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Sabbath Readings
Shoftim(שופטיםJudges)Torah: Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12-52:12Gospel: Matthew 26:47-27:10
DVARTZEDEK (word of justice)
“Elohimhas told you, human, what is good, and what Adonai requires of you: Only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with yourElohim.Then will your name achieve wisdom.”This laysout a powerful vision of anideallife that will pleaseElohimand bring us wisdom—a life of doing justice, loving goodness and walking modestly with God.
Deuteronomy 16:18 | Municipal Judges and OfficersDeuteronomy 16:21 | Forbidden Forms of WorshipDeuteronomy 17:8 | Legal Decisions by Priests and JudgesDeuteronomy 17:14 | Limitations of Royal AuthorityDeuteronomy 18:1 | Privileges of Priests and LevitesDeuteronomy 18:9 | Child-Sacrifice, Divination, andblack MagicProhibitedDeuteronomy 18:15 | A New Prophet Like MosesDeuteronomy 19:1 | Laws concerning the Cities of RefugeDeuteronomy 19:14 | Property BoundariesDeuteronomy 19:15 | Law concerning WitnessesDeuteronomy 20:1 | Rules of WarfareDeuteronomy 21:1 | Law concerning Murder by Persons Unknown
DEUTERONOMY 16:18 – 21:10Shoftim
Torah Portion Summary
General Overview:Thisweek's reading,Shoftim,addresses fundamental issues pertaining to the leadership of the Jewish people. It begins with a discussion regarding judges, and later discusses the concept of the kings, prophets, and thekohanim(priests). Many commandments are introduced in this week’s reading, including: appointing judges,the obligation to follow thewords of the prophets, the obligations of a king, the punishment for perjury, laws of war, and the procedure for dealing with unsolved murders.
Torah Portion Summary
Moses instructs the people of Israel to appointjudgesand law-enforcement officers in every city; "Justice, justice shall you pursue," hecommands them, and you must administer it without corruptionor favoritism. Crimes must be meticulouslyinvestigatedandevidence thoroughly examined -- a minimumoftwocrediblewitnessesis required for convictionand punishment.
Torah Portion Summary
In every generation, says Moses, there will bethose (prophets) entrustedwith the task ofinterpreting andapplyingthelaws of the Torah. "According to the law thatthey willteach you, and the judgement they willinstruct you, you shall do; you shall not turn away fromthe thingthat they say to you, to the right nor tothe left."
Torah Portion Summary
Shoftimalso includes the prohibitionsagainstidolatryandsorcery; laws governingthe appointmentand behavior of aking; andguidelines orthe creation of "cities of refuge" fortheunintentionalmurderer. Also set forth are many ofthe rulesofwar: the exemption from battle for onewho hasjustmarried, built ahome,planted avineyardoris "afraidand soft-hearted"; the requirementto offerterms of peacebefore attacking a city;the prohibitionagainst wantondestructionofsomething ofvalue, exemplified by the law that forbids tocut downafruit treewhen laying siege (in thiscontext theTorah makes the famous statement )“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, making war against it to capture it, you are not to destroy its trees by swinging an axe at them. For from them you may eat, so you shall not chop them down.For is the tree of the field human, that it should enter the siege before you?“ (Deut. 20:19).
Torah Portion Summary
TheParshahconcludes withthespecial procedure to be followed whenaperson iskilled by an unknown murderer and his bodyis foundin a field- which underscorestheresponsibilityof the community and its leadersnotonly for what they do but also for whatthey mighthave prevented from being done.
First Aliyah:Israel iscommanded to appoint judges in every city ofPromise Land.These judges are instructed to adjudicate fairly. Capital punishment is prescribed for idolatry, and various idolatrous practices are banned. The sacrifices we offer toElohimmust be blemish less. We must follow the rulings of theJudges if judgement is without bias.Refusal to accept theJudge'sauthority is a capital offense.
