2018, which will impact the way we live as Jews in this country. The percentage of Jews who were murdered (11) out of approximately five million Jews in America is about one fifth of the percentage of people killed on 9/11 (3000 out of three hundred million) within the total population. If the perpetrator had exercised better judgment a few minutes before committing the terror act, then a radically different outcome would have resulted. Rather than exercising better judgment, he took away our liberty as we knew it in a span of a few minutes.

There is a saying “the difference between a flower and a weed is a judgment”. This past week I appeared in court on behalf of a person who was in front of the judge to decide his fate over the next few years. My presence, along with some other community members showed the judge that he is respected in the community and could contribute to society at large. Our show of support could mean a lot. The judge wields a lot of power in his position. Within the boundaries of the laws of the land, he has the responsibility apply discretion to be lenient or stringent when judging a case before him. The inmate in question could have remained in prison based upon the facts for one more year. The judge saw the potential flower that could come from this weed and granted him his freedom. In this situation the judge used fine-tuned critical thinking skills to give back some life instead of taking it away.

When it comes to authority there are two ways an individual can take the responsibility to determine the life or future of another human being: by earned or elected responsibility or by brut force. The murderer in Pittsburgh placed himself in a position of absolute authority, determining who was to live and who was to die. As executioner, he alone, with no thought to the guaranteed rights for” life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom”..

In the previously-mentioned case, the judge, previously a lawyer, who rose to the position of judge with the consent of the people, had the power to determine who would be free and who would not. A judge is granted discretion even to change a harsh sentence to a more lenient sentence. The Torah lists different places where judges and officers are appointed, delineating the rules and laws that apply to them. In this week’s Parsha Chayei Sora, the Torah states in Bereishis 23:10 “V’Ephron Yosheiv B’Soch Bnei Cheis, VaYaan Ephron HaChiti Es Avraham B’Aznei Bnei Cheis L’Chol Baay Shaar Eero Laymore”. “Ephron was then sitting among the children of Cheis. Ephron the Chitite replied to Avraham in the presence of the children of Cheis so that all who came to the city gate could hear”. In ancient times judges typically held court at the city gates. Rashi , on this verse, points out that the word ‘Yosheiv’ is written ‘missing’ or written defectively. This is because on that day they appointed him ruler over them. Because of the importance of Avraham, who needed Ephron, Ephron ascended to greatness in a position of high office.

  1. Midrash Rabbah 31:17 records the following: “That very day the sons of Cheis had appointed Ephron their ruler”. A typical ruler has authority that ranges from punishment for a small infraction to punishment for a major crime. Ephron apparently did not have complete power as they commanded him to sell the cave to Avraham. Ephron said to them, “I will not sell it to him”. They replied, “if you do not sell it to him, we will remove you from your high office”. Immediately, Ephron was willing to sell the cave, and Avraham rose and paid him. Clearly, Ephron was the kind of judge who was an elected official and used common sense, making decisions case by case. Sometimes the sign of a good and moral judge is demonstrating the ability to change his mind when necessary. Sometimes a judge may determine that he had made an error and will hone up to it and change the decision.

It is interesting to note that the letters of Ephron’s name with different vowels spells out the Hebrew word Eeparon - a pencil. The obvious difference between a pen and a pencil is the ability to erase. (Although today they make erasers for pens, they are still not the same as a good old #2 pencil.) Taking a bit of literary license, I suggest that Ephron was the type of judge who at times, revisited prior decisions and changed his mind. In fact, when Avraham initially inquired about buying the cave, Ephron made light of the fact that he needed to be paid for it. In the end he took a hefty sum of four hundred silver pieces for the Mearas HaMachpeila.

Freedom is a given in this great country, but the quality of that freedom has now been challenged. When we pray in the bracha of Hashiva Shofteinu in the Amida, we are praying to return to the state of judges who will be smart and think of truth, justice and provide the framework to increase the religious and social freedoms that this great country was founded upon.

Sun, May 24 2020 1 Sivan 5780