Newsletter #29, 2015 – Parshah Shoftim שפטים (Devarim 16:18-21:9)

The parshah begins with the instructions to set up judges and enforcement officials in the cities the Lord our God has given the Israelites to possess. They shall be judicious and shall do their job as the Lord commanded. For the perseverance of goodness among the cities, a man who as acted wrongly with wickedness that the Lord abhors shall be put to death with the mouth of two witnesses or more, one witness is insufficient. If the witnesses bear false evidence against an innocent man, they shall be the ones to face punishment of demise. When facing a quandary on a judgment of a particular event, they shall go to the Levitic kohanim and present them with the inquiry and the words of judgment shall be given. They shall do in accordance to what was instructed by the kohen. A man who will not obey the kohen intentionally shall be put to death.
The land our Lord has given us to possess shall have a king, just like the other nations around them. This king shall not set himself apart among his brothers in matters of ascendancy. He shall not obtain many horses, shall not have many wives, nor obtain much silver and gold for himself. His shall not turn away from the Lord, he shall write two copies of the Torah on a scroll before the Levitic kohamim which he is to read for the rest of his life in order to learn to fear the Lord and to perform all the statutes and ordinances in the Torah. This will make him more resistant for not to be vain among his brothers and that he will not turn away from the commandments.
The Levites’ inheritance is the Lord, therefore they shall have no inheritance among their brothers. “For the Lord, your God, has chosen him out of all your tribes [the Levites], to stand and serve in the name of the Lord, he and his sons, all the days.” (Deuteronomy 18:5)
An abomination to the Lord is to find amongst the given land to the people of Israel a soothsayer, a sorcerer, a charmer, etc. The Lord, our God will drive them out of the lands, for it is an atrocity.Balance
After the day of the assembly in Horeb, the Lord will bring about a prophet to put His words into his mouth, and he will speak what the Lord has commanded. If the prophet intentionally does not speak what the Lord has commanded him to speak, the prophet shall die. You might ask, what if the prophet unintentionally speaks what not commanded of him to speak? The Lord, our God had said this could never happen; it does not come about if the prophet does not speak wantonly.
The land that the Lord has given them to possess shall be divided into three cities. One part of the city shall be for those to flee there when have committed human bloodshed unintentionally. An example was given: “As when a man goes with his fellow into the forest to chop wood, and his hand swings the ax to cut down the tree, and the iron flies off the handle, and it reaches his fellow, and he dies he shall flee to one of these cities, and live.” (Deuteronomy 19:5) For, innocent bloodshed will not be tolerated on the land the Lord has given to possess but if a man with no ire feelings towards the victim before the strike and was done not deliberately, he shall flee to this part of the land. However, if a man deliberately strikes a man and flees to this part of the land, he shall die for no innocent bloodshed shall be made on the land given to us by the Lord.
When going to war against the enemies, the Israelites shall not be afraid, for the Lord our God is with them and brought them out of the land of Egypt. When arriving close to the battle, the kohen shall come before the people and say, “Hear, O Israel, today you are approaching the battle against your enemies. Let your hearts not be faint; you shall not be afraid, and you shall not be alarmed, and you shall not be terrified because of them. For the Lord, your God, is the One Who goes with you, to fight for you against your enemies, to save you.” (Deuteronomy 20:3-20:4) If a man has not finished building a new house, has not redeemed his planted vineyard, nor betrothed to a woman, he shall go back to his home; if this man has lost his life in war, another man shall take it. When waging war, first propose peace with the opponent. If taken, then all is good but if it is rejected, they shall besiege them. All of their belongings shall become theirs, the Israelites, but no soul shall be retained, for the very reason that they shall bring abominations unto the land such as their gods and idols.
If a demised person is to be found lying in the land our Lord has given us to possess the elders of the city shall take a calf that has never done work or has never “drawn a yoke”, and take it to a fallow valley, and they shall decapitate the calf. The kohanim and the sons of Levi shall be there too and they shall judge the situation through God Himself. The elders of the city are instructed to dip their hands in the calf’s blood and say, “Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see [this crime].” (Deuteronomy 21:7) In this procedure, the innocent bloodshed shall not be a burden on the people of Israel, for the people of Israel shall do and keep the ordinances that He has commanded them to follow.
The whole Torah portion was a very captivating study, but the part that stood out for me out of the rest is the ordinances the king of Israel shall keep according to the Lord. When given too much power and commodities, it is abused. So much of this has been demonstrated through history such as through King Solomon when he had too many wives and was influenced to worship their gods. Power comes responsibilities and responsibilities can be arduous to obtain. A king cannot recklessly do as he pleases with power for folly and destruction to his society will occur as a result. It is not a coincidence that the Lord has commanded the Israeli king to obtain his ordinances and to study it for the rest of his days. The Lord our God is gracious unto us. He has given us this commandment in order for the Israelites to flourish and become a robust nation. We shall exult in the Lord for as long as we live, for He give us goodness and health and will never abandon His word, as he has promised to our forefathers.
Shabbat Shalom! ~~~~~~~ Shana


Read the June/July 2015 newsletter from the European Union for Progressive Judaism. Click here to read and download.


Lee Torah from Around the World #286: Parashat Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9) By: Rabbi Jeffrey Kamins, Emanuel Synagogue, Woollahra, Australia

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