Shoftim

5755

This week's portion is Shoftim, and is found in the book of Dvarim, chapter 16, verse 18 going on to 22:9. It begins with this exhortation: "You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you." This exhortation to pursue tzedek is absolutely fundamental to the tenets of Judaism. Which leads me to the news of the day, from, of all places, Huairou, China. More than 20,000 women are gathered there, almost at the end of the earth, shunned by the leaders and hidden from the people of China, expressing their displeasure with the host government by demonstrating against opression in Tibet and elsewhere.

"Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof -- Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue," the verse from this week's portion tells us, and we ask, where is the justice of gathering in a land where there is neither human rights for any and all citizens, not civil rights for minorities, the largest of which is the women of China. Here is a nation that has opressed women since the dawn on times. When there is a famine, the female children were left by the river's bank, to be "taken" by the waters... Women are punished most severely in China for bearing children. Women find it hard to get an education, to get good paying jobs, to be protected in a male dominated (and military oriented) society. Yet, it is in China that the women meet. Just as the last time that they met it was in Egypt, a Moslem nation -- also not a good place for women to live and look for self realization.

So they meet in China and they talk about Tibet, and they talk about Bosnia, and about the rape and pillage that is wrought there by a world gone crazy... Last time, in Egypt, Israeli women were not welcome. I do not know if any went to Huairou... I know of some Israeli women who did not -- who could not. Let us put a name and draw a picture of women victims of Arab terror:

Einat Eizenman will not be able to atend, since she is in mourning for her husband, Noam, 35, -- he was buried in the police section of the Har Hertzel cemetery, Aug. 22, 1995 Beside Einat, he left behind a five year old daughter and a baby boy.

Eizenman was an outstanding officer in the Israeli police force. Moshe Shahal, Minister of Police, gave the eulogy at his funeral which was attended by thousands of fellow officers, friends and family. Speaking to Eizenman's children, Shahal said, "when you grow up and people explain toyou what happened to your father, you will not be able to understand. We too, who are mature and experienced, can't understand". At the funeral ceremony, Noam's mother fainted several times.

Ricky Cohen, 26, newly married, student and volunteer at Hadassah

Hospital was buried in Jerusalem, Aug. 21, 1995. Dinah Ben Haim, her stepmother was not able to restrain her sorrow at the funeral. She

screamed: "Ricky, Ricky, take me instead, my flower and purpose for

living has been killed with you. All day I have been searching for you,

my flower, and look where I have found you, I had so many things to tell you, you can't leave us now", Dinah rambled on.

Thousands of participants in the funeral could not control their tears. One could hear the crying a mile away from the funeral sight. Local residents said they never before heard such shouts of mourning.

Ricky's husband, Itzik, could not control his anguish upon hearing the

horrible news. He smashed the windshield of a nearby car, breaking the window and injuring his hand. He said, "no one can understand the pain and sorrow of a man who loses his most cherished love, I don't even have a child to remember Ricky.

Channa Na'eh is the name of still another female victim of this week's blast identified at the Abu Kabir Forensic Institute. The notification was made to her family on Friday, shortly before the start of the Sabbath. Her body was so mutilated that it took longer to identify.

Channa, age 44, was a resident of the Kiryat Moshe neighborhood of Jerusalem. Channa was divorced and leaves behind three children. She was laid to rest Saturday night in Har Menuchot Cemetery in Jerusalem.

The United States lost a possible delegate to the Women's conference, too. Joan Daveny was a Connecticut teacher - "who felt like the luckiest person in the world" when she won a fellowship in Israel - was one of five victims who were killed in the blast on a bus in Jerusalem's Ramat Eshkol neighborhood, Aug. 21, 1995. "Her belief in Israel... overtook everything", said Joan Davenny's sister, Amy.

She celebrated her 47th birthday last week and had visited Israel nearly every year since 1969.

Joan Davenny was buried in the Givat Shaul cemetery in Jerusalem, Aug. 23, 1995. "Are you certain that is my mom and not someone else," Maya repeatedly said, as she cried bitterly near her mother's coffin. No one can guarantee it to the girl, since the remains are beyond recognition.

"You shall appoint judges," the portion of the Torah bids us. We are all responsible. We shall all, soon, stand in judgement. The women at Huairou had better lift up their eyes and see the suffering of the daughters of Judaea -- for, surely, the Lord will not allow their blood to go unclaimed. He will judge -- and he will punish the guilty. The very blood of the innocents cries out from the earth that swallowed it. Do not forget! Tzedek tzedek tirdof!

