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Shabbat Parashat Vaetchanan| 5763

The Responsibility of Religious Leadership

Harav Yosef Carmel

In our parasha we find Moshe Rabbeinu diligently setting up arei miklat (cities of refuge) on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Moshe understood that ensuring the peaceful life of the inhabitants is among the responsibilities of the religious leader, as well.
 A halacha in this same vein deals with the kohen gadol (high priest) and the arei miklat. One who kills accidentally must stay in an ir miklat until the death of the kohen gadol (Makkot 11a). This is seen as a semi-punishment for the kohen gadol, for under this arrangement, some people will pray for his death. The fault of the kohen gadol stems from the fact that he should have prayed that such tragedies not befall the Jewish people (ibid.). The gemara goes a step further, saying that even when the death took place before the kohen gadol’s appointment, the freeing of the “murderer” depends on the present kohen gadol’s death. The gemara explains that he should have prayed that the murderer not be sentenced (ibid. 11b). Our mentor, Harav Shaul Yisraeli, z.t.l., asked a strong question on this gemara. Who says there were any claims to exempt the murderer, and what good does it do to pray after the action is already done (Amud Hay’mini 11)?
 Rabbeinu Tam (Tosafot, Makkot 7a) says that dayanim can affect the outcome of a capital case by asking the witnesses intricate questions which need not be asked, but when they are answered unsatisfactorily, the testimony is disqualified. The idea behind these acquittals is found in the pasuk, “the congregation [Sanhedrin]will save the murderer” (Bamidbar 35:25). The mishna (ad loc.) brings an interesting machloket in this regard. Several tana’im state that had they been in Sanhedrin, capital punishment would have been very rare, and, according to R. Tarfon and R. Akiva, nonexistent. Rashbag countered that such a policy would have increased murder. What is the machloket between the different approaches? Certainly we don’t want to kill anyone who might possibly not deserve it, but on the other hand, it is dangerous to effectively disarm the judicial system and thereby encourage crime.
 Rav Yisraeli explained as follows. R. Tarfon and R. Akiva claimed that Sanhedrin, as leaders of the nation, should take responsibility to spiritually elevate the nation. If they succeed, then exonerating possible murderers by loopholes would not cause deterioration of society’s resolve to avoid deaths, intentional or accidental. Murder would remain an isolated phenomenon. Rashbag felt that even in an elevated moral climate, it is not worthwhile to chance matters. Based on this understanding, the kohen gadol’s responsibility is clear, as well. Would the kohen gadol have succeeded, the moral climate would have been sufficient to allow Sanhedrin to employ “legal tricks” of the kind that Rabbeinu Tam mentioned. They could acquit an unintentional murderer without fear that this would encourage others to be negligent and cause unnecessary deaths. 
P’ninat Mishpat - Ona’ah (Mispricing) – part III-Difficulties in Setting a Price
 We discussed how mispricing by a sixth is a critical cut off point in regard to ona’ah. A frustrating issue in trying to apply the halachot in the modern market system is determining from which point to calculate the sixth. Is there always one going rate? Apparently at the time of the gemara, prices were pretty much set at a given time and place, and ona’ah was in relation to that going rate. However, in modern times, there are great price fluctuations, which depend on whether one shops at the local makolet (grocery), at the shuk, or on the internet, etc. It is, thus, no surprise that present-day poskim have to think more independently, based on the spirit and precedents of the classical sources (see Pitchei Choshen IV, 10:(1)).
It appears clear, for example, that one could charge more by providing improvements not only in the object itself but even in ancillary factors relating to the “buying experience.” For example, a store which invests in real estate (size, location), staff (sellers, more check-out counters), and interior decoration to provide a more calm and efficient buying experience can legitimately expect a return on their investments and charge a higher price (ibid.). A local grocery, which provides greater convenience, at the expense of volume, has a right to make a living. Thus, going rates need to compare and consider sellers of a similar type. So too, one who buys in bulk can expect to pay a lower price than a simple household does.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is
Dedicated to the memory of R’ Meir  ben
Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.

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