FROM THE TORAH
SHOFETIM: The Forty-eighth Sedra of the Torah
In this week’s Sedra Shofetim, the law, interpreted and applied by its judges and executives, provides the foundation for anticipated complexity in the future life of Israel in its Land. Rule and power shall be guided by righteousness. Israel’s religion shall remain pure and protected from foreign influences.
Judges (Shofetim) and officers shall you provide in all of the tribal settlements that the Eternal your God is giving to you, and they shall rule the people by righteous law. Do not distort application of the law by special favor. Take no bribe, because bribes blind the eyes of the wise and pervert the words of the righteous. Justice above all shall you pursue—in order that you may live and inherit the Land which the Eternal your God is giving to you.
PURITY OF WORSHIP
Plant no sacred tree by an altar of the Eternal your God that you make for yourself, and set up no stone, which the Eternal your God detests.
Do not sacrifice to the Eternal your God an ox or a sheep with any profound defect, for that is abhorrent to the Eternal your God.
PROCESS FOR IDOLATRY
If a man or a woman within any of your gates is suspected of transgressing the Eternal’s covenant by worshipping other gods, by serving the sun or the moon or any of the host of heaven, which I did not command you to do, then you must investigate the matter well. If the allegation is found to be true and a violation, that an abomination was committed in Israel, then you shall bring out that man or that woman to your gates and stone them to death. Two or three witnesses are required for a capital conviction and execution; one witness is not sufficient. The witnesses shall be the first to execute him, then the rest of the people. Thus shall you eliminate the evil from your midst!
REFERRAL OF DIFFICULT CASES
If you are faced with a capital or civil case, one involving damages, a matter of dispute, within your gates, which is too difficult for you to decide, then you must bring it up to the place which the Eternal your God shall choose. There you shall inquire of the Levitical priests and of the judge who shall be at that time, and they shall issue the judgment, which you must follow. Both the law that they explain to you and the decision that they communicate to you, you must follow strictly. One who intentionally fails to so comply shall die. Thus shall you eliminate the evil from Israel, and let all the people hear and fear and not show contempt again!
LIMITATIONS ON A KING
Upon settling in the Land, you may say: Let me have a king over me, like all the nations surrounding me! You may indeed place over you a king whom the Eternal your God shall choose, one who will come from among your brethren, not a foreigner. He may not accumulate many horses for himself, and he may not bring the people back to Egypt in order to accumulate many horses, as the Eternal has warned you not to go that way again. He may also not have many wives, causing his heart to go astray. He may not accumulate excessive amounts of silver and gold.
When your king occupies the throne of his kingdom, there shall be written for him a copy of this Torah by the Levitical priests. He shall keep it with him and read from it all the days of his life, in order that he may learn to fear the Eternal his God, to preserve all of the words of this Torah, to practice these laws, to discourage him from feeling superior to his brethren and deviating in any way from the Mitzvah—in order that he may long endure in his sovereignty, he and his sons, in the midst of Israel.
The Levitical priests, all the tribe of Levi, may not have an allotment of territory like the rest of Israel, their brethren. Instead, they shall consume the fire offerings of the Eternal as their allotment. The Eternal is their tribe’s allotment, as He promised. The entitlement of the priests from those of the people who offer a sacrifice, whether ox or sheep, shall be the shoulder, the cheeks, and the stomach. They are also entitled to the first fruits of your grain, your wine, and your oil, and the first shearing of your sheep. For the Eternal your God has chosen him and his sons, from among all of your tribes, to stand in service in the name of the Eternal, for all time.
The Levite who sojourns in one of your gates throughout Israel may come, as he wishes, to the place which the Eternal shall choose and serve in the name of the Eternal his God alongside his fellow Levites. They shall share portions equally, except for ancestral provisions.
ESCHEW THE NATIONS’ ABOMINATIONS
When you come to the Land which the Eternal your God is giving to you, do not adopt the abominations of those nations. Let none of you pass his son or his daughter through the fire, practice divination, soothsaying or augury, practice sorcery, conjure up a ghost or knowing spirit, or inquire of the dead. Whoever engages in these is abhorrent to the Eternal, and it is because of these abominations that the Eternal your God is dispossessing those nations from before you, while you must be whole with the Eternal your God and eschew their abhorrent practices!