 

 

Shoftim 5756

 

Tonight, just before we started celebrating Shabbat, we finished celebrating Rosh Khodesh, the beginning of a new month in the Jewish calendar. The month we are in now is Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, and the time when we begin the period of self scrutiny that is called in Judaism Teshuva -- a return to God and to the path of Torah.

It is most appropriate that the portion we read in the Torah this week is the one called "Shoftim," which is "Judges" or even "leaders" as the judges of old were -- Ehud Ben-Gera, Shamgar Ben-Anat, Deborah wife of Lapidot, and Barak Ben-Avinoam to name but a few.

This time of year is also special for the leadership of our country, as we observe the Republicans meeting in San-Diego, and soon we will see the Democrats assemble in Chicago. We need an understanding and appreciation of the roles and responsibilities of leadership to enhance our desire to return, to come closer to God, the leader par excellence, for it empowers us to rededicate ourselves to His service.

The parshah begins with the words, "You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right." [Deu. 16:18-19] These words command us to establish a totally straight and equitable judicial system, and is followed by the words “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” which is translated, "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue," but actually, it is more correct to translate it “pursue perfect honesty.” It is not enough to rely on the rulings of a judicial system; the whole nation must be involved in the pursuit of justice for society to function correctly. We must understand from the start the basic principle that is articulated here. It is not the judges who must pursue "tzedek" -- but the whole people!

The people Israel have been blessed throughout our history with leaders who have had vision, determination and compassion, whose concern for fellow Jews set an example for others both among our people and without -- and brought us closer to God and His Torah. We recall all too well the passage in the Martyrology, in the Yom Kippur service, about our great sages, Torah leaders, who gave their lives for the continuity of our existence. The same dedication existed in other times of trial -- in Spain, in Eastern Europe, and during the Holocaust. Judges, Dayanim, and Rabbis, were first among equals, receiving honor for their learning and their wisdom, dispensing justice and wisdom to keep the people alive and viable.

The Torah continues and describes for us the laws and purpose of the monarchy. What is the king’s role? The Torah recognizes that there must be a separation of powers between religion and politics. While Torah teaches the sovereignty of God, it also recognizes the need for "politics." Therefore we read, “Appoint over yourselves a king whom the Lord your God will choose.” “Over yourselves,” the Talmud explains, denotes “that his authority shall be upon you.” Thus, Jews have a responsibility to honor and respect their king and his position, for he keeps the nation from being “a flock without a shepherd.”

Nevertheless, the Torah warns, the king must not over-indulge himself with too many possessions or too many wives, “so that they will not turn his heart away” from his Divine mission. The king’s position makes him the supreme role model for the Jewish people, a role he and they have to safeguard. This is the whole issue, as current as this morning's news, of trustworthiness of our leaders. The word king can be substituted with "president" or "senator" or "mayor."

So the Torah tells us that the king was commanded to write for himself two sifrei Torah, one which he carried with him at all times and one which he kept in his treasury. “And he will read from [the Torah] all the days of his life in order that he will learn to fear the Lord his God, to guard all the words of this Torah ...to do them.” Would that our leader were versed enough in God's hand-book to conduct themselves with "tzedek" in their public service.

By continually reviewing the Torah, the king reminds himself daily that he does not possess supreme power, but serves at the pleasure of the Divine King of Kings. He thus sets an example for the entire nation. Today, in San-Diego and in Chicago, and yes, in Jerusalem, we wish we could have leaders who truly live and perform their duties by the Torah. However, one need not be a king or a politician to follow the Torah and serve as a role model. Jewish leadership requires individuals who live a proper Torah life-style, who pursue perfect honesty, and who can transmit our sacred values to those who do not yet possess them. Such individuals are especially needed in our times when American Jewish leadership is challenged by the tremendous inroads that assimilation and intermarriage have made within our community. Our numbers are dwindling, we are in a self imposed decimation, and the quality of our Judaism is in danger because we live in an open society where all too many of our people, from our generation, and from the coming generation, are opting right out of our heritage.

