When I was in high school back in 1961, we read the Bible. I went to a protestant school, and I remember being fascinated by the stories that I heard about Jesus, but Jewish girls do not bring Jesus home; besides he was the god of the gentiles. Years later in 1989, after spending years searching, I was brought back to the same Bible and while reading the book of Matthew, I fell in love with Jesus again, only this time I learned that he was a Jew, and his name was Yeshua. I have had many teachers in my life, most of whom started out teaching me things that sounded so good, but few of them stood the test of time. Half-truths can be more dangerous than outright lies yet even in those, there are lessons to be gleaned.
Yeshua’s words have stood the test of time; at least the ones which can stand in the light of the words of ‘his’ teacher, Moshe Rabeinu. Both these men stood for the principles that embodied justice for humanity and that’s how this parashah Shoftim begins …with the appointment of judges who were to judge fairly. It says starting in verse 19: “You shall not pervert judgment; you shall not respect persons, nor take a bribe; for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise, and perverts the words of the righteous. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof Justice, only justice you shall pursue, that you may live, and inherit the land which the LORD your God gives you’. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Justice, justice you shall pursue. That should lie at the core of our very being and influence our behavior so that we can love our neighbor as ourselves. My heart is breaking today when I see how justice is being perverted all over the world at every level of government and in our courts right down to law enforcers who accept bribes as normal practice. Our leaders are supposed to be called to a higher standard and to set the example for the rest, but they have lost the understanding of justice that we learn in our Torah….so that we may live!
Being “just” is something that we need to deal with every day of our lives in how we behave toward each other and especially in the small things. In our business dealings, justice play a huge role. Can we be bribed to skip a few steps to finish a job more quickly and more cheaply, even though we will ultimately deliver an inferior product. Recently a building in Miami collapsed, killing and injuring many people because the quality of the repair work did not meet up to standard or were simply not done.
Rabbi Percy used to sign his name Ranebi which is an acrostic for Rabbi Netanel ben Yochanan, his Hebrew name, so in his honor I will call him that. Ranebi often quoted the phrase tzedek, tzedek, tirdof as it was so important to him; he had learned that from the way his father lived. That’s one of the greatest gifts a father can teach his children, but it won’t be done through words alone, they will judge him by his actions. I remember my father telling me, “Don’t do what I do, do what I say.” That doesn’t work! I guess he knew his shortcomings, but we teach best by being a good example.
We read in this parashah that a person shall not be put to death by the mouth of one witness, only by the mouth of two or three witnesses can anyone be condemned. Yeshua spoke often of justice. In Matthew 26:59-65 we read that the chief priest, the Cohen HaGadol and the Sanhedrin listened to several lying witnesses and to the two others witnesses who quoted what he had said, but out of context. They used the words written in this parashah, but they distorted the truth. What needed to happen was what it says next… “the hands of the witnesses shall be first to put him to death.” I believe that would make anyone think twice before lying about someone’s guilt. Our courts today would do well to follow this system.
This portion gives us the recipe for the behavior of the leaders of our governments. It says if we choose to set a king over us, it should not be a stranger but from among our brothers. In the same way, we were also to appoint judges and officers from among our own people to administer righteous judgment. My understanding of this is that they were to choose people who knew the needs of their own community and knew the Torah. We were not to appoint outsiders to rule over us; that would be a mistake. The king was to have a copy of the Torah for himself and to read it all the days of his life so that he would fear God and keep all the words of this Torah and the chukkim. He was not to think that he was better that his brothers. How opposite is this from the leaders we see in the world today. Most of them enter politics and become rich on the backs of the people they were elected to serve; most of them have lost their moral compass and justice is hard to find. Of course, there are those who truly want to serve the people and we need to pray for these leaders.
It also says that the king was not to amass too many horses nor have too many wives. My thoughts turned immediately to King Solomon who with all his wisdom failed dismally in these two areas. The result was that his son. Rehoboam lost the kingdom.
