Torah Weekly - Parshat Shoftim
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Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael to appoint judges and officers in their cities. A bribe of even an insignificant sum is forbidden. Trees are not to be planted near Hashem's altar, as was the way of idolaters. Blemishes in animals designated for offerings and other points of disqualification are listed. The Great Sanhedrin is to make binding decisions on new situations according to Torah criteria to prevent the fragmentation of the Torah. A very learned scholar who refuses to accept the Halachic decisions of the Sanhedrin incurs the death penalty. A Jewish king may only have possessions and symbols of power commensurate with the honor of his office, but not for self-aggrandizement. He is to write for himself two sifrei Torah, one to be kept with him wherever he goes, so that he doesn't become haughty. Neither the kohanim nor the levi'im are to inherit land in the Land of Israel, rather they are to be supported by the community by a system of tithes. All divination is prohibited. Hashem promises the Jewish People that He will send them prophets to guide them, and Moshe explains how a genuine prophet may be distinguished from a false one. Cities of refuge are to be provided an accidental killer to escape the blood-avenger from the deceased's family. However, someone who kills with malice is to be handed over to the blood-avenger. Moshe cautions Bnei Yisrael not to move boundary markers to increase their property. Two witnesses who conspire to "frame" a third party are to be punished with the very same punishment that they conspired to bring upon the innocent party. A kohen is to be anointed specifically for when Israel goes to war, to instill trust in Hashem. Among those disqualified from going to war is anyone who has built a new house but not lived in it yet, or anyone who is fearful or fainthearted. An enemy must be given the chance to make peace, but if they refuse, all the males are to be killed. Fruit trees are to be preserved and not cut down during the siege. If a corpse is found between cities, the elders of the nearest city must take a heifer, slaughter it, and wash their hands over it, saying that they are not guilty of the death.
YOU BE THE JUDGE
"Judges and officers shall you appoint for yourselves..." (16:18).
The Torah could just as easily have written "Judges and officers shall you appoint." The words "for yourselves" seem superfluous. Yet, the Torah here hints that a person needs to appoint himself as judge over himself to adjudicate whether his actions are befitting. He needs to be his own "policeman" to ensure that he carries out that which he has judged fitting, and to "fine" himself if necessary if his behavior is not up to this standard.
Rabbi Moshe Feinstein
WAYS AND MEANS
"Righteousness, righteousness, you shall pursue" (16:20).
This verse teaches us the opposite of the popular adage "The end justifies the means." The Torah insists that we pursue righteousness only with righteousness and not by any means and at all costs.
Rabbi Bunim m'Pschische
This haftara is the fourth in the series of the "Seven haftaras of Consolation." In this prophetic view, Yeshaya alternates between visions of the future redemption and the dark past, warning the Jewish nation against repeating past mistakes.
Why, says G-d, must you fear your mortal oppressors who are destined to die and become dust? Where now are those great nations which sought to oppress you? If you will only keep my Torah then I will protect you and declare you to be My people.
Written and Compiled by Rabbi Yaakov Asher Sinclair
General Editor: Rabbi Moshe Newman
Production Design: Michael Treblow
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