The concern that Moshe Rabeinu had, in transmitting to us this week's Torah message, that the Jewish people should have a "king" just like the nations that surrounded them, deals directly with many current issues, which echoes again and again in Jewish history. We must live in the real world, as members of society, participating in the life and affairs of that society. Some of us become politicians, all of us need to be involved in the process of governing, at the ballot -- if no where else. We have the benefit of the experiences of those who came before us and we must utilize their examples to ensure that all our actions and motives are directed by the basic principles given to us in God’s Torah.

Doing this will not make us different and separate from the rest of society -- not here and not in Israel. I firmly believe that the place of religion is in the synagogue and in the home -- not in government, political parties or public schools. However, the teachings of Torah are the basic principles upon which a free and equitable society can exist -- without which it cannot exist for long. So let us hold on steadfastly, let us return, at the month of return, and let us have leaders who can judge and lead where we want to follow!

 

Shoftim 5757

 

This week's Torah portion is found in the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy), from chapter 16:18 to chapter 22:9. It begins, "You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. לא תטה משפט -- You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, justice, shall you follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you." Now, the end of the quote, verse 20, reads in the Hebrew, " צד÷ צד÷ תרדף למען תחיה וירשת את הארץ אשר ה' אלהיך נותן לך" A proper translation for this verse should actually be, "Tzedek, and only tzedek, you shall pursue, so that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you." This exhortation to pursue tzedek is absolutely fundamental to the tenets of Judaism. Strangely enough, we don't even have a word with which to give a completely proper and correct translation of this term. Some use 'justice' -- but clearly the word for justice is 'mishpat,' since it relate to the word 'judge' -- with which the reading this week begins -- 'shoftim' in the plural, 'shofet' in the singular. We also read "Lo tate mishpat -- you shall not distort justice," in the verse immediately before "Tzedek tzedek tirdof." Now, I'm not spliting semantic hairs here, not at all! I am trying to make a point, and a most cogent one at that.

Let me direct your attention to the news of the past week. The entire world was shocked at the news, and went into mourning over the death of Princess Diana in a car wreck in Paris. Television newspersons, again and again conducted interviews with people who were in the neighborhood of the highway underpass where the wreck occurred. The glittering and sensational life of the international celebrities has a price-tag. The 'rich and famous' are fair game -- or possibly even unfair game for those who seek information about them to satisfy the need of people to share in their lives, even if only by reading the gossip and looking at out of focus pictures taken from a distance or at a chance encounter. At any rate, celebrities live a life they chose to live -- and they always have the choice of removing themselves from the 'rat-race' by accepting a life of anonymity.

Still, some people choose to live in the limelight, facing the dangers that this life exposes one to, and basking in the warmth of admiration, idolization and luxury that are the trappings of such life. Others, more notorious than famous, enjoy the fruit of their notoriety, be it a life of endless power or an aura of fear and terror that they possess. The paparazzi who contributed to the death of the princess belong to this group, as do the 'masterminds' of the international terrorist organizations. The world is their playground -- and we are inconsequential bystanders and victims of their activities -- such as the three bomb attack that took place on Thursday in Jerusalem. That attack received much less attention in the media than the car wreck in Paris. Furthermore, millions will line the funeral path of the princes -- no one knows of the victims of the bomb on Ben-Yehuda street in Jerusalem. A memorial fund has already been established to keep Diana's name alive. Who will remember the dead in the Holy City? How many remember these names? Ricky Cohen, Noam Eizenman or Joan Davenny? No? Well, I spoke about them two years ago, in the aftermath of another terror attack in the eternal city of Jerusalem, my home town. Let me refresh your memory...

Ricky Cohen, 26, a newly married student and volunteer at Hadassah Hospital was buried in Jerusalem, Aug. 21, 1995. Dinah Ben Haim, her stepmother was not able to restrain her sorrow at the funeral. She screamed: "Ricky, Ricky, take me instead, my flower and purpose for living has been killed with you. All day I have been searching for you, my flower, and look where I have found you! I had so many things to tell you, you can't leave us now." Ricky's husband, Itzik, in his anguish, smashed the windshield of a nearby car with his fist, breaking the window and injuring his hand. He said, "no one can understand the pain and sorrow of a man who loses his most cherished love. I don't even have a child to remember Ricky." Thousands of participants in the funeral could not restrain their eyes from tears. One could hear the crying a mile away from the funeral sight. Local residents said that never before had they heard such shouts of grieving and mourning.

