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The Torah's Weekly Portions
Deuteronomy/Dvarim - Shoftim 101
Posted August, 2000
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Parashat Shoftim begins at Perek Tet-Zayin, pasuk yud-chet (Chapter 16, verse 18) and continues through and includes Perek Chav-Aleph, pasuk tet (Chapter 21, verse 9).  The word shoftim means "judges."  The Hebrew here is quite interesting.  The first two words are "Shoftim v'sofrim" literally judges and executive officers.

18. Judges and officers shall you appoint in all your cities -- which Hashem, your God, gives you -- for your tribes; and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment:

19. You shall not pervert judgment, you shall not respect someone's presence, and you shall not accept a bribe, for the bribe will blind the eyes of the wise and make just words crooked:

20. Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the Land that Hashem, your God, gives you:

The first two psukim are clear.  Pasuk chav (verse 20) provides the insights to understanding the entire picture.  Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch says the following with regard to this pasuk:

As the highest unique goal, to be striven for purely for itself, to which all other considerations have to subordinated, the concept tzedek, "Right, Justice," forming all private and public matters in accordance with God's Torah is to be kept in the mind of the whole nation.  To pursue this goal unceasingly with all devotion is Israel's one task, with that it has done everything to secure its physical and political existence.  Inasmuch as here the political security of the land to be achieved by acknowledging and caring for Right and Justice . . . even after possession of the Land has been completed, - and the text is obviously speaking of such a time -, the significant truth is thereby laid down that the possession of the land comes into question every minute, and it has to be taken into possession afresh every minute by the Jewish State as a whole paying acknowledging tribute to "Right and Justice," and making this realized in the land.  In [the Talmudic Mesechta (Tractate) of] Sanhedrin 32,b, the repetition of tzedek tzedek [the first two works in this pasuk] in our verse is further explained that every judicial activity even if it is not to make a decision but only to arrange a compromise must be guided entirely by impartiality.  Even in . . . compromise, to arrange an amicable agreement between the contenting parties, which, according to Sanhedrin 6,a, to attempt which is a mitzva in every civil quarrel which is brought to court, the judge may not favour one party more than the other.

There are more subtle points continued in this explanation and the bear mentioning.  It is pointed out that these dictates will be in force as a part of possession of the Land, the State of Israel.  In other words, it seems as if there is a grave responsibility on the part of the rabbis and judges in Israel to make their decisions fair and just.  To do so helps maintain the healthy relationship between Klal Yisrael and the Land.  To ignore this responsibility, to judge without justice, jeopardizes and damages that relationship.  Indeed, this is a heavy responsibility to be borne by the Rabbanut in Israel and by every Beit Din and Va'ad elsewhere in the world.

Perhaps most interesting of all is that Rav Hirsch wrote his commentary in the 19th Century before there was any idea that in 1948 there would once again be a physical State of Israel.

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Translations in Torah Portions of the week are partially taken from the ArtScroll Stone Edition Chumash and from Rav Samson Raphael Hirsch Chumash

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