FROM THE TORAH
In this week’s Sedra Shofetim, the law, interpreted and applied by its judges and executives, provides the foundation for righteous conduct in the future life of Israel in its Land. To that end Israel’s religion shall remain pure and protected from foreign influences. Future kings shall be of the people, eschewing the trappings of wealth, and subordinate to the law. Kohanim and all of their fellow Levites shall be entitled to specified sacred offerings of the people but do not share in the people’s ancestral sacred allotment of land. The Prophets who succeed Moses will speak in the Name of the Eternal and should be distinguished from false prophets who do not. Priests and judges shall constitute a supreme court of last resort. Testimony of transgression requires at least two witnesses to be valid, and false testimony shall be punished sternly. The institution of blood vengeance will be controlled by the designation of cities to protect the innocent. Where innocent blood is spilled by an unidentified assailant, collective expiation is performed by officials of the town closest to the place where the slain was found. In time of war, engagement will be initiated according to strictly Divine criteria and with the allowance of personal exemptions.
Justice and Purity
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 govern the people by righteous judgment. 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! Justice!”—righteousness above all!—“shall you pursue—in order that you may live and inherit the Land which the Eternal your God is giving to you” (Deuteronomy 16:20).
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 Kohanim 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 Kohanim. 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 and 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 Kohanim, 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 Kohanim 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 (Moses) 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 (cf. Numbers 35:9 ff.). 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, purge the sin of 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 Kohanim 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!
War and Peace
ORIENTATION FOR WAR
When you go out to war against your enemies, who may be arrayed against you in great number 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 Kohen 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 has 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 Kohanim, 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 the sin of innocent blood from Your midst, doing thereby what is right in the sight of the Eternal.
FROM THE PROPHETS
Fourth Haftarah of Consolation
Awake! Prepare! Sing out!
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,
saying to Zion:
Your God reigns!
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 (cf. Deuteronomy 16:3; Exodus 12:11),
for the Eternal goes before you to lead you
and He walks behind you to guard you.
FROM TALMUD AND MIDRASH
Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:1
“Judges and Officers shall you provide
in all of the tribal settlements
that the Eternal your God is giving to you,
and they shall judge the people by righteous judgment.”
“Justice, justice shall you pursue,
in order that you may live and possess the Land…”
Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: Do not treat judgment lightly, for it is one of the three supports of the world, as our Sages taught, “The world stands upon three things: Upon judgment, upon truth, and upon peace” (cf. Mishnah Avot 1:18). So if you pervert judgment, you throw the world off balance, as judgment is one of its pillars (one of the legs of the three-legged stool, as it were). Bartinoro (Mishnah Commentary): Human civilization depends upon judgment, truth, and peace. Meiri (Talmud Commentary): Without these, the earth would be filled with violence, and its inhabitants would destroy one another.
Yerushalmi Ta’anit 4:2 and Yerushalmi Megillah 3:6: These three—judgment, truth and peace—are really one; if judgment is achieved, then truth is achieved and peace is achieved. Thus they are associated in a single verse: “Establish in your gates the rule of truth, judgment, and peace!” (Zechariah 8:16) What is the purport of “in your gates?” Sifre 145: “Justice, justice shall you pursue, in order that you may live and possess the Land” (Deuteronomy 16:20)—teaching us that the pursuit of judgment in the form of a worthy court, which requires the pursuit of worthy judges, will allow Israel to be settled in their gates upon their Land and to live, never to fall by the enemy’s sword!
The Rabbis teach: So powerful is judgment that it is one of the feet of God’s throne! Whence? “Righteousness and judgment are the foundation of Your throne; lovingkindness and truth stand before You” (Psalms 89:15). It follows that since the punishment that flows from justice can be hard, it requires great care; hence, “Judges and Officers shall you provide…and they shall judge the people by righteous judgment!”
Sifre Deuteronomy 144
“Judges and Officers shall you provide…
they shall judge the people by righteous judgment…
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 commanded not to distort judgment in these ways, why was it necessary to say, in addition, “They shall judge the people by righteous judgment?” The reason is that those words contain a talmudic implication regarding the appointment of judges! (See also above, Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:1.)
Then the verse continues:
“…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…”
(Deuteronomy 16: 19b)
Obviously a judge should not accept a bribe in order to acquit the guilty or to convict the innocent. So what these words add 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!
