This week's Torah portion, Re'ei, teaches us the laws of the IrHanidachat. An Ir Hanidachat is a city where the majority of thegrown men actively involve in idol worship. Once it has beenestablished that a city has fallen into this category, the entirefamilies of the sinners are put to death by beheading and allpossessions of both sinners and non sinners are burned publicly.Then the entire city needs to be destroyed never to be rebuilt.There is an opinion in the Talmud that such a city never existed andnever will exist but that the sole purpose of the Torah teaching usthe laws of Ir Hanidachat is to increase the merit of Torah studyfor those who learn about it.Therefore let's take a closer look at some of the laws.HUMAN JUDGES VERSUS THE HEAVENLY JUDGEIn general repentance only affects a verdict made in the heavenlycourt. Once someone has sinned and a rabbinical court issued averdict, repentance doesn't help to change that. G-d will onlyforgive that person after he receives his earthly punishment.The simple reason for this difference is that human judges do notread minds. Maybe the sinner truly feels remorse for his misdeed,but it may be that the worry about undergoing his punishment spurshis claims of repentance.G-d on the other hand knows what goes on in people's minds andhearts. If He sees that someone truly repented, He can forgive himfor his sins.RAMBAM'S RULINGThe Rambam rules that if the sinners in an Ir Hanidachat repentbefore the verdict has been executed, it can be overturned. If partof the city repents and the non-sinners regain their majoritystatus, the city will be spared.According to the above rule that only heavenly punishments can becancelled, this law of the Rambam needs to be clarified.The Kesef Mishna offers the following explanation.In order for a court to punish someone, he needs to be warned aboutthe severity of the sin before he does it. This needs to be done bytwo kosher witnesses.The Ir Hanidachat does not have a specific warning. Each individualneeds to be warned that idol worship is a sin. In order for anindividual to be punished for idol worship a warning will suffice.But the Ir Hanidachat status and its consequences is a result of acombination of many individuals deciding to sin. Therefore, since nowarning can be issued to an Ir Hanidachat, the verdict can berevoked if enough people repent to make the sinners a minority.Our original question however still remains. Although we understandthat there is a difference between individuals and a city, whichallows room for changing a verdict, we still don't have a goodreason to say that in this case human judges know if the repentanceis sincere.The Tsofnat Paneach explains that Rambam never meant to say that theactual sinners can get off the hook by proclaiming they repentedafter the verdict has been issued.The sin of an Ir Hanidachat is so severe that even the innocentwives and children of the sinners are put to death. In addition, allthe physical belongings of all inhabitants are publicly burned asmentioned above. Rambam's rule applies to the women and children andthe belongings. If the husbands claim to have repented they lose thestatus of an Ir Hanidachat thereby saving their families andeveryone's possessions. They themselves will still be put to deathfor their earlier actions.This explanation still has the same problem as before though.If the rule is that human judges can not change a verdict based on asinner's claimed repentance, why is this case different. At the endof the day we still change the status of the city as a result ofthe `repentance'.THE SOURCE OF RAMBAM'S RULINGWhat does the Rambam base his ruling on?According to the Tsofnat Paneach this can be learned from the cityof Sedom. The city that was destroyed by Hashem in the times ofAvraham.Although we all know the stories about the wicked characters of thesodomites, this was not enough of a reason to kill them all. Oursages explain that the reason why the city was destroyed is becauseof idol worship, thereby rendering it an Ir Hanidachat.On the verse which tells us that Hashem says He is going to take alook to see what really is going on in Sedom, the Targumtranslates/explains "if they repent I will not punish them"This teaches us that it is possible for an Ir Hanidachat to repentand change its status.The Talmud Yerushalmi teaches us another law based on the Sedomstory. Avraham's nephew Lot was considered righteous enough to besaved. His belongings had to stay behind though and they weredestroyed together with the entire city. From here we know that eventhe belongings of the righteous in an Ir Hanidachat have to beburned.LAWS BEFORE THE TORAH WAS GIVENThese two teachings we learn from Sedom are very interesting andmake good speech material. There is however a slight problem.We have a rule that we do not derive any laws from occurrences thattook place before the Torah was given even when they are mentionedin the Torah. For instance we do not circumcise our children becauseAvraham was instructed to do so. His descendents till the Torah wasgiven on Mt. Sinai did so because of that instruction. We do itbecause we were given a mitzvah to be circumcised on the 8th day.The action is the same, the commandment a different one.Since the story of the destruction of Sedom took place long beforethe Torah was given, how to we derive laws from it?UPGRADE OR DOWNGRADE?Another rule.Torah law knows four types of capital punishment. When someone isfound guilty of several sins punishable by different types of death,the law is that he is given the most severe type of punishment.Idol worship is punishable by death by stoning which is considered aharsh death.The sinners in an Ir Hanidachat are put to death by beheading. Thisis a relatively smooth procedure. Much less painful, emotionally adphysically, than stoning.Based on the rule that when one deserves various death types he isgiven the harshest one, it would follow that the inhabitants of anIr Hanidachat should be stoned.In general this law needs clarification. We said that if a city doesnot have a majority of sinners, everyone gets convicted to death bystoning. Once there is a majority this becomes the lesser punishmentof beheading!Let's say a city has 100 people of which 50 