"שופטיםושוטריםתתןלךבכלשעריך"“Judges and officers you shall appointfor youin all your cities.” (16:18) (The “for you” seems to be thrown in; not necessary for meaning; why is it there?)In a person’s face there are seven openings: two ears, two eyes, two nostrils and a mouth.The Torah is indicating that besides judges for all cities,you should also appoint judges“lecha”— “for yourself”— i.e. you should judge carefully and police whatever you see with your eyes, hear with your ears, smell with your nostrils, and speak with your mouth.
“lecha”— “for you”
Tzedekvs.Tzedakah: Justice vs. Charity
Though closely related linguistically, these two concepts each hold up a different ideal of righteousness in theTorah.Theendorsement ofthe helpingof those closest to you intzedakah(charitable giving) isquite different from the mandate fortzedekthat appears in ourportion,where God clearly forbids favoritism in judging legal disputes:“[Judges must] …decide justly between any man and a fellow Israelite or a stranger. You shall not be partial in judgment: hear out low and high alike.” (Deuteronomy 1:16-17)Why, in givingtzedakah, are our personal feelings of responsibility for those closest to us allowed to dominate, while in judging–tzedek–we are commanded to ignore those feelings that arise from the very real concentric circles of obligation around us?The difference may lie in differing natures of obligation.
Moses instructs the people of Israel toappointjudgesand law enforcement officers in every city. “Justice,justiceshall you pursue,” he commands them, and you must administer it without corruption or favoritism. Crimes must be meticulouslyinvestigatedand evidence thoroughly examined—a minimum of two crediblewitnessesis required for conviction and punishment.
Do not take a bribe!
"לאתקחשחדכיהשחדיעורעיניחכמים"“You shall not take abribe, for thebribewill blind the eyes of the wise.” (16:19)Why is the Hebrew word for bribery“shochad”(שחד)?Theetymology of the word“shochad”(שחד) is“echad”(חד) — “one.”Rashiexplains that when a judge accepts a bribe from a litigant he becomes “one” with him and therefore can no longer judge objectively the argument of the other litigant.
Do not take a bribe!
Whena judge rules a case honestly he becomes a partner withYehovahinpreserving justice in His creation, heavenand earth. Since the judge who accepts bribery cannot offer ajust decision,Yehovahnow remains alone, without a partner.
Why does this immediately follow action of judges?
"לאתטעלךאשרה"“You shall not plant for yourself an idolatrous tree.” (16:21)Why is an unsuitable judge compared to an idolatrous tree?Itis not difficult to recognize an idol when it is a carved or chiseled image, but an idolatrous tree looks the same as all other trees.An improper judge is compared to an idolatrous tree because the outer appearance of every judge is alike: A beard androbe,and Rabbinic garb, but the corrupt ones are rotten inside.
An honest judge is one who has a mind of his own. He does not permit people to influence him, nor does he waiver one iota from Torah teaching. An improper judge is one who permits himself to be easily influenced by those around him. He is compared to a tree since he bends and sways to all sides in the wind of public opinion, trying to satisfy the group with the most potential for advancing his interests.
"עלפישניםעדיםאושלשהעדיםיומתהמתלאיומתעלפיעדאחד"“By the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses shall the condemned person die; he shall not die by the testimony of a single witness.” (17:6)
WhenIsraelwould go to battle against their enemies, the specialKohenanointed for battle would address them saying, “ShemaYisrael— Hear, O Israel you are coming near to battle, let your heart not be faint...” He would begin his remarks with the words“ShemaYisrael”to tellIsraelthat even if they only had theknowledgeof themitzvahof recitingShema, they were worthy of Hashem’shelp.In the verse,“ShemaYisraelHashemElokeinuHashemechad”— “Hear, O Israel, G‑d, our G‑d is the One and Only” — as it is written in the Torah (5:4), the“ayin”(ע) in the first word“shema”(שמע) andthe“daled”(ד) in the last word“echad”(אחד) arewritten in large letters. These two letters spell the word“eid”(עד) — “witness” —informing us that by reciting theShemaweoffering testimony to Hashem’s Oneness.
Ourpasukis alluding to theKohen’sproclamation that whenan Israelitegoes to battle, which of course involves mortal danger,“loyumat”— “he shall not die” —“al pieidechad”— if his mouth has proclaimed theShema, which testifies to Hashem’s Oneness.Reciting the Shema =Witness (eid) ofYehovah’soneness (echad)!
