Torah Portion: Shoftim (Judges) D’Varim (Deuteronomy) 16-21
HafTorah: Isaiah 51:12-53:12
This week we read the Torah portion Shoftim. This portion continues Moshe’s instructions to the people about how they were to live and carry on their lives in the Land of Promise. We will look at several scriptures that will give us insight into our own lives and how we are to live and relate to our world today. I think we will see a common thread worked through these verses. We will see that we have a responsibility as believers in this world to ourselves and to those around us to live our lives with the will and word of G-d always on our lips and in our hearts.
In Deut. 17:14-20 we read of the responsibilities of a king to his subjects. When we think of a king in our own understanding what comes to mind? We might think of riches, opulence, castles, those things we might relate to royalty. What do we see here in this passage? We see first that the king is to be from the people, someone who understand where his people are coming from, a person whose goals are not to accumulate wealth, or wives, or horses to himself but one whose first duty is to write for himself a copy of the Torah. He is then to carry it with him always. From this he knows G-d’s word and also how he should live his life. From his example what do his people learn? They learn what is truly important in life. They learn the priority of life, not to accumulate things but to know their Maker. In our own life this is the greatest gift, the greatest example we can be for our family. This is what will carry us through the difficult times in life, and difficulties come to us all. As believers in Yeshua we can see this pattern in His life. He lived His life before and among His people and by His example they were drawn to a higher level, one more fulfilling than just accumulating stuff.
In Deut. 20:5-9 we see our example applied to men about to go out to battle. The officer excuses those whose minds might be divided between their own concerns and the task ahead. The problem being that their willingness to fight might break down because of their personal worries. If that happened it would affect those around them and cause others to lose their focus and not be able to do their job. The whole point is, people are watching us all the time. Our actions affect others for good or for bad. As people of G-d we are called everyday to live out our faith so that others might be drawn to Him. If we falter in this it affects more than just us and can cause others to stumble.
How can we prepare ourselves so that we do not become lax in our everyday life? Our Torah section begins with the idea to set up judges and police at all your gates. Deut. 16:18. Usually we read this as applying to the gates of a city, something that is not so familiar to us in our world. However, there is another way of looking at this verse. The word used here for gates in Hebrew is written as “your gates,” with your being a singular pronoun. So you might read what Moshe is saying as applying to each person. Then the question is what are our gates? It could be Moshe is telling the people before him and us, to guard and judge everything we allow into our life, through our gates of hearing, seeing, saying. Many times we see people get into sin, not all at once but in small steps. First they allow something in which may seem harmless but then after awhile they grow restless and open the gate a little wider until they find themselves in a place they never intended to be and it all began because of that first opened gate, something that didn’t seem so bad. It can happen to any of us. It is vitally important that we guard our gates everyday. It will not only affect us but also those around us.
Finally I want us to speak about the cities of refuge found in chapter 19 of Deut. As you know we are now in the Hebrew month of Elul which is for Jews, a time of self examination where the past is examined and anything that we did wrong or did not do to our fullest can be repented of and brought before G-d for forgiveness. It is looked at as an island in time for repentance. These cities of refuge were seen as islands in space where someone who had accidently killed someone could flee and find sanctuary and atonement.
Now back to repentance, what are the steps in true repentance? True repentance is acknowledgement of the sin, remorse, vowing to not return to the same thing that contributed to the sin and asking G-d for forgiveness. The step I want to call attention to is not returning to the same setting that brought us to sin in the first place. Without commitment to a better way of life we will fall back into the same pattern and relationships as before and our remorse will be a hollow gesture. Cities of refuge were to give the person this island in space to change his surroundings, friends, whatever needed changing. For us this is important. When we come to a place where we confront our sins it is very important to not allow ourselves to return to our old way of life. We have to set judges at our gates and change our habits of the past to make a new home where Yeshua as our High Priest, by His death and resurrection made atonement for our sins. How we live is important – and also where we live.