Shoftim: The One Who Has the Light Shines the Way ~ Tzvi Abrahams
The One Who Has the Light Shines the Way
שִׁמוּשׁ: to use, to serve
שַׁמַשׁ: shammash [Chanukah]
בֵּית שֶׁמֶשׁ: Beit Shemesh
כִּי יִמָּצֵא בְקִרְבְּךָ בְּאַחַד שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ אִישׁ אוֹ אִשָּׁה אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה אֶת הָרַע בְּעֵינֵי ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ לַעֲבֹר בְּרִיתוֹ. וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיַּעֲבֹד אֱלֹהִים אֲחֵרִים וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ לָהֶם וְלַשֶּׁמֶשׁ אוֹ לַיָּרֵחַ אוֹ לְכָל צְבָא הַשָּׁמַיִם אֲשֶׁר לֹא צִוִּיתִי
For when you will find among you in one of your gates that Hashem your G-d gave to you, a man or a woman who will do evil in the eyes of Hashem, to transgress His covenant and go and serve other powers and bow down to them, to the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly hosts that I did not command.
If you come from Sunderland — a euphemism for the exact opposite, “a land of no sun” — in the north of England, where I come from, there, just like the rest of England, they complain that there is never enough sun. On the other hand, with Zichron Yaakov, in the north of Israel where I live now, the opposite is true.
We are all looking for a balance, a place not too hot and not too cold, yet we never seem to be truly satisfied. However, if we were to stop and reflect on our place within the universe, then we would be in absolute awe how amazing it is that we have been placed in a state of balance with the upmost precision. A little bit closer to the sun and we would burn up, while if we were a little further away we would freeze to death. The awareness of such precise design should leave us without any doubt that there is a Designer who has orchestrated (and continues to conduct) this most amazing symphony.
But there are many people who choose not to contemplate this idea, for that would give evidence to there being an all-powerful G-d, which would mean that they would be responsible to serve Him and abide by His rules. So instead, they are forced to come up with false evidence in order to cover up the truth, which allows them the comfort to do whatever they want. The precise position of the Earth in relation to the sun, for example, is therefore just a big accident.
שִׁמוּשׁ: To Use, To Serve
When G-d is taken out of the picture, the sun instead becomes the center of the universe, just like those who say everything revolves around the sun. Thus, there is the mistaken belief that the sun is the source of all our energy.
It is true that the sun powers the earth, giving it light, warmth, and energy, but it is not the source; Hashem is the One Who powers the sun. So too a light bulb — although it gives light and heat, we know it is not the energy source.
In lashon hakodesh/the Holy Tongue, Hashem reveals to us the true meaning of the sun. The very name שֶׁמֶשׁ/shemesh shares the same root as שִׁמוּשׁ/shimush, which means “to use” or “to serve.” The sun is Hashem’s servant, just one of the heavenly hosts, like all of the mazalos/stars that Hashem uses to channel His flow of energy, and through which He powers the world. Thus, Hashem is known as ה’ צְ-בָאוֹת/Hashem, Lord of the heavenly Hosts.
The shamash is the one in shul who serves the needs of the congregation and is referred to in the Talmud specifically as the one who serves the talmidei chachamim.
שַׁמַשׁ: Shammash [Chanukah]
The shammash, the extra light that we light by the Chanukah candles, is there to serve as the light that can be used to benefit from. All the other candles are forbidden to derive benefit from, אֶלָא לִירְאוֹתָם בִּלְבָד/only to look at them. If for any reason we were to accidently use the light of the candles for our own use, we could attribute it to the shammash instead.
בֵּית שֶׁמֶשׁ: The House of the Sun
This city in Israel gets its name from the fact that in the days of the Tanach, it was a city whose inhabitants idolized the sun.
Most of the Jewish Nation in the Exile lives in the west and davens facing the מִזְרָח/east, in the direction of the Beis HaMikdash, Hashem’s house. The מִזְרָח/mizrach is called so because it comes from the expression of זָרְחָה הַשֶׁמֶשׁ/the shining sun that shines and rises in the east. Hence, we could say that Hashem’s house, unlike the song with the same name, is the real house of the rising sun!
The שֶׁמֶשׁ/sun has a dual purpose. It is also referred to as חַמָה/chammah, from lashon חַם/hot. It warms us up and helps things to grow. Too much sun can dry us out and burn us. However, the Torah is compared to מַיִם/water, whose quality can prevent us from drying out. We need the sun, but we need to be protected from it, as we say in Tehillim: יוֹמָם הַשֶּׁמֶשׁ לֹא יַכֶּכָּה/by day the sun will not harm us.
Shimshon was the last of the שׁוֹפְטִים/judges and was the leader of the Jewish People. He judged us with Torah, which gave him special strength that protected us from our enemies, the Pelishtim.
