Blog Shoftim Elul 2 5780 בלוג שֹׁפְטִים, ב’ אלול תש”פ

Act, Speak Up against Injustice!

Parashat Shoftim שֹׁפְטִים begins with the appointing of judges, shoftim שֹׁפְטִים and officers, shotrim ְשֹׁטְרִים (also policeman or leaders) entreating us to always pursue justice… “צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף Justice, justice, you must pursue”. This sense of justice lies deep within the Jewish neshama, the soul. The judges and leaders of our community had to be appointed from our own people, from those who knew us, not any foreigner. According to our sages, we each have seven gates – two eyes, two ears, two nostrils and one mouth. We need to place judges and officers over them to protect what we see, hear, smell and say. Justice always begins at home. They had to judge with justice. This is especially applicable today when we see judges and leaders, most of whom are corrupt, being sold out to the ideologies of political, sociological and theological correctness. The word judge in the Torah is equivalent to the word “Elohim” because they were to emulate the only true righteous Judge, our Bore Olam. The judges needed to carry out “blind justice”, not to make preferences due to race, creed or financial status. Two or three witnesses were always required before convicting anyone of a crime; it could not be just one (note the word “echad – אֶחָד”) witness who could easily be bribed or prejudiced. You and I, as judges, have the capacity to interpret the Scriptures according to our own understanding, which is why it is so important to be in community, to seek balance in our judgment. We need to be extremely careful before passing judgment on someone else based upon hearsay, as we see being done constantly in the media.

The shotrim, those who enforced the law, had to ensure that the sentence was carried out. Within the legal system today there is what is known as “precedent”. This, in my humble opinion, has done a lot of damage to justice. Each case has to be judged on its own merits and circumstances, not based upon what was decided in a previous case. That makes it easy to twist the truth. We are in a battle between humanism, where man is enthroned as god, and belief in the Creator as the only God. Most believe that we no longer need a Creator, that we can do everything on our own. That makes us very self-centred to the point that we isolate ourselves and seek no input from others. Western civilization mentality teaches that the world exists for my personal benefit, today replete with a sense of entitlement. Biblical Judaism teaches that we have been created for a purpose, in order to serve the greater good of the community. Most religions have evolved toward a self-serving mentality: how I can be saved, how I can become wealthy; how I can be healed, etc.

This portion Shoftim presents other offices: king, priest and prophet, which combined with the judges and officers paint a picture of a future person, a mashiach, an anointed one, who will hold all these offices. Although the Tenach does not give us a clear definition, in Judaism there are many ideas that have emerged about the Mashiach and there have been many mashiachs in the history of Judaism. The twelfth Principle of Rabbi Maimonides (Rambam) is part of our faith; it says “I believe with perfect faith in the coming of the Messiah. No matter how long it takes, I will await his coming every day.
אֲנִי מַאֲמִין בֶּאֱמוּנָה שְׁלֵמָה, בְּבִיאַת הַמָּשִׁיחַ, וְאַף עַל פִּי שֶׁיִּתְמַהְמֵהַּ, עִם כָּל זֶה אֲחַכֶּה לּו בְּכָל יום שֶׁיָּבוא.

Some people regard mashiach as simply wishful thinking, someone who will save them in times of duress. Our prophets describe a mashiach as having clear characteristics but one thing of which we can be assured…when our people are in trouble, our Creator always comes to our rescue. BUT while we are waiting, we can’t just sit and cross our arms, praying and hoping that things will change; we need to do something to help bring in Tikkun Olam – תיקון עולם, the Reparation of the World. Our Creator is our partner, but He will not do what we can do; we need to do our part. The one who doesn’t work doesn’t eat! With freedom (cherut – חֵרוּת) comes responsibility (acharayut – אַחֲרָיוּת). The Jewish community helps others by helping them to start a business or learn a trade so that they can be independent, not dependent upon others.

We need to learn to judge ourselves and not fall into the trap of being holier than thou where we alone hold the truth. Let us not jump to conclusions or judge a situation solely by what we think we see or may have heard but verify what really happened. Then we can make righteous judgment. Don’t wait for heaven or others to solve your problems; you need to work on them. It is important that you learn to know yourself; that’s when you can know others. You cannot help or be good for others unless you have helped or been good to yourself. That is the sum total of the Ten Commandments. The two center ones, four and five are the hinge and involve us personally. That is how we can be light to the nations, Ohr l’goyim. No one who prefers to live in a dark corner likes to have the light shone upon them. We are not called to judge them; we are called to rescue them. Act, speak up against injustice, (see Proverbs 31:8-9) don’t just stand by and ignore these powerful Words of our Creator. We are now beginning the month of Elul when we prepare for the last three Moedim (Festivals), Yom haTeruah, the Day of the Sounding of the Shofar, Yom Kippur, the Day of God’s Covering, ending with Chag Sukkoth, The Feast of Booths. They remind us how we have failed our Creator even though He never fails us. It’s a time to begin to search our hearts as is written in Psalm 139: 23-24 “Search me O God and know my heart; test me and know my thoughts. And see whether there is any wicked way within me and lead me in the everlasting way.”