Here is a different set of interpretations:
“…for bribes blind the eyes of the wise…”
The sage (wise) 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—“Justice! Justice!”—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—“Justice! Justice!”—may be understood as a plea for acquittal above all (if not the first trial, then the second).
“…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
“They shall judge the people
with the judgment [mishpat] of righteousness [tzedek].”
“Do not distort judgment [mishpat]…”
“Pursue righteousness [tzedek] above all…”
“Doing righteousness [tzedakah] and justice [mishpat]
is more preferred by the Eternal
How would this be true?
(1) Sacrifices were offered only at the Temple, while righteousness and judgment should be practiced both at the Temple and everywhere else.
(2) Sacrifices atone only for one who sins unintentionally, while righteousness and judgment atone for both one who sins unintentionally and one who sins intentionally. Maharzu (Ze’ev Wolf Einhorn, 19th cent.): If one steals intentionally but then returns the stolen object at the direction of the Judges [mishpat=”justice”] and seeks forgiveness from the person from whom he stole and then gives charity [tzedakah=”righteousness”], he is fully repentant.
(3) David’s righteousness and judgment were more beloved to the Holy One, blessed be He, than the Temple that he might have built. 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 might say, “It would be good to build a Temple!” wishing thereby that David would presently die so that his son Solomon could succeed him and build the Temple! But how would David respond? Interpret the verse as if David himself were saying, “I rejoiced when they said to me: Let us go to the House of the Eternal” (Psalms 122:1) even though he was, by those words, anticipating his own death. So the Holy One, blessed be He, said to David: 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 then I shall raise up your offspring after you…and shall 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 performed are more beloved to Me than the Temple (that you might have built). Whence? “David reigned over all Israel, and David performed justice and righteousness for all of his people” (ibid. 8:15).
But 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 (both the innocent and the guilty) 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:
“Do not distort judgment [mishpat]…”
“Pursue righteousness [tzedek] above all…”
Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:9
“When you come to the Land
that the Eternal your God is giving to you,
and you take possession of it and settle in it,
and you say,
‘Let me have a king over me
like all the nations surrounding me…’”
His intention in these words
can be recognized in the following:
“He shatters mighty men without restraint
and installs others in their place…
to prevent deceivers from ruling,
from ensnaring the people.”
Notwithstanding the teaching of Rabbi Chanina, Chief of the Kohanim, “Pray for the welfare of the kingdom, the fear of which prevents one man from swallowing another” (Mishnah Avot 3:2), Rabbi Yochanan said: The generation that is faced with a wicked ruler is better off floating in the air than depending upon him! Such was affirmed by the Prophet: “Shall a bird fall into a snare upon the ground unless a trap had been set for it” (Amos 3:5)?
Indeed the Rabbis reflected: When kings ruled over Israel and began to oppress them, the Holy One, blessed be He, said, “Did you not forsake Me by seeking kings for yourselves, by saying, ‘Let me have a King over me!?’”
In this spirit:
“Trust not in princes,
in the son of man,
who does not command salvation.
His spirit will depart,
he will return to the ground
from which he came.
On that day
all of his plans
shall be for nought.”
“Cursed be the man who trusts in Man,
depending upon flesh for his strength…
Blessed in the man who trusts in the Eternal,
for whom is [v’haya] the Eternal his trust [mivtacho]…”
“Those who make idols,
all who trust in them,
may they become [yihyu] like them!”
Rabbi Simon taught in the name of Rabbi Joshua ben Levi: Whoever trusts in the Holy One, blessed be He, succeeds to being like Him, as the verse may be read, “Blessed is the man who trusts in the Eternal; from so trusting in Him [mivtacho] he becomes [v’haya] (as it were) the Eternal” (Jeremiah 17:7)! Similarly, whoever trusts in an idol shall be condemned to become like it, as was said, “All who make them, all who trust in them, shall become [yihyu] like them” (Psalms 115:8)!
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 under the sovereignty of their kings, they all began protesting: We do not want a king! We 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 be One’” (Zechariah 14:9)!
Sifre Deuteronomy 160
Talmud Sanhedrin 21b-22a
The King’s Torah
“And it shall be when he occupies [v’haya ch’shivto] the throne of his kingdom,
there shall be written for him [v’chatav lo]
a copy of this Torah [mishney ha-Torah, trans. Targum Onkelos]
from before the Levitical Kohanim [milif’ney ha-Kohanim ha-Leviyim].