I hold a very special place in my heart for Deuteronomy chapter 18 since it was the very first chapter that was shown to me when I returned home to Montreal in 1989 after being away for 10 years. I had lost everything. I was ready for something new. I read these words, “When you come into the land which the LORD your God gives you, you shall not learn to do after the abominations of those nations. “There shall not be found among you anyone who makes his son or his daughter pass through the fire, or who uses divination, or a soothsayer, or an enchanter, or a witch, or a charmer, or a medium, or a wizard, or a necromancer. For all who do these things are an abomination to the Lord; and because of these abominations the LORD your God drives them out from before you. For these nations, which you shall possess, listened to soothsayers, and to diviners; but as for you, the LORD your God has not allowed you so to do.” (10-14)
As I read it, I shook my head in disbelief…I said…’I’ve been involved in most of those things. How come no one ever told me that they were an abomination to our God? Instead, I was told that they were used for the good of humanity. I met so many Jews on my journey who were involved in Eastern mysticism, in the New Age, in Hinduism, Buddhism, all the isms. At the end of those ten years of searching, I returned home, broken in body, mind and soul. That’s why Yeshua was exhorting us to return to the Torah. Moshe had spent many 38 years writing it and Yeshua wanted us to apply it so that we could be what we were called to be, “a light to the nations”, ohr l’goyim; Yeshua spoke these words …” let your light shine among men so that they will see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” I used to think that the light was coming from me and that I had to duty to spread it to others through my eyes and hands and thus heal the world. When I read in John 1:8 that he said, “I am not the light, I came to speak about that light,” all the pressure of burden was lifted from my shoulders! Having lost everything I owned, my health, my self-worth, even my children, I devoured these words in Matthew that said, “why worry about what you eat or drink, doesn’t your Father in heaven know that you need these things or about what you will wear; consider the lilies of the field, even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed as fine as these.” Our Creator provides all things as we honor Him by obeying His Commandments; that’s how we serve Him. There’s nothing wrong with wearing nice clothes, living in a nice home, having a good car, unless they become an obsession, unless we are driven to step over others to get what we want. The Torah teaches us balance in all things. It teaches us that each of us are special, and that we fail daily but when we do, we can make it right, by acknowledging what we have done, first to ourselves, then to God and then to the person we hurt; only then can we begin again. Yeshua said, if you know that your brother has something against you, leave your offering at the altar, go and make it right with your brother and then come back and make your offering. That is justice.
Justice does not only happen in a court of law; it is a way of life. We are each called to be “judges” of each other in our community which means we have the right to confront each other with truth but we need to learn how to do that with love. We are not to consider ourselves of higher value than others but to help each other keep balance in our lives. Sometimes we can’t see things about ourselves that others can see so we need to open to hear what they have to say without taking offense. Let’s also not judge a situation by what we think we see. We need to find out what’s going on in their lives to make a person act like they do. Yeshua said, “don’t try to remove the speck out of the eye of your neighbor but first take the log out of your own eye.”
This parashah Shoftim depicts specific offices or positions; shoftim, the judges and shotrim, the law enforcement officers, the king, the priest and the prophet. These prophetically picture the attributes of the coming messiah. Deuteronomy 18:18 (double chai) says “I will raise them up a prophet from among their brothers, like you; and I will put My words in his mouth, and he shall speak to them all that I shall command him.” To many, this points to our Messiah Yeshua. The idea of mashiach, the anointed one, is alluded to by all our prophets but it wasn’t until after the Maccabees that the idea of a messianic figure who would bring the salvation to Israel emerged. We are living in very difficult days when there is very little justice to be found. We are hoping and praying for the coming of such a savior but in the meantime, we need to continue to do our part of the work to bring in tikkun olam, the healing of the world by walking in the light of the God’s Torah. As we approach Yom Teruah and Yom Kippur, these are days of deep introspection before rejoicing at Sukkot. Let’s ask God, as is written in Psalm 139, to help us to search our hearts to see if there is any wicked way within us and to lead us in His way everlasting. May we work to be “just” in all our dealings with our fellow man and may the Bore Olam, the Creator of the universe be pleased with our kavanah, our intentions and with our service to Him and to each other.
Shabbat Shalom Peggy Pardo