TRUE AND FALSE PROPHETS
The Eternal your God shall raise up a prophet like me from among your brethren; to him shall you listen. This was established at Horeb, on the day of assembly, when you said: I can no more listen to the voice of the Eternal my God, or look at this great fire, for fear of death. The Eternal told me that you had spoken well and that He would establish a prophet like me for you from among your brethren: I shall put My word in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I command him! Whoever fails to heed My words which that prophet speaks in My name I shall hold accountable.
On the other hand, any prophet who presumes to speak in My name that which I did not authorize, or who speaks in the name of other gods, shall die. You may wonder: How can we recognize that which the Eternal did not speak? If the prophet predicts that which does not come true, that word was not spoken to him by the Eternal. That prophet spoke falsely, and you need not fear him.
HOMICIDE AND BLOOD VENGEANCE
When the Eternal your God cuts off the nations whose land He is giving you, and you dispossess them and settle in their cities and in their houses, separate for yourself three cities within your Land. The cities shall be located in three separate regions of the Land, as you survey it, so that one who kills another can flee to the closest one and remain alive. One who strikes his fellow unintentionally, having no record of enmity towards the victim, whereby the two of them might have been cutting wood in the forest and the hand of one slipped on the axe and its handle flew off and fatally injured the other, would flee to one of these cities. If not for one of these cities in each of the three regions of the Land, the angry blood avenger in pursuit would eventually reach the manslayer on the road and kill him even though he was not convicted of a capital crime.
If the Eternal your God should increase your territory, as He swore to your fathers, because you keep all of this Mitzvah—as I command you this day to love the Eternal your God and to walk in His ways always—then you shall add three more cities to those three, so that innocent blood is not spilled in the midst of your Land and there be no bloodguilt upon you.
If, on the other hand, the slayer, bearing enmity towards his victim, lies in wait for him and strikes him fatally, and then flees to one of these cities, let the elders of the slayer’s city send for him and deliver him from there into the hand of the blood avenger so that he dies. Let your eye show him no pity, remove innocent blood from Israel, and it will be good for you.
Do not tamper with your neighbor’s boundaries for the portions of the Land that your ancestors indicated as your inheritance from the Eternal your God.
A single witness shall not stand against a man with respect to any transgression or sin for which he may be guilty. The accusation may be sustained only on the testimony of two witnesses, or of three witnesses. If one should maliciously testify falsehood against another, the two disputants shall stand before the Eternal, in the presence of the priests and judges serving at that time, and the judges shall investigate thoroughly. If the witness is found to have testified falsely against the other, then you shall do to him what he tried to do to his fellow and thereby remove the evil from your midst. Thus shall the others hear and fear and not repeat this evil plot in your midst. Let your eye show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot!
ORIENTATION FOR WAR
When you go out to war against your enemies, arrayed in great number against you with their horses and their chariots, fear them not, for the Eternal your God, who has brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. As you draw closer to the battle, the priest shall come forward and speak to the people: Hear, O Israel, you are drawing near this day to the battle against your enemies. Let your heart not be faint, fear not, be not anxious or in dread of them. For the Eternal your God walks with you, to battle for you against your enemies, to save you!
Then the officers shall address the people: Let the man who has built a new house, but has not yet dedicated it, go and return to his house, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it. Let the man who has planted a vineyard, but has not yet harvested it, go and return to his house, lest he die in battle and another harvest it. Let the man who has betrothed a woman but has not yet married her, go and return to his house, lest he die in battle and another marry her. Then the officers shall speak further to the people: Let the man who is afraid and faint of heart, go and return to his house, so that his fellows do not become fearful like him. Then, when the officers have finished speaking, the military commanders shall assume control of the people.
RULES OF ENGAGEMENT
When you approach a town to wage war against it, first offer it peace. If it responds peacefully and allows you to enter, all of its people shall come under your control, required to serve you. But if the town rejects your overture and responds with belligerence, then you shall lay siege to it. As the Eternal your God shall deliver it into your hand, you shall strike down every male with the sword. The women and children, the cattle and all that may be in the town, all of its spoil, you may plunder. The spoil of your enemies, given to you by the Eternal your God, you may enjoy.
Thus shall you do to towns that are far from you, but not to the towns of the peoples which the Eternal your God is giving to you as an inheritance. In those towns you shall not leave one life alive, but you must zealously destroy them: the Hittite, the Amorite, the Canaanite, the Perizzite, the Hivvite, and the Jebusite, as the Eternal your God commanded, so that they do not teach you to repeat the abominations which they performed for their gods and you sin against the Eternal your God.
