Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Shoftim
To dedicate this lesson

The Jewish Escort Service


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Elul 5 5775
"Justice, justice you shall pursue."

This is clearly the "headline" and pervasive theme of our parsha: the imperative to seek justice in every sphere of human behavior. The many Mitzvot of our parsha – from executing idolaters to setting up Cities of Refuge (for accidental man-slaughterers) to granting certain exemptions to soldiers – are all designed to promote a sense of fairness, and to balance law and order with compassion.

One of the most fascinating Mitzvot in the sedra is that of the Egla Arufa. If a person is found murdered in an open area, a ceremony is held - which includes breaking the neck of a young calf - at which the leaders of the closest town come and declare, "Our hands did not shed this blood; our eyes did not see (this crime)."

Rashi comments that, of course, we do not suspect the leaders of the city of committing such a crime. But they must attest that they did not let this poor soul leave the city "without provisions or an escort." From here we learn that it is proper to accompany a departing guest part of the way to his next destination. The Maharal says that Hashem reacts to this act of chesed and camaraderie by affording an extra measure of protection to the guest.

Rav Yochanan Zweig has another take on the issue. He says that thieves, or highwaymen, prey upon those who are alone, and thus defenseless. They can detect, by virtue of a person’s demeanor and the way he carries himself, who appears tentative and vulnerable, as opposed to those who are confident and so more apt to protect themselves.

When an individual travels alone, in a strange place not his home, he is a greater target for danger. But if he has been welcomed to a town, given provisions and escorted on his way, he projects an air of strength and self-assurance, and is less likely to be attacked.

The elders must recognize that it is their responsibility to create an environment which welcomes others and makes even strangers feel "at home." If they do not do this – by preaching as well as by personal example – then they are at least partially culpable if a tragedy occurs.

How many of us have had the experience of walking into a place – particularly a shul, which one expects to have elevated spiritual sensitivities - and feeling totally alone, lost, unwanted? And how many of us have had the opposite occur, when we are greeted warmly, shown to a seat, made to feel at home, and treated like "family." Not only do our surroundings and the way we are treated our

You don’t have to "break your neck" to help others; it’s enough to "just" be nice!

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