Rabbi Benjamin Yudin
Rabbi Benjamin Yudin

Even If at First You Don't Succeed

Among the fifty-five mitzvos found in Parshas Re'eh, six are devoted to the maisis - the individual who entices another Jew to worship idolatry. The Torah was most severe in its treatment of the maisis. The maisis is subject to capital punishment by stoning and many exceptions to the judgment process were practiced. Usually, the testimony of witnesses who were planted without the knowledge of the criminal and were unseen by him is unacceptable. Normally, it is mandatory that the two witnesses warn the criminal of his crime and the exact punishment he will receive. The Rambam in Hilchos Sanhedrin (11:5), based upon the gemara Sanhedrin (66b) writes that in the case of the maisis, the witnesses may be hidden and testify without having given any warning.

In all other circumstances, if one is tried in a capital case and found to be innocent, and someone afterwards claims that they have new evidence to convict, the trial is not reopened. This is based upon "do not execute the righteous" (Shemos 23:7). However, in the case of the maisis, he is returned to trial. Conversely, if one is found guilty in all other areas of Jewish law, and on the way to the execution someone comes forth claiming new exonerating evidence, we return the condemned to the courtroom, even many times, in an attempt to save his life, as it says (ibid) " do not execute the righteous". We do not, however, return the maisis. Finally, a Jew is required to love each and every Jew, even a criminal. The maisis, however, is an exception, as the Torah states (Devarim 13:9) "you shall not accede to him", understood by our Rabbis to mean, you shall not show any love or compassion towards him.

The Alter of Kelm makes a startling observation. The severe treatment of the maisis is "ki be'kaish l'hadichacha" - since he tried to make you abandon Hashem. Even though he did not succeed, the very attempt is enough of a heinous crime to strip the perpetrator of all of his rights. Conversely, imagine the good that is in store for one who attempts to bring another Jew closer to Hashem and the tradition; even if he does not succeed, the process itself is most rewarding. As the Talmud (Yuma 76a) teaches, the measure of Hashem's beneficence is greater than his measure of retribution.

The virtue of reaching out and inviting another Jew to become familiar with his or her tradition is praiseworthy all year long. However, during the month of Elul it is especially significant. The Tur (Or Hachaim) writes in the name of Rabbi Chanina and Rabbi Yehoshua, how unique the Jewish people are! Ordinarily an individual on trial for his life, does not bathe, nor personally groom himself, nor dress in his fine attire. The Jewish people bathe and celebrate their day of judgment with optimism.

Reb Yisroel Salanter zt"l explains this phenomenon. Based upon the response of the Shunnamite woman, when asked, "Can something be said on your behalf to the king?" (Melachim II, 4:13) understood by the Zohar to mean, can something be said on your behalf to the King of Kings? She responded, "I dwell among my people", which is understood as her saying "Do not single me out. Moreover, I derive my comfort and redemption by being connected to and an integral part of my people". While the fate of each individual may be in jeopardy, the survival and success of Klal Yisroel has been assured. Thus, the most prudent thing an individual can do at this time of year is to connect themselves to their people, thereby riding the victorious coat-tails of Am Yisroel. Most certainly a sure way of connecting oneself to the Klal is to bring others under the wings of the Shechina .

Often, outreach professionals, as well as individuals, will reflect upon sincere efforts that have not yet born fruits. These efforts can include many hours of trying, cajoling, studying, and spending Shabbos and yom tov together, but still to no avail. Understandably, frustration can set in. To combat that frustration, the inference from the maisis must be kept in mind -the effort to bring another Jew closer has great intrinsic value independent of the result.

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