It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life,
in order that he may learn to fear the Eternal his God,
to preserve [lishmor] all of the words of this Torah and to practice these laws,
to discourage him from feeling superior to his brethren
and deviating from the Mitzvah—
in order that he may long endure in his sovereignty, he and his sons,
in the midst of Israel.”
MISHNAH SANHEDRIN 2:4 — When he goes out to war, he brings it with him. When he returns, he returns with it. When he deliberates in judgment, it is with him. When he reclines to eat, it is before him. For thus was said, “It shall be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life” (ibid. 19).
More than a command, a measure of worthiness:
“And it shall be when he occupies [v’haya ch’shivto] the throne…” can be read as, “And he shall be worthy of his occupying [v’haya ch’shivto] the throne of his kingdom if he writes for himself [v’chatav lo] a copy of this Torah….” Moreover, he must write it anew “for himself” and not merely inherit a scroll of his fathers!
Who authorized the correct copying of this Torah?
The words, “…from before the Levitical Kohanim [milif’ney ha-Kohanim ha-Leviyim],” mean that it should be copied from a scroll that is in custody of [milif’ney] the Levitical Kohanim!
But what exactly should be written?
“A copy of this Torah [mishney ha-Torah]” can be read as, “Repetition of the Torah [Mishney ha-Torah],” the name used to designate the Fifth Book of the Torah, Deuteronomy. So I might have thought that the new king is commanded to write only a summary of the Torah, which some consider the Book of Deuteronomy to be. Whence do I derive all of the rest of the words of Torah to be included in the new king’s command? From the redundancy, “to observe [lishmor] all of the words of this Torah and to practice these laws,” I learn Oral Torah, teaching that the entire Torah is to be written, not only the Book of Deuteronomy [Mishney ha-Torah]!
If so, then what is the import here of the term Mishney ha-Torah if it does not refer to Deuteronomy? It alludes to the possibility that the form of writing the Torah’s letters might have been changed since mishney can also mean “change” as in “change of the Torah [mishney ha-Torah]!” Others hold that the Book of Deuteronomy is meant here, “Repetition of the Torah [Mishney ha-Torah],” in reference to Hakhel, the King’s septennial reading before all of Israel (cf. Deuteronomy 31:10-13), for which he read passages within Deuteronomy (cf. Mishnah Sotah 7:8).
As to the possibility of change in the form of writing the Torah’s letters, Rabbi Shimon ben Eliezer said in the name of Rabbi Eliezer ben Parta, who taught in the name of Rabbi Elazar of Modi’in: The form of writing the Torah’s letters has never changed at all. This we learn from “the hooks [vavey] of the pillars” (Exodus 27:10) of the Tabernacle in the time of Moses: Just as the hooks were called vavim in the time of Moses because their shape resembled that of the letter vav, today the vav is still shaped like a hook, showing that this letter of the Torah’s writing has not changed! Similarly we find from Mordechai’s missive of defense to the Jews, “according to their writing and according to their language” (Esther 8:9), that just as we know (from the Bible) that their language had not changed, so may we infer from the pairing of “writing” and “language” that their writing also had not changed!
Then, if not “change of the Torah [mishney ha-Torah],”
how else might we read mishney ha-Torah?
The words mean “doubling of the Torah [mishney ha-Torah]; that is, the new king is commanded to write two scrolls of Torah, one that travels with him and one that remains in his archives. The one that travels with him he makes into an amulet attached to his arm, in conformance with the verse, “I set the Eternal before me always” (Psalms 16:8)!
Then what about one who believes that the form of writing the Torah’s letters has changed as suggested by the words mishney ha-Torah and therefore does not need to infer from those words a doubling of Torah scrolls—how does he apply the verse, “I set the Eternal before me always” (Psalms 16:8)? He needs the verse in accordance with Rav Chana bar Biznah, who said that Rav Shimon Chasida taught: When one prays, he should view himself as if the Shechinah was standing before him, as was said, “I set the Eternal before me always” (Psalms 16:8)!
Numbers Rabbah 23:13
Tanchuma Mas’ey 11
Infrastructure as Mercy
“Designate cities of refuge
to which the manslayer may flee.”
“Prepare the way…for the manslayer…
the cities shall be located in three separate regions of the Land…
so that one who kills another can flee to the closest one and remain alive,
lest the blood avenger overtake him
because the road is long,
and strike him dead
although he is not guilty of murder
since there was no evidence of enmity.”
This commandment manifests what David wrote:
“Good and straight is the Eternal;
therefore He instructs sinners in the way.”
