Parashat Shoftim

Thursday, August 20, 2015 · Posted in , , , , , , ,

Devarim 16:18-21:9
Haftarah Yeshayahu 51:12-52:12


  • Judicial System
  • Prohibition of an Asherah
  • Prohibition of a Blemished Sacrifice
  • Idolatry
  • The Rebellious Elder
  • The Laws of Monarchy
  • Priestly Gifts
  • System of Priestly and Levitical Service
  • Prophecy
  • Cities of Refuge
  • Barring an Intentional Murderer from a City of Refuge
  • Prohibition against Tampering with One's Neighbor's Property
  • Laws of Witnesses
  • Laws of Warfare
  • Laws of Siege
  • Respect for Nature During a Siege
  • Laws of Eglah Arufah (The Calf Whose Neck is Broken)

Mishlei 3:17 Her ways are ways of pleasantness, and all her paths are peace.

Shlomo informs us in the verse just quoted that the foundation of the Torah and its ongoing concern is peace. We find this demonstrated already at the very beginning of the creation and this is why the Sages in Chulin 60 have taught that all phenomena were created as completed, matured phenomena at the very onset. They base this on Bereishit 2:1 "complete with all their accessories."

It is well known that the heavens were created first and that unless peace reigned in the universe this could not have succeeded seeing heaven is made of two opposite elements, "fire and water." They could not coexist unless G-d had seen to it that peace reigned in the universe. This is why we read in Iyov 25:2 "He makes peace in His lofty heights." One of G-d's Names is שלום (Shalom), Peace, as we know from Shoftim 6:24 "he [Gide'on] called the altar "G-d Who is peace." We have a verse in Shir HaShirum 1:1 in which the Talmud interprets the words "Song of Sons by Shlomo" to mean that the poem is dedicated to Hashem Who personifies "peace," שלמה. (Shevuot 35). G-d chose the Jewish nation from among more than 70 nations all of which are His, and called us שולמית, (compare Shir HaShirim 7:1) where the author calls on the Jewish people to return to G-d, addressing it as שולמית, the nation representing peace. It is the nation that harbors within it the concept of universal peace. G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people seeing that the Torah personifies the ideal of peace. This is the gist of our opening verse above, that "all its paths are peace."

All the commandments in the Torah are aimed at ensuring peace for the body as well as for the soul. We know that the commandments are designed to provide peace for the body fromm Shemot 15:26, "if you will heed Hashem your G-d diligently, doing what He says and what is upright in His sight, giving ear to His commandments and keeping all His laws, then I will not bring upon you any of the diseases that I brought upon the Egyptians, for I Hashem am your healer." Proof that Torah also provides peace for the soul is derived from Tehillim 19:8, "Hashem's Torah is perfect, restores the soul." Performance of the commandments of the Torah enables the soul at the end of its sojourn in a body to return to its roots in a state of purity. The Attribute of peace constantly yearns for the return of these souls to its domain. This concept enables us to understand the meaning of Ketuvot 104, that when the wicked die the angels of destruction "welcome" them by saying, "there is no peace for the wicked, says Hashem" (Yeshayahu 48:22) other words, there is no room for you in My domain.

The attribute of peace is the greatest of all the attributes in that it is used as a "seal" on all requests and documents. It is the final benediction in our principal prayers, a thought inspired by the sacrificial offerings which the prayers try to emulate, the daily communal prayers known as תמידים. When you observe the list of sacrificial offerings whose rituals are prescribed at the beginning of the Book of VaYikra you will find the שלמים (shelamim - peace offerings) mentioned last (Vayikra 7:18). Our Sages in Torat Kohanim comment: "Why were these offerings called "peace-offerings?" They answer that the reason is that these offerings re-establish peace in the universe. We find that Shlomo "signed" (concluded) his Shir HaShirim  with "peace," seeing he wrote in 8:10: "I was in his eyes like someone who had found peace." In Kohelet Shlomo also refers to peace in the "times" he describes in chapter 3, concluding with "a time for peace." Our Sages (Vayikra Rabbah 9:6) commented on this that peace is a requirement even in time of war as we know from Devarim 20:10: that "when you approach a town (during war with a view to conquering it) you must first offer it "peace." There is no need to emphasise that our terrestrial world is sorely in need of peace if even the celestial regions are in need of it as we know from Iyov 25:2: "Dominion and Dread are His; He imposes peace in His heights." Our Sages interpret the word המשל (hameshel) as a reference to the archangel Micha'el, whereas the word פחד (fachad) refers to the archangel Gavri'el. G-d Himself must make peace between these two angels. This is something which is easy to understand seeing that if there is a need to establish (and maintain) peace in regions and domains which are not subject to competition and natural mutual animosity, this holds true even more so in regions and domains where such competitive forces are at work all the time.