Noam Eizenman, 35, -- he was buried in the police section of the Har Hertzel, Israel's national cemetery, Aug. 22, 1995. Beside his wife, Einat, he left behind a five year old daughter and a baby boy. Eizenman was an outstanding officer in the Israeli police force. Moshe Shahal, Minister of Police, gave the eulogy at his funeral which was attended by thousands of fellow officers, friends and family. Speaking to Eizenman's children, Shahal said, "when you grow up and people explain to you what happened to your father, you will not be able to understand. We too, who are mature and experienced, can't understand". At the funeral ceremony, Noam's mother fainted several times.

Joan Davenny was buried in Jerusalem, Aug. 23, 1995. She was a school teacher from Connecticut "who felt like the luckiest person in the world" when she won a fellowship to study in Israel. "Her belief in Israel... overtook everything", said her sister, Amy. She visited Israel nearly every year since 1969. "Are you certain that is my mom and not someone else," her daughter, Maya, repeatedly said, as she cried bitterly near her mother's coffin. No one can guarantee it to the girl, since the remains were beyond recognition.

"Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof -- pursue tzedek," tells us the verse from this week's Torah portion, and we ask, what is tzedek, and where is this thing called 'justice?' The world seems to turn a blind eye to innocent victims of a continuing campaign of terror and intimidation that began long before the Jewish state came into being, long before Israel came to control Arab towns and villages in the aftermath of a war inflicted upon it. More than turning a blind eye, the international community has cast the victim in the role of perpetrator -- and has accepted the perpetrator in the role of victim. Israel is vilified as a nation that is not doing enough for peace, its insistence on security for its citizens is taken as proof of its lack of sincerity in pursuing every possible path for accommodation with the Arab world. Can the world seriously believe that the Jews are to blame for the murder and mayhem that are rampant in the Arab world.

"You shall appoint judges," the portion of the Torah bids us. This past week was Rosh Khodesh Ellul. In a month it shall be Tishri, the first month in our calendar. We shall have arrived at the new year -- Rosh Hashanah. On that occasion, we shall all stand in judgement. We are all responsible. Today we mourn for four more victims, and we participate in the pain and sorrow of more than a hundred wounded on Ben-Yehuda street on Thursday. In e-mail messages from Jerusalem I read about two young Haredi girls standing at a door to an office, one crying. The other asked the man at the door for a glass of water for the first. "She just saw someone whose head was blown off," she explained. Two other girls (ages 15 & 14) of two different families were walking on Ben Yehuda when the blasts went off. One of them was hit by flying metal, and received a gash in her upper chest near the shoulder. The x-rays showed no signs of metal left in the wound, so she should be released from the emergency room soon. The second girl was slightly more seriously hurt; she was hit by a piece of flying metal, the removal required surgery under local anesthesia, but she should probably be home in a day or two, and will be fine. A six months old little girl was brought to a hospital with burns to 70% of her body. Twenty four hours later she was still fighting for survival. The doctors give her a better than fifty-fifty chance.

It is time that the world would learn that not all that glitters is gold, and the one who shouts the loudest is not necessarily the victim. The court of international opinion should learn the lesson of this week's Torah reading, "Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof -- Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue," for, surely, the Lord will not allow the blood of innocent victims to go unclaimed. He will judge -- and he will punish the guilty. The very blood of the innocents cries out from the earth that swallowed it. Do not forget! Tzedek tzedek tirdof!

 

 

 

Shoftim 5758

 

This week’s Torah portion begins with a most profound passage from Sefer Devarim: “Shoftim veshotrim titen-lekha bekhol sh’arekha asher Adona’y Elohekha noten lekha lishvatekha vshaftu et ha’am mishpat-tzedek. Lo tate mishpat lo takir panim vlo tikakh shokhad ki hashokhad y’aver eyney khakhamim visalef divrey tzadikim. Tzedek tzedek tirdof lma’an tikhye v’yarashta et ha’aretz asher Adona’y Elohekha noten lakh. You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Righteousness, [and only] righteousness, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you.” [Deu. 16:18-20]

This concept of keeping righteousness, tzedek, does not apply only to courts of law. It is equally as important in the conduct of government. It was so in the days of the kingdom of David, when the prophet Nathan came to speak and reproach the king over the “poor man’s lamb” – the matter of Bathsheba who was another man’s wife and was taken by the king. The same was case with Amos, who said, “Hear this word, you cows of Bashan on Mount Samaria, you women who oppress the poor and crush the needy and say to your husbands, “Bring us some drinks!”” [Amos 4:1] The same charge would fit the rulers of Israel of our own time, the ones who proclaimed even as of old, as we read in the words of Jeremiah [6:14,15] “They dress the wound of my people as though it were not serious. ‘Peace, peace,’ they say, when there is no peace. Are they ashamed of their loathsome conduct? No, they have no shame at all; they do not even know how to blush.”