“Recall Your mercy, Eternal One,
and Your lovingkindness,
as they are from of old.”
He was saying: Master of the universe, but for Your lovingkindness Adam the First would not have survived, as You said, “For on the day that you eat of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge, you shall surely die” (Genesis 2:17), yet You did not do as you warned! In fact You expelled him from the Garden of Eden to live for 930 years before he died. He should have died immediately because he brought death upon future generations, but You had mercy upon him and banished him in the same way that the manslayer is exiled from his place to a city of refuge. That is what David meant when he said, “Recall Your mercy, Eternal One, and Your lovingkindness, as they are from of old” (Psalms 25:6).
Now when Moses arose and the Holy One, blessed be He, said to him, “Designate cities of refuge to which the manslayer may flee” (Numbers 35:11), Moses responded: Master of the universe, consider the manslayer at one end of the country or the other, how will he know the way to the nearest city of refuge? He said to him, “Prepare [tacheen] the way [derech]” (Deuteronomy 19:3), that is, “Straighten [techaveyn] the road [derech],” lest the manslayer make a wrong turn and the (avenging) blood redeemer find him and kill him “although he is not deserving of death” (ibid. 6). But how? asks Moses. Build way stations for them leading to the cities of refuge, by which the manslayer will know that he is on the route, and at every station post a sign, “Manslayer to the Cities of Refuge,” as was said, “Equip [tacheen] the road [derech]!” And that is why David said, “Good and straight is the Eternal, instructing sinners in the way” (Psalms 25:8): If for “sinners,” actual murderers, He would make “straight” roads with “good” facilities, then how much the moreso for the righteous, i.e., the manslayer, who is not a sinner!
Deuteronomy Rabbah 5:15
“When you approach a town to wage war against it,
first offer it peace.”
See how great is the power of peace!
Flesh and blood: If he has an enemy, what does he do? He finds someone stronger than he to inflict harm upon his adversary. But the Holy One, blessed be He, is different: He is vexed sorely by idolators, so what does He do? He waits for them to fall asleep, wherein their souls rise up to Him, as was said, “In His hand is the soul of every living being” (Job 12:10), and in the morning He returns the soul of each and every one, as was said, “He gives back the soul to the people upon earth” (Isaiah 42:5)!
“Have you ever summoned the morning?
Do you know the dwelling-place of dawn?
Have you grasped the corners of the earth at each new day
and shaken off the wicked like dust?
The earth inverted like clay inside a seal while the wicked remain as a mask,
their light unrenewed, their hurtful arm broken!”
“You have restored my soul in me with compassion!”
(Siddur, Upon Waking in the Morning)
Flesh and blood: If another does him harm, remembrance of that hurt never departs from his heart. But the Holy One, blessed be He, is different. After the Egyptians oppressed Israel with mortar and brick, His command prescribes forbearance: “You shall not abhor an Egyptian, for you were a stranger in his land” (Deuteronomy 23:8)! Instead of returning the hurt, you should seek peace, as was said, “Turn away from harm and do good; seek peace and pursue it” (Psalms 34:15)!
The following incident involving Rabbi Meir illustrates the meaning of “Seek peace and pursue it” (ibid.): A certain woman went home after attending his lecture on Shabbat evening and found that her Sabbath lamp had gone out. Her husband inquired of her: Where have you been until now? She answered him: I was attending the lecture of Rabbi Meir. Her impious husband berated her, ending with the charge: You may not enter my house until you have gone and spat in the face of Rabbi Meir! She left his house, but in the meantime Elijah, remembered for good, appeared to Rabbi Meir: Because of you that woman had to leave her house, and he detailed the incident for him. What did Rabbi Meir do? He went to the Great Beth Midrash, and when the woman came there to pray, he pretended to be blinking and he asked aloud: Who knows how to cure a sick eye? For such have I come, she said, and she spat in his face. He said to her: Say to your husband, I have spat in the face of Rabbi Meir, and be reconciled with him. ̶ See how great is the power of peace!
Said Rabbi Akiva: Know how great is the power of peace, for when a man suspects his wife of infidelity, the Holy One, blessed be He, provides that His Name, written in holiness, shall be blotted out by water in order to restore peace between the suspected woman and her husband (cf. Numbers 5:16-23 and Numbers Rabbah 9:36).