= Witness
Difficult Judgments
"כייפלאממךדברלמשפטביןדםלדםביןדיןלדיןוביןנגעלנגעדבריריבתבשעריךוקמתועליתאלהמקוםאשריבחרה'אלקיךבו"“If a matter of judgment is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your cities, you shall rise up andascend to the place that G‑d, your G‑d, shall choose.” (17:8)
Even in countries where democracy supposedly rules, there is rampant anti-Semitism. Regardless of the Jewish contributions to the country’s welfare and society at large, when Jewish blood is spilled, it is not treated with the same seriousness as the blood of other nationalities. Unfortunately, throughout the years of our exile, much stiffer decrees and verdicts have been placed upon the Jews than upon any other people, and the “plagues” of persecution which the Jews have suffered have been especially harsh.
The Torah is telling us,“kiyipalei”—should you be perplexed and wonder why there is a difference—“beindamledam”— “between blood and blood” —our blood and their blood— “beindinledin”— “between verdict and verdict” —the verdicts placed on us and those placed on others—“ubeinnegalanega”— “between plague and plague”—the “plagues” the Jews endure more than any other nation— the answer is,“divreirivotbisharecha”— “there are disputes in your cities” — lack of unity and baseless hatred prevailing in the Jewish community is the cause.
"לאתסורמןהדבראשריגידולךימיןושמאל"“You shall not deviate from the word that they [the judges of the Jewish courts] will tell you, right or left.” (17:11)Inthealef-beitthe lettersshinandsinlook identical except that ashinand has a dot on the top right and asinhas a dot on the top left.Scripture states“Chachmatadamta’irpanavve’ozpanavyeshune”— “A man’s wisdom lights up his face, and the boldness of his face is transformed” (Ecclesiastes 8:1). Read not“yeshune”— “transformed” (with ashin) — butyesanei— “hated” (with asin). Thus, theportionis teaching ustheWISEperson —“yesanei”— may be hated.
In light of the above it can be explained thatDavarimis teaching us that the words of the sages should be cherished and greatly respected even if they are telling you that “right is left and left is right” — i.e.if theyexchange ashinforasinor asinfor ashin.
Second Aliyah: Moses instructs the Israelites to coronate a king after they enter Israel. A Jewish kingmay not amass an excessive amount of horses, wives, or personal wealth. The kingwrites for himselfa copy ofTorah scrolls.The copyremains with him at all times -- a constant reminder to remain humble and followElohim'sLaw."Now it shall comeabout when he sitson the throneof his kingdom,he shall writefor himself a copyofthislawon a scrollin the presenceof theLeviticalpriests.Itshall be with him and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes,…” (Deut. 17:18,19)
"כיתבאאלהארץ...ואמרתאשימהעלימלךככלהגויםאשרסביבתי"“When you come to the land...and you will say, ‘I will set a king over myself, like all the nations that are around me.’” (17:14)Since the Torahprophecies Israel will one dayhave a king, why was the prophetSamuelangry whenIsraelasked him to appoint one?
TheTorah is not opposed to the institution of monarchy in Israel, providing a Jewish king rules in accordance with the Torah and inspires the people to be totally dedicated toYehovah.However, Shmuel was upset with the people’s saying “Appoint for us a king to judge us like all the nations” (I Samuel 8:5).He realized that they wanted to be ruled by secularlaw andnot Torah law.Their desire to give up the uniqueness of theIsraeland emulate the nations of the world provokedSamuel’sanger.
