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Rabbi Berzansky - Parshat Shoftim

יָדֵינּו לֹא ׁשָפְכּו אֶת הַ ּדָם הַ ּזֶה (כא, ז)

"Our hands have not spilled this blood"

If a dead body is found in a field between two cities without any knowledge of who murdered him, the elders of the city closest to the corpse must perform the mitzvah of Eglah Arufah (the axed heifer). They begin the mitzvah by declaring that they were not responsible for the murder. “The elders shall speak up and say, ‘Our hands have not spilled this blood and our eyes have not witnessed it.’” The implication of their declaration is that they were suspected of murder. This is difficult to understand, since the elders were the elite of the city, not only judicially, but also in their piety. How can the Torah insinuate that they were the perpetrators of the murder? Rashi writes that the elders who make this statement were attesting to the fact that they never met the victim or had any part in his leaving the city without food and without an escort. However, this too needs an explanation. Their declaration is not that they never met him, but rather that they “did not spill his 220 MESILAH blood.” How does Rashi’s explanation fit with their declaration? Moreover, even if they were guilty of not escorting him with the proper provisions for the way, does that allow the Torah to call them murderers? Surely not. If so, why does the Torah attribute to them such a dramatic title? R. Simcha Zissel, the Alter of Kelm, gives an amazing answer.292 A person who departs from a city unescorted may begin to feel about himself that he is unloved and unappreciated. These insecurities may eliminate the lack the confidence needed to ward off bandits and ambushers along the way if he is attacked. However, if the elders of the city knew the deceased and escorted him, they would have provided him with the emotional support needed to stand up against any bandits along the way. However, if they knew him and did not escort him, they could have been the cause of his insecurities and as such would be held accountable for his death — to the degree that the Torah would have called them murderers. With this, we can see how Rashi’s explanation fits into the pasuk, because by not escorting him, they were in essence leading him to his deadly fate. When we show people that we are concerned and care for their well-being, we are actually granting them an inner strength to believe in themselves. If the elders would have known the deceased and given him the support he needed, he would have believed in himself to the point that he would have fought for his life against the murderer. The great Tanna Rabbi Akiva is a prime example of how believing in somebody can make all the difference. When he was forty years old, he was just a mere shepherd who did not even know the alef beis, and yet after his wife believed in him, he blossomed into becoming the great Rabbi Akiva with twenty-four thousand talmidim. When we show people that we believe in them and care for them, we are actually unearthing their potential storehouses of energy and strength. When a rebbi believes in his talmid, the talmid shines with 292 Look in Darchei Mussar. Parshas Shoftim 221 inner self-confidence: “I can do it, my rebbi believes in me!” So too a child can shine with that beautiful inner self-confidence when his parents believe in him. If the elders of the city would have known the deceased and would have shown him the care and concern he needed, he would have somehow survived the murder, and if they did not, they then would have been held accountable for “spilling his blood.” From here we see when we care and believe in somebody, they care and believe in themselves.

Rabbi Berzansky - Night Seder

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