Said Resh Lakish: So great is peace that Scripture says untrue words in order to preserve peace between Joseph and his brothers. When their father died, Joseph’s brothers feared that “Joseph would resent us and repay us for all of the evil that we inflicted upon him” (Genesis 50:15). So they sent word to Joseph, “Your father ordered, before his death, that you should say to Joseph on my behalf, ‘I pray you forgive the sin of your brothers against you’” (ibid. 17), yet we do not find that Jacob our father said thus. But the verses speak untrue words for the sake of peace!
Beloved is peace!
So much so that the Holy One, blessed be He, prescribed it for Zion: “Pray for the peace of Jerusalem; may those who love you enjoy peace” (Psalms 122:6)!
So much so that the Holy One, blessed be He, granted it for the heavens: “He makes peace in His heights” (Job 25:2).
So much so that the Holy One, blessed be He, offered it to the near and to the far: “Peace, peace, to the far and to the near” (Isaiah 57:19)!
So much so that the Holy One, blessed be He, does not provide it to the wicked: “There is no peace, says the Eternal, for the wicked” (Isaiah 48:22)!
So much so that the Holy One, blessed be He, granted it to Pinchas as his reward: “Therefore I grant him My covenant of peace” (Numbers 25:12)!
Rabbi Levi taught: Peace is so beloved that all blessings end with it:
The Reading of the Shema concludes, “Who spreads over us and over all His people Israel and over Jerusalem His tabernacle of peace” (Siddur, Evening Service for Shabbat and Yom Tov).
The Benediction of the Kohanim concludes, “And may He grant you peace” (Siddur, Morning and Afternoon Services)!
The Amidah (Shemoneh Esrey) concludes with the Benediction of Peace (Siddur, Morning, Afternoon and Evening Services).
So beloved is peace that the Holy One, blessed be He, comforts Jerusalem expressly with it: “Rejoice in Jerusalem…all who love her…behold I extend to her, like a river, peace (Isaiah 66:10,12)!
David wished to learn what the Holy One, blessed be He, was saying about Israel, as was said, “Let me hear what God the Eternal speaks: He speaks peace concerning His people and His faithful…His help is near to them…lovingkindness and truth meet, righteousness and peace kiss (Psalms 85:9-11)!
So great is peace that the Holy One, blessed be He, announced the redemption of Jerusalem with these tidings:
“How lovely upon the hills
are the feet of the bearer of good tidings,
heralding the Good,
Said Rabbi Shimon ben Chalafta: See how beloved is peace, for when the Holy One, blessed be He, wished to bless Israel with a single blessing that would contain the power of all blessings, He chose peace:
“May the Eternal grant strength to His people;
May the Eternal bless His people with peace.”
Pesikta Rabbati 35
Not Only Peace
“I will drive your invader
to a barren and desolate land.”
“You shall renew ruined cities,
wastelands of former generations.”
“How lovely upon the mountains [al heharim]
are the feet of the bearer of good tidings,
When the time is right for the Holy One, blessed be He, to redeem Israel, three days before the arrival of the Messiah, the Prophet Elijah will appear. On the first day he will at first be weeping and mourning upon the mountains of Israel: O mountains of Israel, how long shall you remain barren, standing in ruin and desolation (cf. Joel 2:20, Isaiah 61:4)?
But then he will announce that Peace has come to the world, as was said, “Behold, over the mourning of the mountains [al heharim], feet of a messenger, declaring Peace…” (Nahum 2:1)! And his voice will be heard from one end of the earth to the other, “…and worthlessness shall no longer come against you…” (ibid.), interpreted by the wicked as, “No longer will there be war with the wicked.” The wicked will then rejoice, thinking: Peace has come to us!
But on the second day, again standing upon the mountains of Israel, the prophet Elijah will appear to announce that Good has come to the world, as was said, “Heralding Good” (Isaiah 52:7)!
Finally, on the third day Elijah will appear and declare that Salvation has come to the world, as was said, “Foretelling Salvation” (Isaiah 52:7)! Then, seeing how the wicked took the announcement of Peace as applying to themselves, Elijah will complete the verse:
“…saying to Zion:
Your God reigns!”
To Zion and to her children
shall Salvation arrive,
but not to the wicked!
Then shall the Holy One, blessed be He, manifest His Presence and His Sovereignty to all inhabitants of the world by redeeming Israel and appearing at their head, as was said, “I shall gather the remnant of Israel…they shall break through the gate, their king before them and the Eternal at their head” (Micah 2:12-13)!