When G-d is described as "making peace in the heavens," this includes not only peace between forces at work in the celestial regions but the celestial regions themselves, seeing they are composed of raw materials which clash, such as fire and water. Seeing that Micha'el is the presiding angel in the celestial spheres he is referred to in Iyov as "the Dominion," he is the one who asks Mercy for Yisra'el. There is no need to mention that the living are in need of peace seeing that even the dead are in need of it (Sifri Shoftim 199). We know this already from when G-d said to Avraham (Bereishit 15:15) "as for you, you will come to your fathers in peace." The attribute of peace was granted especially to Aharon (Sanhedrin 6:2) and by means of this attribute his descendants merited to be priests for all generations and to bless the people wishing them that g-d grant them peace (BaMidbar 6:26). Aharon himself exploited this attribute to keep people alive and to restore peace and harmony between feuding parties.

You have learned that it is the attribute peace which ensures the continued existence of the world. Not only peace but also justice is an important factor in ensuring the continued existence of the universe. Where it not for the meting out of justice people would steal from each other, rob each other, and kill each other. As a result the world would perish. This is what the Sages meant in Avot 1:12 that "the world endures owing to three things: judgment (justice), truth, and peace. We learn this from Zecharya 8:16 "truth, justice and peace you shall judge within your gates." The word שעריכם (sha'areichem)  refers to the judges, seeing it is they who ensure that a "formal" kind of peace reigns in civilized society, the lowest level of peace which the existence of mankind depends on. This is why the Torah commanded us to appoint courts in every "gate," i.e. in every city.

Devarim 16:20 Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue.

According to the plain meaning of the text the Torah warns (by repeating) that one must strive to be righteous both in word and in deed. These are the two ways in which one may potentially inflict harm upon both oneself and upon others. Everyone who speaks righteously reflects the fact that his deeds are most likely righteous also; this is why it behooves every Jew to be both righteous in his speech and in his deeds.this sentiment is reflected in Tzefanya 3:13 when he said of the remnant of the people of Yisrael that "they shall do not wrong or speak falsehood; a deceitful tongue shall not be in their mouths."

Alternatively, our verse addresses the people who are subject to litigation and exhorts them to strive for righteousness regardless of whether this will be financially beneficial or harmful to them. This is why the Torah repeats the exhortation.

A kabbalistic approach, based on Nachmanides: the reason for repeating the word צדק (tzedek) is that the Torah reminds you that righteousness emanates from the emanation צדק. It promises the judge that if he strives to dispense the kind of justice which reflects righteousness, he in turn will be the recipient of input from that emanation. It is something like Shemot 15:16 where Moshe prayed (in the song) "may fear and trepidation fall upon them" (the Gentile nations). The letter ה (heh) at the end of the word אימתה (eimatah) which is not really necessary, is an allusion to the final letter ה in the tetragram, the source of this fear in the part of the tetragram which represent the attribute of Justice. Being imbued with such fear of the attribute צדק is not a threat but a promise in this instance. It is as if judges who practice righteousness will be rewarded with יראת שמים (yirat shamayim - awe of heaven) as a result. You will find this approach echoed in the Sefer HaBahir items 74 - 75 where the author, in commenting on the sequence of צדק צדק תרדף למען תחיה וירשת, explains that the repetition of the word צדק reflects what is written in Tehillim 18:13 מנגה נגדו (minoga negdo), i.e. that the first time the word appears it refers to true righteousness, whereas the second time it is like an echo of the original righteousness practiced. He who strives to perform righteousness will find that it echoes all around him.  The reason we call a proselyte who has sought to place himself under the protective wings of G-d's presence a ger tzedek is that he has acquired the trepidation for this Attribute of Justice which we normally refer to as "awe of heaven." By submitting to that Attribute one has embraced Judaism in the full meaning of the word.

- Bachya

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