If you need to besiege a town for many days in your war against it, do not cut down any of its trees, as you may eat from it, and a tree of the field is not a person who can withdraw from before you in the siege! Only trees that you know do not produce food may you destroy, to cut them down and build from them siegework against the town which is at war with you, until it falls.
If there is found one slain, in the Land that the Eternal your God is giving you to possess, who is fallen in the field, and it is not known who attacked him, then your elders and your judges shall determine, by measurement, the city that is closest to the slain. Let the elders of that city take a heifer which has never been worked and never pulled a yoke, and bring it down to a flowing wadi which is not being worked or sown, and there break its neck. Then shall draw near the priests, sons of Levi, whom the Eternal your God has chosen to minister to Him and to issue blessing in His name and to adjudicate disputes and damages. All the elders of the city shall wash their hands over the heifer whose neck was broken in the wadi, and they shall declare: “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes have not seen it. Grant atonement to Your people Israel, whom You have redeemed, O Eternal One, and do not allow blood of the innocent to be in the midst of Your people Israel, and let them be atoned for the blood.” So may you discharge innocent blood from Your midst, doing thereby what is right in the sight of the Eternal.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Fourth Haftarah of Consolation
I, yes I, am your Consoler:
why should you fear mortal man?
man, who will become as grass?
You forget the Eternal, your Maker,
who spreads out the heavens
and establishes the earth,
but worry continually
over the wrath of the oppressor,
whose wrath is short-lived!
The one who is bent
under the weight of oppression
shall not go down dying
into the pit.
For I am the Eternal your God,
who stirs up the sea
that its waves roar—
the Eternal of hosts is His name—
I shall protect you
in the shadow of My hand,
You are My people!
Be awakened, arise, O Jerusalem,
from the cup of His anger
that you have drained!
There is none to guide her
from among all of her children,
victims of destruction and death,
objects of the wrath of the Eternal,
the rebuke of your God.
Therefore, hear this, O afflicted:
I shall take from your hand
the cup of reeling
and place it in the hand
of those who oppress you,
who would make of your back
the street to roll over.
Put on garments
of your strength
and of your beauty,
O Jerusalem, holy city!
For no more
will the uncircumcised and unclean
Stir yourself up from the dust,
free yourself from the bands of your neck,
O captive daughter of Zion!
For no price were you sold
to Egypt or Assyria,
so for no money
shall you be redeemed!
Those who rule
and all the day
My name is spurned.
Therefore, let My people know My name;
let them know that it is I who promised;
behold, here I am!
How lovely upon the hills
are the feet of the bearer of good tidings,
heralding the Good,
Your watchmen, also, raise their voice.
Together they sing out,
as their eyes behold
the Eternal’s return to Zion.
Break out in song together,
O ruins of Jerusalem,
for the Eternal consoles His people,
Redeemer of Jerusalem!
The Eternal bares His holy arm
in the sight of all the nations.
All the ends of the earth
shall see the salvation of our God.
Leave their midst,
touch no unclean thing,
bearers of the vessels of the Eternal!
In no anxious haste shall you go out,
for the Eternal goes before you to lead you
and He walks behind you to guard you.
FROM THE MIDRASH
Sifre Deuteronomy 144
“Judges and officers shall you provide…
they shall judge the people by righteous law…
do not distort judgment…”
“Do not distort judgment” means: Do not judge on the basis of what you already know about the litigant, and do not judge on the basis of your kinship with the litigant. But if we are already commanded not to distort judgment in these ways, why was it necessary to say, “Judge the people by righteous law?” The reason is that these words contain a talmudic implication regarding the appointment of judges!
“…do not show special favor…”
Do not consider in your judgment that a litigant is poor or that a litigant is wealthy.
“…do not take a bribe…”
It goes without saying: To acquit the guilty or to convict the innocent. What it means is: Do not take a bribe even if intended to acquit the innocent or convict the guilty!
“…for bribes blind the eyes of the wise…”
Yes, even of the wise, for it was unnecessary to say that bribes blind the eyes of the foolish!
“…and pervert the words of the righteous.”
Yes, even of the righteous, for it was unnecessary to say that bribes pervert the words of the wicked!
Another set of interpretations:
“…for bribes blind the eyes of the wise…”
The sage has not fulfilled his worldly obligation unless he promulgates righteousness in his teaching.
“…and pervert the words of the righteous.”
The righteous has not fulfilled his worldly obligation until he is in touch with his words.
“Justice, Justice, shall you pursue…”
Why is the word, “Justice,” repeated?
