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Please include Israel's captive soldiers in your tefillot: Zecharia Shlomo ben Miriam Baumel, Tzvi ben Penina Feldman, Yekutiel Yehuda Nachman ben Sarah Katz, Ron ben Batya Arad, Guy ben Rina Chever.

 

 

Friday,  3 Elul 5774 – August 28, 2014             

              

            Yesterday, we noted the verse with which the Torah concludes its discussion of the mitzva of egla arufa: “And you shall eradicate innocent blood from your midst by doing that which is proper in the eyes of the Lord.”  After instructing the leaders of the town near the site of a murder to conduct a special ceremony to atone for the crime, the Torah adds this verse, but its intent is unclear.  Is this a separate requirement?  Does the Torah promise that by fulfilling the command of egla arufa we avoid the spilling of innocent blood? 

            Rashi, citing the Gemara, offers a halakhic explanation of this verse.  The Torah commands that if the killer is found after the egla arufa ceremony, he must be tried and executed.  After outlining the instructions regarding the egla arufa, the Torah adds that this ceremony does not absolve the community of its obligation to bring the perpetrator to justice, and if the killer is found, he must be prosecuted in order for the crime to be atoned. 

            Symbolically, this halakha conveys the vital message that there is no “magical” remedy for spiritual ills.  Chazal understood from this verse that the egla arufa ceremony does not obviate the need to find and prosecute the criminal.  The ceremony is important as a means of atonement if the killer cannot be found.  But ultimately, the problem must be addressed and resolved through the system of prosecution.   

            As we embark on the process of teshuva, it is tempting to look for a “quick fix,” to find the “wonder drug” that will erase our guilt and set us on the path of proper behavior.  The Torah reminds us that even after the egla arufa ceremony, “you must eradicate innocent blood from your midst.”  The ceremony is necessary but insufficient.  Complete rectification requires the hard work and vigilance to eradicate the evil and bring about substantive and meaningful change. 

            In the third chapter of Masekhet Rosh Hashanah (29a), amid the discussion of the laws related to shofar blowing on Rosh Hashanah, the Mishna suddenly inserts two brief comments about miracles that occurred during the time of Moshe Rabbenu.  The first is the war against Amalek, when Benei Yisrael succeeded in battle as long as Moshe’s hands were raised.  The second is the nechash ha-nechoshet – the copper snake made by Moshe which cured those who were bitten by snakes when they looked upon it.  The Mishna establishes that it was not Moshe’s hands which brought Benei Yisrael victory over their foes, and it was not the copper snake which cured snakebite victims.  Rather, these were mediums which inspired Benei Yisrael to – in the Mishna’s words – “subjugate their hearts to their Father in heaven.”  These were not magical solutions, but rather means by which Benei Yisrael reinforced their devotion to God, who, in turn, rescued them from danger.  The question arises, why is this mentioned in the context of the laws of Rosh Hashanah?  Why did the Mishna interrupt its discussion of shofar to teach us about the war with Amalek and the nechash ha-nechoshet? 

            Rav Yehuda Amital zt”l explained that the Mishna wishes to dispel the possible misconception that the shofar works as a “magical” device to earn us a favorable judgment.  We might think that by simply hearing the shofar sound, we automatically free ourselves of guilt and have our names inscribed in the book of life.  The Mishna teaches us that this is entirely and fundamentally incorrect.  The role of the shofar, like the role of Moshe’s hands and the copper snake, is to lead us to “subjugate our hearts.”  There is nothing magical about it, and it in no way absolves us of the responsibility to undergo the long, difficult and grueling process of change and growth.  Hearing the shofar is meant to help trigger the process, and must never be mistaken for the process itself. 

            Just like the egla arufa does not obviate the need for “eradicating innocent blood” from the nation’s midst, there is no single act which obviates the need to work towards “eradicating” our own ills and working to become better people and better servants of God. 

 

 Rav David Silverberg       

 

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(c) 2014 Israel Koschitzky Virtual Beit Midrash, Yeshivat Har Etzion.

 

 

 

 


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