Shoftim 5773

August 1, 2013

6 min read


Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

Rabbi Kalman Packouz' popular Jewish weekly.

GOOD MORNING! Did you ever hear someone say about a person arriving late that "He's on Jewish time"? Would it surprise you to know that there actually is a Jewish time?

Time plays an important role in Judaism and to a degree we control it. Through the testimony of witnesses before the Sanhedrin (the Rabbinical Supreme Court) in Jerusalem regarding the appearance of a new moon, they declared the beginning of the new month. This meant that the Almighty granted us control over time when the holidays would occur. For example, Passover and Succos are celebrated on the 15th of the month. If the witnesses came on the 29th day of the month instead of the 30th day -- and were certified -- then Passover and Succos would occur one day earlier than if they came on the 30th day.

From this declaration, messengers went out from Jerusalem to inform communities all the way to Babylonia of the new month. For a while we used fires built on mountain tops as a signaling device. From mountain top to mountain top from Jerusalem to Babylon, fires were lit to signal the new month. However, just to spite us (can you imagine such a thing?), our enemies decided to disrupt the communication by building their own "counterfeit signaling fires." About 1,600 years ago, in the 4th century CE, Hillel II created a perpetual calendar as he foresaw the ceasing of the Sanhedrin which then could no longer decree the beginning of the new month.

Perhaps you have heard people commenting that Rosh HaShanah comes out early this year? Ever wonder why the date shifts each year according to the Julian calendar? The Julian calendar is a solar calendar comprising 365.24 days. The Jewish calendar is a lunar calendar comprising 354.37 days -- which is adjusted to the solar year. Thus, there are roughly 11 days less in the lunar year than the solar year.

Why do we adjust our calendar with the solar calendar? The Torah commands the Sanhedrin to ensure that Passover comes out in the spring (Deut. 16:1). If the calendar was not adjusted, then Passover would continually be 11 days earlier each year -- thus occurring in the winter, then the fall, then the summer... Therefore, seven times in the nineteen year cycle, an additional month (Adar 2) is added to the usual twelve months of the year. The addition of this month (which we add this coming year, 5774) ensures that Passover will occur in the Spring. It also is the reason why Rosh HaShanah will come out later next year. (This year Rosh Hashana starts sundown on September 4th; in 2014 it starts sundown on September 24th -- mark your calendars!) The Hebrew calendar is dated from the creation of mankind -- 5774 years ago.

Back to Jewish time. Believe it or not, the length of an hour is variable in Jewish time! The Talmud directs us to say the Shema by the end of the third hour of the day and to pray the morning (Shacharit) prayers by the end of the fourth hour of the day. The hour is calculated by dividing the hours of sunlight by 12. Hence, if there are 13 hours of sunlight in the day, then each Jewish hour is 65 minutes long. This would be important for knowing the final time for prayers or any other activity which has a time-based deadline.

It is also important to note that the "Jewish day" starts with the night. As it says in the Torah, "And there was evening and there was morning, ..." (Gen. 1:5). That is why each holiday starts with the "preceding night" and ends when the stars come out (between 40 and 72 minutes after sunset, depending on location).


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Torah Portion of the Week
Shoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18 -- 21:9

Topics in this week's portion include: Judges and Justice, "Sacred Trees and Pillars," Blemished Sacrifice, Penalties for Idolatry, The Supreme Court, The King, Levitical Priests, Priestly Portions, Special Service, Divination and Prophecy, Cities of Refuge, Murder, Preserving Boundaries, Conspiring Witnesses, Preparing for War, Taking Captives, Conducting a Siege and the Case of the Unsolved Murder.

This week we have the famous admonition: "Righteousness, Righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the Land that the Almighty your God, gives you" (Deut. 16:20).

* * *

Dvar Torah
based on Twerski on Chumash by Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D.

The Torah states:

"You shall be wholehearted with your God" (Deut. 18:13).

How are we to understand this verse?

The Alshich interprets this verse to mean that one should be sincere in his observance of Torah even when one is alone with God, when no one else sees what he is doing.

Rabbi Mendel of Kotzk comments, "Your devotion toward God should be whole and not fragmented. If you do some things for God and others for yourself, then you are not being wholehearted with God."

These two interpretations are complementary. The person who is observant of Torah only when others see him, but when in complete privacy may transgress Torah, is really not devoted to God at all. Rather, his public observance of mitzvos is self-serving.

Wholeheartedness with God requires that even those permissible things we do should be directed toward the Divine service. Ideally, food should be eaten not for the gustatory delight, but because the energy derived from eating the food can be utilized in doing mitzvos.


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