In the Gemara, Rabi Yochanan says that Shimshon was named after the aspect of Hashem that is compared to the sun, as it says: כִּי שֶׁמֶשׁ וּמָגֵן ה’ אֱ-לֹהִים/the sun has the power to protect. חוֹמָה/wall also comes from חַמָה/the sun. Shimshon had the protective aspect of a wall, because a wall has the dual aspect of keeping in the heat, thus insulating us when it is cold, and shading us when it is hot.
If we do not get enough sun exposure, then we are more susceptible to becoming depressed from lack of Vitamin D. On the other hand, too much time in the sun might give one a nice brown-colored tan, but the חוּם/brown reflects the character of Noach’s son חָם/Cham, whose descendants were cursed to be slaves. Certainly, the one who is connected to this type of sun worship is truly a slave, who wastes so much time to temporarily improve his looks.
Anyone who serves the sun instead of Hashem is considered evil in the eyes of Hashem. Even though Chazal say that the servant of the king is like the king, one who serves idolatry has replaced the king, and this is the evil that is so detestable in His eyes.
תָּמִים תִּהְיֶה עִם ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ/You should be pure with Hashem your G-d.
Instead of behaving like the goyim, who turn to stargazers to predict their future, Hashem wants us to be pure, in that we should accept the future with a perfect heart without looking to outside forces, which anyway are in the realm of tumah and are therefore inaccurate. We should always follow the advice of the chachamim/wise men, even if they say what is right is left and what is left is right.
The message that comes from the parshah is not to serve the middleman. In Hebrew, a סַרְסוּר/sarsor is a middleman, which sounds similar to the English word sorcerer, where סַר means “to veer off” or “to lead astray.” These are the mediums that Hashem warns us to stay away from because, as they have been given power, we could easily be led astray. We should know, though, that it is only a fake power. Instead, we should follow the middlemen who truly represent Hashem. The parshah is replete with middlemen: the shoftim, the king, the navi, the kohanim, and the chachamim.
נָבִיא מִקִּרְבְּךָ מֵאַחֶיךָ כָּמֹנִי יָקִים לְךָ ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ אֵלָיו תִּשְׁמָעוּן A prophet among your brothers like me, Hashem your G-d will establish for you, to him you should listen.
Interestingly, the word “gaze” used in the expression “stargazers,” comes from the Hebrew word חַזוֹן/chazon, which means a seer, someone who sees, otherwise known as a navi/prophet. The job of the navi, Hashem’s middleman, is to serve the people by guiding them and leading them in the ways of Hashem. In a similar way, the modern-day chazzan in shul has taken on the role of serving the people by leading the congregation.
We are all attracted to light, for it gives us the ability to see. Through the heavenly hosts — the sun, moon, and stars — there is physical light, which affords us the ability to navigate our way in the darkness. So too, through Hashem’s shammashim — the shoftim, the navi, the king, the chachamim — there is spiritual light, which gives us the ability to navigate our way through the spiritual darkness.
וְלֹא תִקַּח שֹׁחַד כִּי הַשֹּׁחַד יְעַוֵּר עֵינֵי חֲכָמִים Do not take a bribe, because a bribe blinds the eyes of the chachmim.
The Torah warns us not to be blinded by monetary gains. We should not be slaves to money, for money is just a middleman — it is a means by which we can serve Hashem by acquiring mitzvos, as opposed to just being a means to an end. So too if we worship the sun, which has the power to blind us; instead of the sun serving us, we will be blinded to the truth.
כִּי אַתָּה בָּא אֶל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה’ אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ לֹא תִלְמַד לַעֲשׂוֹת כְּתוֹעֲבֹת הַגּוֹיִם הָהֵם For you are coming to the land that Hashem your G-d is giving to you, you should not learn to do like the abominations of these nations.
The Torah warns us not to be like the goyim who serve the middlemen, the ones who use mediums of magic, witchcraft, sorcery, divination, and speaking with the dead. Rather, we are on the journey to Eretz Yisrael to purify the land. Our mission as the Jewish People is to be Hashem’s סַרְסוּר/sarsor, Hashem’s middleman, for we have the מְסוֹרָה/mesorah/tradition.
We are in essence Hashem’s ambassadors/emissaries/servants, Hashem’s שַׁמַשׁ and Hashem’s שֶׁמֶשׁ, His shining star and Hashem’s light unto the nations, because the one who has the light shines the way.
1 Devarim 17:2–3.
2 Tehillim 121:6.
3 Sotah 10a.
4 Tehillim 84:12.
5 Devarim 18:13.
6 Rashi to ibid.17:11.
8 Ibid., 16:19.
9 Ibid., 18:9.