To comfort himElohimsaid, “It is not only you whom they have rejected, but it is Me whom they have rejected from reigning overthem.מקרבאחיךתשיםעליךמלך"“From among your brothers shall you set a king upon yourselves.” (17:15)"ולאישיבאתהעםמצרימה...וה'אמרלכםלאתוסיפוןלשובבדרךהזהעוד"“So that he will not return the people to Egypt... forElohimhad said to you ‘You shall no longer return on this road again.’ ” (17:16)
"ולאירבהלונשים"“And he [the king] shall not have too many wives.” (17:17)"והיהכשבתועלכסאממלכתו"“It shall be that as he sits on the throne of his kingdom.” (17:18)"ובלתירוםלבבומאחיוולבלתיסורמןהמצוהימיןושמאל"“So that his heart does not become haughty over his brethren and not turn from the commandment right or left.” (17:20)
Torah Portion Summary
The commandment for the king to write a copy of the Torah demonstrates the work of Messiah. He Himself is the Word made flesh. He is the copy of the Torah in human form. Furthermore, He writes a copy of the Torah as He writes the Torah upon our hearts. The Torah of King Messiah is written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone, but on tablets of human hearts (2 Corinthians 3:3).
Third Aliyah: TheKohanimwere chosen byElohimto be His holy servants. They do not receive an inheritance (portion) in the Land of Israel, because“Yehovahis their inheritance." Instead, theKohanimare the beneficiaries of various priestly gifts; selections of meat from certain sacrifices, as well as tithes from crops and animalsheerings."תמיםתהיהעםה'אלקיך"“You(Israel and Levites) shallbewhole-heartedwithYehovah,yourElohim.”(18:13)
There are many people who act very piously when they are in public, but when no one sees them, their behavior is wanting. The Torah is teaching that even when one is“ImHashem”— “alonewithYehovah”— i.e. when no one sees him — he should be pious to the highest degree.The concept ofbeing“tamim”(whole hearted) isfound twice in the Torah:1) In ourportionin regard to the relationship between man andYehovah.2) Concerning the red heifer, which the Torah says should be“parahadumahtemimah”— “a completely red heifer” (Bamidbar19:2).
תמיםתהיהעםה 'אלקיך
Fourth Aliyah: Although the Priestly families were divided into many shifts, each serving in the Temple in their designated turn, aKohenalways retains the right to come to the Temple and personally offer his personal sacrifices. This sectionalsocontains prohibitions against divination, fortunetelling and similar occult practices.Instead of probing into the future we are commanded to put our faith and trust inElohim.
Fifth Aliyah: We also have no need for theseabove mentionedabominable practices because we are blessed with prophets who transmitElohim'smessages to His people.We are commanded to obey these prophets.This section prescribes the punishments for non-compliance with prophets' words, as well as for an individual who falsely claims to speak inElohim'sname. Thisaliyahthen reiterates the command to establishthree citiesofrefuge forthe inadvertent murderer. Mosescommands,whenElohimexpands the borders of thePromise Land,to addanother three citiesof refuge.What will be the 7thcity of refuge?
"ואםירחיבה'אתגבולך...ויספתלךעודשלשעריםעלהשלשהאלה"“When G‑d will broaden your boundary...Then you shall add three more cities to these three.” (19:8-9)
These are the words that Moses spoke to all Israel across the Jordan—in thewilderness (Deut. 1:1)Now Moses spoke toBnei-Yisrael, according to allAdonaihad commanded him forthem (Deut. 1:3)“For the land you are going in to possess is not like the land of Egypt from which you came. There you planted your seed and watered it by foot, like a vegetable garden.11But the land you are crossing over to possess is a land of hills and valleys, drinking from the rain of the heavens it drinks in water.12It is a land thatAdonaiyour God cares for—the eyes ofAdonaiyour God are always on it, from the beginning of the year up to the end of the year. (Deut. 11:10-12)But Moses told the sons of Gad and sons of Reuben: “Are your brothers coming towar?” …..We won’t return to our homes until each son of Israel has inherited hisinheritance. Butwe won’t inherit with them over the Jordan andbeyond, Forour inheritance will have come to us on the eastern bank of the Jordan. (Num. 32)
In every generation, says Moses, there will be those entrusted with the task ofinterpreting and applyingthe laws of the Torah. “According to the law that they will teach you, and the judgment they will instruct you, you shall do; you shall not turn away from the thing that they say to you, to theright nor to the left.”
