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Shoftim and Sotah

Sotah (1:7) | Yisrael Bankier | 5 days ago

Many times in our learning, the Mishnayot we learn overlap with the week's parasha or the time of year. In this week's article we find the intersection of all three. The Mishnah (1:7) explains that the process involving the sotah, in parts, appears to be degrading. The Mishnah explains that this is based on the principle, be'midah she'adam moded bo modedim oto – in the way a person behaves, so they are treated. Even if proven innocent, the sotah's behaviour was still inappropriate. Consequently, the way she is treated is in response to the way she behaved. For example, the Mishnah explains that since she dressed up in order to commit a sin, during the process her appearance is degraded.

The Mishnayot (1:8) that follow continue by citing other cases in history, where the ultimate punishment of the individual reflected the nature of their crimes. The Mishnah (1:9) continues that the principles of be'midah she'adam moded bo modedim oto also works in a positive sense, citing examples where a person was rewarded in a similar manner to their meritorious actions. The difference, the Mishnah stresses, is that for rewards, the reward is in not measure-for-measure, but rather in excess.

The Sefer HaChinuch (171) explains that people mistakenly understand this principle to mean that Hashem responds to our behaviour in a tit-for-tat manner. However, this is not that case. He explains that Hashem is all good and simply wishes to share His good with everyone at any moment. Be'midah she'adam moded bo modedim oto is meant to be understood with respect to reward being proportional to one's actions. He compares the negative midah to a case where one strays from a path and gets injured in the process. The injury is not a punishment, but a consequence of his choices and ultimately self-inflicted. The injury was allowed by the lack of intervention which would have protected him from it occurring – hester panim. The Maharsha (Megillah 31b) explains that the negative consequence mirrors one's behaviour so that the individual realises that it is as result of their actions and not an unfortunate accident.

Having sharpened our understanding of be'midah she'adam moded bo modedim oto how does is it connected to our parasha and what does it have to do with this time of year?

The Kedushat Levi, explains that when klal Yisrael come to judgement before Hashem, Hashem wishes to judge us with mercy. However, it requires our inspiration (itaruta de'letata) first. How do we do that, when we first act with mercy and judge others favourably, it releases a similar attitude above. He continues that an individual has the ability, through his own action, to open gates of mercy above.

With this, the Kedushat Levi explains the beginning of this week's parasha. The parasha begins, "judges and officers you shall place in all your gates… and judge the nation with righteous judgements". The simple understanding is Torah is instructing us to setup the court and law enforcements systems throughout the land. The Kedushat Levi explains that the Torah is teaching us that you can fix and improve the judgement above whilst within your gates. How so? By doing exactly what the continuation of the pasuk instructs – "… judge the nation with righteous judgements". When we judge others in a favourable light and act with mercy, it sets free a merciful attitude that is almost bursting to be released. And he concludes that this is because, be'midah she'adam moded bo modedim oto.

Wishing everyone a meaningful month of teshuva in the lead up to Rosh Hashana.

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