Torah Portion: Shoftim (Judges) D’varim(Deut.) 16:18-21:9
Haftorah Reading: Isaiah 51:12-52:12
Tonight we read a Torah portion filled with many different commandments and situations. I want us to take a few minutes and see what we might discern from several of these verses. I also want us to remember these scriptures form the foundation to what we read in the New Testament and should give us a deeper, more complete understanding of what we read there. My goal as a teacher is to always better equip each of us to grow deeper in our faith as G-d’s grafted in ones.
With this in mind, let us start at the beginning of this week’s portion. We read the verses about setting up judges and officers in all the gates. (As an aside, the word for officers is more closely translated as police or guards.) So what does this have to teach us?
Think of our bodies as a village where our spirit and soul resides. As a human being our bodies collect information through what we see, what we hear, what we smell and what we take in with our mouth. Given that picture, we should be able to apply these verses to ourselves. It is vitally important that we set judges and guards to check what goes into our minds, bodies and spirits. What enters into our bodies has a great deal to do with who we are as people, how we see the world and what occupies our time. As G-d’s people we are to not allow just anything in but to only allow what will bring us closer to being who G-d desires us to be. Each of us must set standards and guidelines as to what we “feed” on each day. Without this we will find ourselves letting in everything.
In Deut. 16:18-20 we see how we are to treat people. This carries over from the previous week. In the opening verses of the portion we read where we are to be fair, not showing partiality, not taking a bribe but being just (straight) in all of our dealings with our fellowman. From the highest to the lowest, everyone should be looked at and judged as equal in G-d’s eyes and in ours.
In Deut. 19:14 we read where we are not to remove our neighbor’s boundary or landmark. I believe this is something that should speak to each of us today. G-d has a plan for each one of us. We should not try to infringe on another’s role. We should be concentrating on our path in life and be completely content in what G-d has for us without envy or jealousy of another. When we go from lane to lane on a highway without concern as to what lane we should be in, it can cause harm to us or someone else. This is true also in our spiritual life. Be content in where G-d has placed you.
In Deut. 18:1-2 we read the only inheritance of the priest and Levites was G-d. They had no other inheritance among their brothers. When the land was divided they were not assigned a place. However, in these verses we read a principle for each of us to live by each day, that G-d is our inheritance. This verse sets out clearly what is of eternal importance for each of us. Our true purpose is to live life totally dedicated to G-d. In the final analysis nothing else matters. This does not mean we live in poverty or as hermits. It does call us to live a life dedicated to Him. He is all we have of eternal worth and that should be enough.
In verses 17:16-20 we read where the kings of Israel were to be different from the kings of the nations. First they were not to have many horses. This could lead to dreams of conquest and possible defeat, leading to enslavement again as they were in Egypt.
Second, they were not to have many wives. In scripture we read what happened to King Solomon when he violated this rule. He and the people of Israel were led astray by the influence of foreign gods brought into the Land by his wives from foreign lands.
Third, they were not to have much silver or gold. Great wealth can corrupt.
Lastly, they were to write their own copy of the Torah and carry it with them and read it everyday so they would know how to live and lead the people.
At the end of this portion we read about the man found dead in a lonely place (Deut. 21:1-9) It was an elaborate process to handle this situation. Rather than dealing with each point, I want to look at the reason for the entire process. I think it was to remind the people of Israel how important human life and dignity is. The elders of the nearest city certainly had not directly killed this man. However, maybe they and their city had not provided for him, food or shelter. So he found himself alone and either died on his own or was killed by someone. It teaches us that each life is important. Each person has value in G-d’s eyes. We as G-d’s children have a mandate to do whatever we can to meet the needs of the poor and outcast among us. They have value in G-d’s eyes and must also in ours.
So from all these verses we see, as G-d’s people, we are to be involved with this world. These themes are repeated over and over in the New Testament. May we all do our part and change this world, repair this world.