Torah Portion:  Shoftim (Judges) D’varim (Deut) 16-21

Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 51:12-53:12

This Torah portion holds a special place in my memory. I know I have told you before but bear with me while I share with you what causes me to remember this portion each year.

In September 1996, during the week leading up to this Torah portion, I was sitting at my desk in a school where I worked in downtown Jerusalem. The school occupied the second and third floor of a building. A little past noon I was on my way down the stairs to go to the dorm to check on some needed repairs when the secretary called me back upstairs to answer a phone call. Just as I sat down to take the call there was an enormous explosion that shook the building, blowing out windows. I sat stunned for a second. Then realizing what had occurred I ran down the stairs to a scene from a horror movie. Three terrorists had blown themselves up. I believe 10 people died in the explosion, mainly children who had come downtown to buy school supplies.  Each year as I read this portion about the man found dead in the field I remember that day.


In our portion in D’Varim 21:1-9 we read of the stranger found dead and the process the elders of the city closest to the dead person must perform. They must swear that they had no part in it and their hands were clean. They then had to offer an atonement sacrifice. Why? I believe it was because if they had inadvertently not offered the man shelter and food on his journey atonement would be necessary. If they had helped him he might not have ended up in the middle of a field dead.

I believe this should speak to each of us. We have a responsibility toward our fellowman. Matthew 25:35-45 speaks to this. We cannot say, well he is not like us or he speaks some other language or is of a different religion or color. Yeshua did not separate out anyone and neither can we. Our country is divided more now than it has been for years. We are all creations of G-d and our faith does not allow prejudice thoughts or actions. We as G-d’s children have to speak out for those who cannot speak or their blood will be on our heads.

How can we do this? In D’Varim 18:13 it says you shall be blameless before the L-rd your G-d. The word translated as blameless actually mean pure or simple. Looking at the simple definition, this would say to us that our faith is not to be complicated but simple, easy to grasp and understand.  Here in our Torah portion in the very beginning verses we read about setting up judges and officers at the gates of all the cities in Israel.  These people had the task of not allowing anything in the city that did not agree with G-d’s word as found in the Torah. They were not to be swayed by a bribe, or position of the person coming before them. I suggest we each are called on to set up judges at our personal gates. These judges have the responsibility of keeping any ungodliness out of our life. We do not watch, listen or speak anything that goes against G-d’s word. It is our responsibility to set these judges up for ourselves. We can’t pass this duty over to someone else. We can’t plead ignorance when confronted by the Father. He has given us everything we need.

This month of Elul is a specific time that we can use to take stock of where we are in our spiritual life. Repentance may be called for concerning those times when we missed G-d’s will or His leading. Each day has eternal consequences in our life and the life of those around us. Setting up these judges around our city will change our lives. It will change us. Repentance will change us. True repentance means looking inside ourselves, seeing where we got off track, asking G-d’s forgiveness and committing ourselves to not do whatever it was again. Rather, as we read in D’Varim 16:20, justice, justice we must pursue. This word in Hebrew is “tzdek” which really means righteousness. That is to be what consumes us, not the things of the world. G-d’s righteousness is not complicated we are well able to comprehend it. However, we do have to make an effort. In this verse about setting up judges, the word in Hebrew for “your gates” is D’Varim 16:18 is singular, making the thrust of this verse to each of us individually. We are called upon, each of us, to pursue righteousness.  May each of us do righteousness every day and not lose our way.

I would like to end with the instructions placed on a king of Israel found in D’Varim 17:16-20. We don’t have a king over our country but these guidelines can apply to our elected officials and even to our own lives. These rules were set in place to insure that the king would be righteous and treat his subjects with grace and mercy.

$11.     Not to have many horses. Horses were linked to the time in Egypt when the people were slaves. A king must never do anything that would enslave his people.

$12.     Not to have many wives. Foreign wives would bring their own gods with them and lead the king away from G-d and then lead the people of Israel to stray from the one true G-d. Jezebel is a great example.

$13.     Too much silver and gold leads a king to being swayed by money and people of power – exactly the opposite of what our Torah portion talks about.

$14.     Write his own copy of the Torah and carry it with him always. This is stressing the importance of knowing and reading G-d’s word. This is vital for us today. These principles are important for any leader. Without guidance they and their country can fall away.