Sixth Aliyah: A minimum of two witnesses are required to secure a conviction in a capital or corporal punishment case. Individuals who testify falsely are liable to receive the punishment which they sought to have imposed upon their innocent victim. The procedure for battle is outlined in this section. When approaching the battlefield, aKohenaddresses the troops, admonishing them not to fear the enemy, and listing the various individuals who are exempt from military duty, such as one who has recently betrothed a woman or built a new home, or a fainthearted and fearful person.
"והיהכקרבכםאלהמלחמהונגשהכהןודבראלהעם"“It shall be that when you draw near to the war, theKohenshall approach and speak to the people.” (20:2)"ודברוהשטריםאלהעםלאמרמיהאישאשרבנהביתחדשולאחנכו.ומיהאישאשרנטעכרםולאחללו.ומיהאישאשרארשאשהולאלקחהילךוישובלביתו"“Then the officers shall speak to the people saying, ‘Who is the man who has built a new house and has not inaugurated it? And who is the man who has planted a vineyard and not redeemed it? And who is the man who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go and return to his house.’” (20:5-7)
Seventh Aliyah: Before waging battle against an enemy in battle, we are commanded to make a peaceful overture. Only if the enemy does not accept the offer does battle ensue. In the battles against the Canaanite nations, if the enemy does not agree to the peace offer, the Israelites are commanded to completely annihilate them. We are forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees while laying siege on a city. The reading closes with the procedure to be followed in the event of an unsolved murder.
Shoftimalso includes theprohibitions againstidolatryandsorcery; laws governing the appointment and behavior of aking; and guidelines for the creation of “cities of refuge” for theinadvertent murderer. Also set forth are many of the rules ofwar: the exemption from battle for one who has just built ahome,planted a vineyard,married, or is “afraidand soft-hearted”; the requirement to offerterms of peacebefore attacking a city; and the prohibition against wantondestructionof something of value, exemplified by the law that forbids to cut down afruit treewhen laying siege (in this context the Torah makes the famous statement,“When you lay siege to a city for a long time, making war against it to capture it, you are not to destroy its trees by swinging an axe at them. For from them you may eat, so you shall not chop them down. For is the tree of the field human, that it should enter the siege before you?“ (Deut. 20:19).
"כיהאדםעץהשדהלבאמפניךבמצור"“Is the tree of the field a man that it should enter the siege before you?” (20:19)If one interprets the words“ha’adameitzhasadeh”literally — “man is the tree of the field” — actually comparing people to trees, and learns that just as one is careful with the fruit one eats, one should be careful from whom one learns Torah.Unlike all other plants, which die after a season or two, the tree stays alive continuously for many years. The uniqueness of the tree is due to its roots, the stronger and deeper the roots, the healthier thetree. Theroots ofIsraelareitsfaith inYehovahandits attachmentto authentic Torahteachings and Messiah!
"רקעץאשרתדעכילאעץמאכלהואאתותשחיתוכרת"“Only a tree that you know is not a food tree, this one youmaydestroy and cut down.” (20:20)Thereare two types of doubts.Oneis a doubt which in no way can be verified, andthe otheris a doubt which is only due to lack of information and expertise. In the case of a doubt which cannot be verified,it is hard to legislate“in a stringent way.” However, regarding a doubt which can be verified — although presently information is lacking — then even according to Biblical law one must be stringent.
TheParshahconcludes with the law of theeglaharufah—the special procedure to be followed when aperson is killed by an unknown murdererand his body is found in a field—which underscores theresponsibilityof the community and its leaders not only for what they do, but also for what they might have prevented from being done."כיימצאחללבאדמה...ויצאוזקניךושפטיך...ידינולאשפכהאתהדםהזה"“If a corpse will be found on the land...your elders and judges shall go out...Our hands have not spilled this blood.” (21:1-7)
"ואתהתבערהדםהנקימקרבך"“And you shall remove the innocent blood from your midst.” (21:9) Needed to wash hands over heifer with broken next.Accordingto aMidrash,a few days after the calf would be killed and buried, a large worm would emerge from it and attach itself to the killer’s garment. It would be impossible for the killer to detach it. According to another opinion, a trail of worms would go from the site of the buried calf to the home of the murderer. This would attract attention and ultimately the murderer would have no other choice buttoconfess his crime.





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