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Shoftim 5763

Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

by Kalman Packouz

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GOOD MORNING!  Did you ever want to meet the President of the United States? Unless you are a foreign dignitary or a very generous contributor, the chances of getting an appointment are small. However, there is one time when it is relatively easier to meet the President - when he is on the campaign trail. Then he seeks out to meet as many people as he can to impact them and communicate his message. In spiritual terms, the upcoming month of Elul is the spiritual equivalent of the campaign trail - it is the time when the Almighty's presence can most easily be felt.

Thursday, August 28th, and Friday, August 29th, are the two days of Rosh Chodesh, the beginning of the new Hebrew month of Elul. This is a very special month in the Jewish year as it is the month preceding Rosh Hashanah (which begins Friday evening, September 26th). Jewish cosmology teaches us that each season of the year has a special spiritual opportunity for success. For instance, Passover is the time to work on freedom and Sukkot is the time to work on joy. Elul is the time to work on personal growth.

Elul, when spelled in Hebrew letters, is the acronym for the words, "I am to my beloved, my beloved is to me" (ani l'dodi v'dodi li - oftentimes it will be inscribed on the inside of an engagement ring). The month of Elul is a time of heightened spirituality where the Almighty is, as it were, closer and more approachable. It is a time of introspection and preparation for Rosh Hashanah. It is a time to do a spiritual audit and to fix up your life.

To help you prepare for Rosh Hashanah, the Day of Judgment, I present questions for you to ask yourself and discuss with family and friends. They are an excerpt from a fabulous and indispensable book, The Rosh Hashanah/Yom Kippur Survival Kit, written by Aish HaTorah alumnus Rabbi Shimon Apisdorf.


  1. When do I most feel that my life is meaningful?

  2. Those who mean the most to me - have I ever told them how I feel?

  3. Are there any ideals I would be willing to die for?

  4. If I could live my life over, would I change anything?

  5. What would bring me more happiness than anything else in the world?

  6. What are my three most significant achievements since last Rosh Hashanah?

  7. What are the three biggest mistakes I've made since last Rosh Hashanah?

  8. What project or goal, if left undone, will I most regret next Rosh Hashanah?

  9. If I knew I couldn't fail, what would I undertake to accomplish in life?

  10. What are my three major goals in life? What am I doing to achieve them? What practical steps can I take in the next two months towards these goals?

  11. If I could only give my children three pieces of advice, what would they be?

If you find the High Holidays boring, can't follow the prayer service and don't understand it; if the services lack meaning and aren't spiritual experiences, then to have a meaningful experience and to have something meaningful to share with your children and family - you might want to get a copy of the Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit ... especially if your kids think a Shofar is someone who drives a limousine. Unless you prepare in advance, then you are relying on a miracle to have any kind of positive experience at all. Available at your Jewish bookstore or by calling toll-free 877-758-3242. Also, see!

Torah Portion of the Week

Topics covered 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, reparing 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."


Dvar Torah
based on Growth Through Torah by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin

The Torah states:

"You shall not plant an 'ashairah,' any tree, near the altar of the Almighty." (Deuteronomy 16:21)

The Sages in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 7b) equate appointing an unqualified judge with an ashairah (a tree that was worshipped for idolatry). What is the connection?

Rabbi Chaim Soloveitchik of Brisk explains: A regular idol is noticeable to all that it is an idol. Whoever sees it will easily be able to recognize that it is an idol and that he must be very careful. However, a tree that has been worshipped as an idol looks to the casual observer as if it is just an ordinary tree and looks harmless. Looks can be deceiving - if it is an idol it is spiritually dangerous.

So, too, a judge who is not qualified is dangerous. Though from the outside he may appear very learned and even righteous, if he is not qualified or has certain character failings, he can be very dangerous.

Our lesson? We must learn to be discerning. Even those things that appear to be harmless can be very dangerous. If someone puts poison that is colorless and odorless in a food, although the food does not appear harmful, it can inflict mortal damage. Similarly, there are many things that are detrimental to one's spiritual well-being that at first glance do not seem dangerous.

(or go to

Jerusalem  6:32
Guatemala 5:57  Hong Kong 6:25  Honolulu 6:30
J'Burg 5:36  London 7:35  Los Angeles 7:04
Melbourne 5:34  Miami 7:24  Moscow 7:14

New York 7:15  Singapore  6:53


Education is what remains
after you have forgotten
what you learned.

In Loving Memory of
Sidney Corush
Yehoshua ben Moshe

by Corush & Frohlinger Family


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