Friday, July 23, 2010

Rav Moshe Sternbuch - Jurisprudence

The following was written by Rabbi Daniel Yaakov Travis based on a drasha given by Rav Moshe Sternbuch, Rosh Av Beis Din of the Eidah Hachareidis of Yerushalayim.
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"Do not show favor in judgment, listen carefully to small and large cases, do not be afraid of anyone, for mishpot is in the jurisdiction of Elokim..."
Sefer Devorim starts off by describing the type of judicial system that we should establish. After listing a number of requirements, the Torah substantiates its requirements by writing that mishpot is in the jurisdiction of Elokim. What is the deeper meaning of this idea?

Moshe Rabbeinu is instructed to set up these courts, and to find judges who can decide cases between one Jew and another. On the surface, it might appear as though this mitzvah pales in comparison to Shabbos, kashrus, and other such Torah commandments that govern man's direct relationship with his Creator. These are the areas that would seem to deserve much more focus and attention.

For this reason, the Torah states the direct association between mishpot and Elokim. In connecting judicial law to His Divine name, the Torah is saying that someone who downplays the mitzvos involving interpersonal relationships should recognize that his actions are an affront to Elokim. This is why the neviim repeatedly warned the Jewish people to make sure that they were not lax regarding this category of mitzvos.

There is also a more hidden aspect to this association: On occasion, a person might come to bais din thinking that he has an open and shut case, one hundred percent sure that he will be victorious. Yet, when the p'sak is issued, it is actually his opponent who is rendered the victor. How can he come to terms with what seems to be a clear perversion of justice?

The Zohar explains that this is the deeper connection between mishpot and Elokim. At times, there are debts that need to be repaid from other gilgulim, i.e., previous occasions that we lived in this world. Through some minor financial losses in this world, Elokim makes sure that a person can go into the next world free of previous debts.

Every Jew who experiences seemingly undeserved suffering in this world should keep the above concept in mind. Nothing in this world is for naught. Any travails that a person experiences during his lifetimes lessen the necessity for punishment in the next world.

Rav Sternbuch remembers seeing Rav Mordechai Pogramansky during the last days of his life. Although Rav Pogramansky was stricken with stomach cancer, was already blind, and suffered from unbearable pain, he did not complain at all. On the contrary, he pleaded with Hashem that He should allow him to pay off all of his debts in this world and come to the next world clean.

Rav Pogramansky's actions are certainly an extremely high level and far beyond the reach of most Jews in this generation. Yet, there is an important message in his words, even for us today. All of Hashem's actions are just, and if we can swallow what He sends us, we will definitely be remunerated with acceptance in the next world.

Perhaps the greatest punishment that the Jewish people have received as a nation was the destruction of both the first and second Botei Mikdosh. On Tisha B'Av, we spend the entire day recognizing this tragedy. Yet, our mourning goes far beyond that: Tisha B'Av is also the day to remember all of the many tragedies that Klal Yisroel has experienced throughout history.
The Medrash describes Tisha B'Av as a day of mourning and as a mo'ed, a festival. We can understand why Tisha B'Av is viewed as a sad day, given all of the travails we suffered on that day, but what about Tisha B'Av classifies it as a festival?
When the Bais Hamikdosh stood, Divine judgment was much stronger. Since we were able to witness constant miracles there, any doubt in emunah was considered a major breach in our relationship with Hashem. Transgressions during this time quite seriously aroused His anger, and the attribute of din was very prominent.
After the destruction of the Bais Hamikdosh, the full extent of the Shechinah's Presence is no longer felt. Because of this, Divine retribution is much less harsh. While His face is hidden, Hashem expects much less of us.
For this very reason, Tisha B'Av is also considered to be a festival. In today's world, where the Shechinah is almost completely veiled, any mitzvah we perform is considered a major accomplishment. Even the smallest act is looked upon as something extraordinary.

On the other hand, because there is so much impurity in the world, our transgressions are viewed as less serious. What once required many fasts and other forms of abstention to gain atonement can now be achieved with relative ease. The same destruction that is a reason to mourn can simultaneously be viewed in a different and more positive light.

As we approach the coming of Moshiach, we can strengthen ourselves by keeping the dual nature of this time in mind. We should never let the craziness of the world around us pull us into the abyss of modern day society. Our lowly state should not be a cause for depression. Rather, we should use it to lift ourselves up and empower ourselves to strive forward during this final chapter of Jewish history.
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Rabbi Travis is a rosh kollel of Kollel Toras Chaim in Yerushalayim, and is the author of Shaylos U'Teshuvos Toras Chaim and "Praying With Joy - A Daily Tefilla Companion," a practical daily guide to improving one's prayers, available from Feldheim Publishers. Rav Shternbuch's weekly shiurim on the parsha, compiled and edited by Rabbi Travis, are now available as a sefer titled "A Voice in the Darkness." For more information about his work, contact


The same destruction that is a reason to mourn can simultaneously be viewed in a different and more positive light.

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