Thursday, August 26, 2010

Ki Savo—No Judgments?

A couple of weeks ago I came across R Shlomo Ressler’s Dvar for Shoftim, where he wrote about the Torah’s device of dismissing potential soldiers from duty to avoid having the “sinners” among the exemptees pointed out: that is, the Torah, even having created a category of “faint of heart” as a cover for those who felt their spiritual standing was shaky, had already decided that that wasn’t enough, that it would include, among others, newlyweds and new home- or vineyard- owners, all help cover for the “sinner” so as to not embarrass him.

I thought that this maybe hadn’t gone far enough, that maybe the point should have been that a particularly pernicious form of embarrassment or one-upmanship, even, and this is what the Torah was guarding against. I did not yet have any thing I could use as a proof text, however “shver”, so at the time I left it alone.

Then I realized that I could possibly use two inyanim for some support, however tepid, from both last week’s and this week’s parshiyot both. From this week comes the pasuk in the middle of the Tochacha: “Because you did not serve the Lord your G-d wth happiness and a good heart, ‘merov kol’.” How to translate “merov kol”? “Above all”? All the punishments of the tochacha are unleashed because G-d was served be’yirah as opposed to be’ahava?

I saw another translation that was a bit less disconcerting, to say the least: “whilst ye yet had all things”. This made more sense: given the opportunity—the unfettered opportunity—to reach the level of be’ahava as opposed to be’yirah, one can—with whatever degree of difficulty—understand the source of Divine retribution.

In either case, one might be hard pressed to find a moment in Jewish history that qualified as “rov kol”, except for maybe the moment when the Shlomo’s kingdom was united and the Beis haMikdash had been completed—at least from a national standpoint [I leave out much of what might seem to qualify from the Chumash, like Har Sinai and Hakamas haMishkan, because they occurred outside Eretz Yisrael and therefore cannot fall into the category of “rov kol”].

As additional support, I refer to the inyan of ben sorer umoreh, where the Torah creates a series of legal barriers to the punishment ever being carried out. One of the messages of ben sorer umoreh—particularly when one examines the various explanations regarding the conditions of the parents, physical and otherwise [as detailed in BT Sanhedrin, perek Ben Sorer u’Moreh]—is that no one has the perfect upbringing to the point that they could be found to be irredeemably sociopathic

So too here: no one can truly be judged for their spiritual behavior unless everyone knows that said “defendant”’s life falls unequivocally into the category of “rov kol”, and maybe not even then. Someone may know. You probably don’t.

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