worship idols. Oneperson is debating whether to join his righteous neighbors or hisidolatrous neighbors. Finally the sinners win him over to theirside. By doing so he lessens their punishment!!INDIVIDUALS VERSUS COMMUNITIESThis seems to indicate that an Ir Hanidachat is not a collection ofindividual sinners but rather a new entity. An Ir Hanidachat. Thiscity needs to be dealt with in a certain way. Every sinner livingthere is killed by the sword and all its possessions are burned. Ifthe sinner would retain his original identity, his upgrade to IrHanidachat member would have to lead to a more severe punishment.By looking at all the members of the Ir Hanidachat as people livingin a doomed city, this problem is resolved.It also explains why the innocent women and children are killed.This does not come as a result of an action they did, because theydid not sin. It is a result of them living in a city of which allwomen and children need to be put to death. The same applies to thepossessions of the righteous people of the Ir Hanidachat.The city is doomed. The righteous people living there are notconsidered part of the doomed city. Their belongings are. Thereforethey survive but their belongings don'tWhere do we know this difference from?That we derive from the story of Sedom.Sedom doesn't teach us the law that we burn the material possessionsof the non-sinners. It teaches us that it is considered part of thecity. For if not Hashem would not have destroyed it.In other words, the law that we destroy an Ir Hanidachat is based onwhat we were told on Mt Sinai. What is considered part of the citywe learn from an earlier story. This is not a contradiction to therule that we do not base a law on something that happened before theTorah was given. The law is written in the Torah as a mitzvah. Wherethis law does not apply we derive from a story that took placeearlier.Similarly when the Rambam ruled that repentance would help in thecase of an Ir Hanidachat he did not rule that they were changingtheir punishment. That would contradict the law that once a verdicthas been issued it can not be changed. Rather it allows the sinnersto change the status of the city they live in. That this willimpact the type of punishment they will receive as well as the fateof their wives and children and the physical belongings of therighteous people does not matter.They do not change their individual punishment, they change theirstatus from `individual' to `member of a city that deservescollective punishment'.That this is possible we also derive from the Sedom story asmentioned before. Here too we do not teach a law but rather clarifywhat is considered a doomed city.That a city with a population of which the majority worships idolsis doomed is written as a mitzvah. That this majority status doesnot apply when people repent we learn from a story that took placebefore the Torah was given.HUMAN JUDGES VERSUS THE HEAVENLY JUDGE #2Our first question still remains though.How do the human judges know that some people truly repented,thereby changing the status of the city?Maybe we should redefine the reason why repentance only works forspiritual punishments meted out by the heavenly court but not forverdicts issued by human courts.The reason why a human judge can only rule based on what he seeswith his own physical eyes is because he only punishes for physicaldeeds.The heavenly court punishes for thoughts and feelings too, so theyhave to know what goes on inside the heart and mind of the sinnerand later repentant.When a human judge finds out that someone performed an action ofidol worship, denying G-d's existence, he needs to punish thatperson with the appropriate punishment regardless of the sinnersintentions. Intentions are not his territory.INDIVIDUALS VERSUS COMMUNITIES #2The upgrade to Ir Hanidachat status is different.Only Jewish people are considered a Tzibur, a community. When tenJews gather they form a minyan. This minyan can be comprised of allkinds of people. The word tzibur is an acronym for the wordsTzadikim,Benonim,Reshaim. Righteous,average and wicked people. Theyare all one because they all have a neshama, a spark of G-d, inside.Since G-d is One all Jews are also one. They form a community. Notonly the soul is Jewish, the entire person is. The perfectlyrighteous is obviously tuned in to his souls messages. But even theaverage person and the sinner are still called Jewish. In the caseof the Ir Hanidachat we even extend this G-dly communal bond to alltheir possessions.How can this G-dly connection be expressed in case of denial of G-dsuch as the Ir Hanidachat?A computer will never rebel against its programmer. It may stopfunctioning if there is a technical problem but it will neverperform actions it wasn't programmed to do.G-d is more than a computer programmer. He is omnipotent. He is sopowerful that he can even create a being that He allows to rebelagainst Him. The power to sin is a G-dly one.Therefore even in the case of an Ir Hanidachat we apply the G-dlypower that unites all Jews to upgrade them to a community of sinnerswith all consequences thereof.This explains why repentance can be accepted by human judges in thiscase.In general G-d gave the judgment of inner feelings to the heavenlycourt and the judgment of physical actions to a human court. Thehuman judge is not required to take anything past the physical deedinto consideration regardless of his ability to read minds.Although the sinner may claim he repented this is not enough torectify his sin. His sin was performed on an outward level with hisphysical body so it needs to be punished with a physical punishment.The Ir Hanidachat status is established by an inner power. That theoutward appearance is affected by this is also a result of thisinner power as opposed to a regular individual sinner who sins withhis outer appearance only.So as soon as the sinners declare that they repent, they indicatethat they did not sin with this inner power that renders them acommunity and they return to the status of individual sinners forwhich the human judge can give a rectifying punishment.May reading about Teshuva inspire us to do Teshuva so we can meritthe coming of Moshiach now.
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