To teach you two obverse lessons:
If the defendant emerges from the Beit Din acquitted, he may not be retried for the possibility of finding him guilty. In that regard, the repetition may be understood as a plea against double jeopardy for the once-acquitted.
If the defendant emerges from the Beit Din convicted, he may be retried for the possibility of finding him innocent. In that regard, the repetition may be understood as a plea for acquittal above all.
“…in order that you may live
and inherit the Land…”
This teaches that the appointment of judges is worthy to give life to Israel and allow them to settle upon their Land, and to prevent them from falling by the sword!
Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:3
“Doing righteousness and justice
is more preferred by the Eternal
How would this be true?
Sacrifices were offered only at the Temple, while righteousness and judgment should be practiced both at the Temple and everywhere else.
Sacrifices atone only for one who sins unintentionally, while righteousness and judgment atone for both one who sins unintentionally and one who sins intentionally. Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn: If one stole intentionally but then returned the stolen object at the direction of the judges [mishpat=justice] and sought forgiveness from the person from whom he stole, and then he gives charity [tzedakah=righteousness], he is fully repentant.
Said Rabbi Samuel bar Nachmani: When the Holy One, blessed be He, sent Nathan to inform David, “You shall not build Me a house in which to dwell” (I Chronicles 17:4), anyone who wanted to deprecate David would say, “It would be good to build a temple!” How would David respond? “I shall rejoice when they say to me: Let us go to the house of the Eternal!” (Psalms 122:1) even though he was anticipating his death, which would be the condition of succession by his son Solomon, who would build the Temple. But the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him: By your life, not one hour shall I deduct from your life, as was said, “Only when your days are fulfilled, shall you lie down with your fathers and I shall raise up your offspring after you…and establish his kingship, and he shall build a house for My name…!” (II Samuel 7:12-13) The Holy One, blessed be He, was saying to him: The righteousness and the justice that you perform are more beloved to Me than the Temple. Whence? “David reigned over all Israel, and David performed justice and righteousness for all of his people.” (Ibid. 8:15)
How did David perform justice and righteousness for all of his people? Rabbi Judah and Rabbi Nechemia discussed this:
Rabbi Judah said: He would render judgment, acquit the innocent, and convict the guilty [mishpat=justice]. If the guilty was unable to pay back what he had stolen, then David would give it to him from his own funds [tzedakah=righteousness]. That is why it says: “David performed justice and righteousness for all of his people!”
But Rabbi Nechemia objected: If that were true, then he would be guiding Israel in fraud! Rather, he would render judgment, acquit the innocent, and convict the guilty [mishpat=justice], but also, because he was convicting the guilty, he was removing his stolen object (sin) from his hand—a charitable aspect of justice [tzedakah=righteousness]!
Said the Holy One, blessed be He, to Israel: My children, seeing that righteousness and justice are so beloved to Me, be careful with them!
Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:11
“Let me have a king over me!”
The Rabbis teach: Said the Holy One, blessed be He, “In this world you have asked for kings, but kings have come forth from Israel, and they have brought you down by the sword.”
Saul brought them down at Mount Gilboa: “The men of Israel fled from the Philistines and fell on Mount Gilboa; the Philistines pursued Saul and his sons…thus Saul and his three sons, his arms bearer, and all of his men, died together on that day.” (I Samuel 31:1-2, 6)
David brought a plague against them: “David reproached himself afterward for having numbered the people…and the Eternal brought a plague against Israel…70,000 of the people died, from Dan to Beersheba.” (II Samuel 24:10,15)
Ahab closed up the rain from falling: “Ahab did more to anger the Eternal, the God of Israel, than all the kings of Israel who came before him…and Elijah the Tishbite…said to Ahab: As the Eternal, God of Israel, before whom I stand, lives, these years will have no dew or rain, except by My word.” (I Kings 16:33b; 17:1)
Zedekiah destroyed the Temple: “Zedekiah reigned as king…but neither he nor his servants nor the people of the land obeyed the words of the Eternal…” (Jeremiah 37:1-2)
When Israel saw what had become of them ue want to return to our first King! “For the Eternal is our Ruler! The Eternal is our Commander! The Eternal is our King! He will save us!” (Isaiah 33:22) Upon which the Holy One, blessed be He, said to them, “By your life, indeed I am and I shall: ‘The Eternal shall be King over all the earth; on that day, the Eternal shall be One, and His name shall bender the sovereignty of their kings, they all began protesting: We do not want a king! W One!’” (Zechariah 14:9)