Dvar Torah Shoftim: The Spirit of the Law:

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    Shoftim – The Spirit of the Law:
    רק לא ירבה לו סוסים ולא ישיב את העם מצרימה למען הרבות סוס וה’ אמר לכם לא תספון לשוב בדרך הזה עוד ולא ירבה לו נשים ולא יסור לבבו
    Only he must not accumulate many horses for himself, so as not to bring the people back to Egypt, in order to increase horses. Hashem has told you that you must never again return on that path. And he must not have too many wives, so that his heart not turn astray (Devarim 17:16-17).
    The Gemara (Sanhedrin 21b) tells us that the reasons for mitzvos were not revealed because two times they were revealed and Shlomo, one of the greatest people who ever lived, stumbled. In Parashas Shoftim, the Torah says a king may not have too many wives, lest his heart turn astray. Shlomo said, “I will have many wives and my heart will not turn astray.” Yet we are told (I Melachim 11:4) that when Shlomo was old, his wives swayed his heart after foreign gods. Similarly, the Torah says that a king may not have too many horses for himself, so he will not return the people to Egypt. Shlomo said, “I will have many horses, but I will not bring the people back to Mitzrayim.” However, we see that Shlomo traded with the Egyptians, and his chariots went back and forth from Egypt (ibid. 10:29).
    The question arises: If revealing the reasons for mitzvos could cause a person to err, as it did in the case of Shlomo HaMelech, why does the Torah reveal the reasons for these two mitzvos? The Maharsha (Sanhedrin 21b) explains that the Torah found it necessary to reveal the reasons for these two mitzvos, because the reasons themselves are mitzvos. The reason for not having too many wives is so that one should not let his heart stray from the mitzvos in general, which itself is a mitzvah. This is apparent from the opinion of Rabbi Shimon in the Mishnah (ibid. 21a), who says that a king is not allowed to marry even one wife who will make him stray from serving Hashem. Similarly, the reason for not amassing horses is a separate prohibition, the prohibition against returning to Mitzrayim.
    There is a famous statement in the Gemara (Shabbos 56b), which seems to mitigate, if not completely exonerate, Shlomo from sin. The Gemara states: “Kol ha’omer Shlomo chata eino ella to’eh – Whoever says that Shlomo sinned is nothing but mistaken.” Since he should have protested when his wives served idols and he didn’t, it was considered as if he himself served idols.
    This statement parallels the more well-known statement regarding David HaMelech on the page before (56a): “Kol ha’omer David chata eino ella to’eh – Whoever says David sinned is nothing but mistaken.” The Gemara proceeds to explain that although David was faulted for taking a married woman, such was not really the case. All of David’s soldiers conditionally divorced their wives before going into battle; hence Bas-sheva was not actually married at the time. In addition, though David was held accountable for having Bas-sheva’s husband, Uriah, killed, Uriah already deserved the death sentence for affronting David HaMelech`s honor.
    Why does the Gemara say about David and Shlomo: “Whoever says that David/ Shlomo sinned is nothing but mistaken,” instead of saying: “Whoever says that David/ Shlomo sinned is mistaken”? What are the extra words of: “eino ella – nothing but” coming to teach us?
    In Ohr HaMitzvos (Vol. I, p. 408), Rav Uri Langner tells us that the Gemara is cluing us into the need to follow the spirit of the law, as well as the letter of the law.
    Have you committed homicide this past week? Upon hearing such a question, you would most likely give the questioner a very puzzled look. But isn’t it possible that you recently shamed or embarrassed someone in public?
    The Gemara (Bava Metzia 58b) compares shaming someone to killing him. In fact, we are taught (ibid. 59a) that a person should let himself be thrown into a burning furnace rather than embarrass someone else in public. Although we can claim that we have not have shot anyone with a gun, we may have committed “emotional homicide.”
    Have you committed theft this week? Are you certain? What about yesterday when you concealed the defect in the merchandise you sold, even though you sold it at a lower price? This is called geneivas daas, stealing someone’s knowledge, and is strictly forbidden (Shulchan Aruch: C.M. 228:6). In fact, the Tosefta in Bava Kama (7:3) lists geneivas daas as a type of geneivah, theft.
    What about last Tuesday when you called your friend rather late at night and you woke him up? Disturbing someone’s sleep is called gezel sheinah, and some rabbanim regard this as actual theft, as well.
    You may not have shoplifted, but you can still be guilty of theft.
    Although we may not have violated the letter of the law, by shaming someone in public or misleading him or stealing his sleep, we have violated the spirit of the law. And our obligation is not only to the letter but to the spirit.
    This is evident in the incident of David and Bas-sheva. She was not a married woman, as she had been given a conditional get clandestinely. As mentioned, her husband was deserving of death. So David did not sin with an actual married woman, and he did not facilitate the death of an innocent man. The letter of the law was never violated, but in spirit it was.
    Likewise with Shlomo HaMelech; he did not turn from Hashem and worship idols. He himself never sinned. But because he did not stop his wives from doing so, he was regarded as an accessory and was held accountable. He violated the spirit but never the letter of the law.
    When we evaluate the incidents recorded in the Navi, and see David and Shlomo accused of sinning, we have a choice – one which can have repercussions in our behavior, not just our attitude.
    The approach of Chazal is that they never actually did what they were accused of; a person can do what seems to be a minor infraction of a true sin and be regarded as having committed the essential offense. When a person understands that an action that carries even a whiff of a sin is still forbidden as it violates the spirit of the law, he will stay away from the actual sin.
    But if one believes that David and Shlomo must have sinned – for the Torah would never accuse them of serious crimes if it were not true – then he is also not accepting the concept of the spirit of the law. A person who cannot accept that a low-level misdemeanor can be regarded as a felonious offense loses sight of the spirit of the law, even when adhering to its letter.
    According to Rav Langner, this will lead a person to a life of mistakes. Such a person is not only mistaken about David and Shlomo, but his whole life will be one mistake after another. For he does not recognize that a small infringement on another person’s sleep can be theft and causing someone to lose face can be emotional homicide.
    Such a person is not mistaken; he is nothing but mistaken.
    “Whoever says that David or Shlomo sinned is nothing but mistaken.”

    Reb Eliezer

    The GRA uses this to explain the gemora in Shabbos (12,2) where Rav Yishmoel ben Elisha went by mistake and read on shabbos by bending and increasing the candle light saying how great where the words of the chachomim who said not to read at candle light. The mishna does not give the reason of bending because if one knows the reason for the prohibition, he will rationalize as King Solomon, saying, that by me it does not apply. The Baal Akedah interprets the saying, thinking of an aveira is greater than an aveira, because one will try to find reasons for permission.

    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by Reb Eliezer.
    • This reply was modified 2 years, 3 months ago by Reb Eliezer.
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