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Insights into Parshat Shoftim

Updated on September 11, 2010

Integrity, courage, and discipline


This week’s Parsha is Shoftim in Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9.


The word Shoftim is often translated as Judges, but more accurately it is like a Tribal Chieftain. The Judge oftentimes makes a ruling and is completely separated from those people that they make the ruling about. Here the Shofet or Shoftim (pl.) related to the Chieftain, they have to deal with the people on a daily basis. If a Judge had to really consider the needs of those people he rules on then maybe there would not but a lot of unfair judgments rendered in family courts dealing with Alimony, Property or Child Support, and I mean in all directions. A chieftain cannot allow himself to become corrupt because it would get taken out of his leadership rule very quickly since he does more than just give a ruling.   Verses 16:18-20 speak of righteous judgment. The word for righteous judgment is Tzedek which means charitable.  This means not bribes! This means no perversion of justice! No respecter of money, person or their presence which means can also mean their title. Righteous judgment, the fear of a True Judge in Heaven above should help guide the Shofet (judge) to render a proper Judgment.

Judgment is not for one person to decide. This is why there are witnesses to attest to the sins, or crimes. Verse 17:6 says, “By the testimony of two witnesses or three witnesses shall the condemned person be put to death; he shall not be put to death by the testimony of a single witness.” One person with hatred would be able to condemn to death an innocent man. How was this resolved? There are two or more witnesses. The next logical question would be “What difference does that make since to can collude to lie about testimony” The ancient Israelites resolved this problem by interrogating the witnesses first individually and then by doing this by bringing them in together. The interrogations were designed to make sure that the witness was not lying. The law stated that if a person tried to get a person killed by this matter than they would be subject to the penalty that they tried to impose on another. It creates an atmosphere where people would not want to bare false witness. In addition, verse 7 says, “The hand of the witnesses hall be upon him first to put him to death, and the hand of the entire people afterward, and you shall destroy evil from your midst.” This is a great statement. It helped keep people from bringing false testimony. Most people that want bad things to fall on someone else often times do not have the ability to bring it on about themselves.

Verse 17:15, is wisdom for any nation as it states, “You shall surely set over yourself a king whom HaShem, your G-d, shall choose; from among your brethren shall you set a king over yourself; you cannot place over yourself a foreign man, who is not your brother.” The scripture goes on to say that the reason for this is because that person will not operate in the interests of the nation. Care must be used to make sure that the ruler is truly in line with those being ruled or tyranny will result. In addition, the King needs to write the Torah scroll and have it next to him. Any ruler in the world needs to also understand the laws of the land, and more important be subservient himself to those same laws or tyranny will rear its ugly head.

Verse 20:1 is great because HaShem (G-d) tells us to not fear in the face of battle. Why is that? This is because HaShem is with His people. Verse 20:2 about how a Cohen (Priest) must address the warriors before the battle to assure them that HaShem is on their side. Verse 20:3-4 says, “He shall say to them, “Hear, O Israel, you are coming near to the battle against your enemies; let your heart not be faint; do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not be broken before them.  4: For HaShem, your G-d, is the One Who goes with you, to fight for you with your enemies, to save you.” This verse is what give the authority and/or tradition for the various military forces of the world to have Chaplains. This is the first instance of Chaplaincy for armed forces.

This Parsha (Section) teaches about what responsibilities people have to each other whether it is the Judges, the King, the Witnesses, or the Chaplains. Integrity, courage, and discipline are needed traits in this world.    


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