This past week we noted the fifth anniversary of the “Oslo accords” which had been agreed to by the representatives of the government of Israel and the PLO. It has never been clear to me by what right representatives of the government of Israel sat down to negotiate with the PLO— an organization sworn then — and in its constitution to this day — to the destruction of the Jewish state. Shim’on Peres stated that dealing with the PLO was an alternative to having to deal with Hamas – a much more fanatical Islamic group. My mind has never quite digested this lame reasoning. In my mind it was a case of, ‘do you want to be shot now, or would you rather take a poison pill with cumulative effects that will kill you slowly and painfully?’ I think I would have grabbed the dilemma by the horns and refused either choice, thank you!

On August 24, at the Park Hotel in Oslo, Norway, Norwegian statesman, Kare Kristansen, conducted a full fledged news conference for the Norwegian media, to show a recent comprehensive video clip from the official PA Palestine Broadcasting Corporation, compiled by the Jerusalem- based “Peace for Generations” group, whose representative, Daniel Yosef, had come from Jerusalem to join Kristansen and present a video which showed that the official programs of the Palestine Authority were airing daily television programs that egged on Arab children to a life of “Jihad” holy war to liberate all of Palestine.

Kristansen, it will be remembered, was the one member of the Nobel Peace Prize committee to resign from the committee rather than to sanction the nomination of Arafat as a Nobel Peace prize laureate. Christensen declared that it was strange to celebrate this anniversary, since that day commemorated Arafat’s as-yet unfulfilled commitment to cancel the covenant and constitution of the PLO whose 33 articles calls for continued war and the eventual liquidation of the state of Israel. He went on to describe Arafat’s record: The fact that Arafat has never issued a denunciation of the murder of Jews in Arabic, the fact that Arafat has continued to give speeches that preach Jihad and the liberation of all of Palestine, along with Arafat’s human rights policies, which have included the arrest and execution of human rights workers, independent TV producers, along with a host of Palestinian dissidents.

The unkindest cut of all, in the words of Kare Kristansen, was that the “decision” of August 25, 1993 to cancel the covenant was never ratified, to this day, a factor which should have nullified any reason for the commemoration of that date.

From the first day of the Oslo process, every major and minor decision rests on Arafat’s shoulders. Like him or not as a “democrat”, Arafat has been a strong leader who makes his presence felt in the Palestine Authority. Arafat has demonstrated, time and again, that he can turn the spigot of violence and terror “on and off”, according to his will. On the economic front, not only do all decisions go through Arafat - all moneys flow through accounts in Israel and the Palestine Authority that actually require Arafat’s personal signature. That is written quite clearly in the Oslo accords.

We should note that the PLO was (and continues to be) an umbrella organization of many small groups of terrorists whose existence, as a rule, stems from the policy of rejecting peace with Israel by one or another of the governments of the Arab nations. Arafat’s Fatkh organization was born in the headquarters of Egyptian Intelligence. Other organizations in the PLO were sponsored by Syria, Iran, Iraq, and even the old U.S.S.R. Some of the member organizations of PLO, such as George Habash’s PFLP never agreed even to the “Oslo Accord,” and, of course, the most dangerous organization to oppose the accord was Hamas. From the very first day after signing the Oslo Accord, Arafat pursued a policy of understanding and cooperation with Hamas.

Arafat’s health, however, is deteriorating, as could have been noted in his rare recent public appearances. Writing in the summer 1998 issue of FOREIGN AFFAIRS, a leading Palestinian researcher writes that Arafat’s deterioration of health may bring about a Hamas take-over of the Palestine Authority. And what feeds Moslem fundamentalism more than any other factor remains the allegation of corruption. Yet at a time when the US and some circles in the west face a new battle with Moslem fundamentalism, from Kenya to Afghanistan, the last thing that the US and the EU want to see now is a Hamas-led Palestinian entity.

One of the chief US negotiators, Aron Miller, declared that the greatest disappointment in the Oslo process was that the Palestinians had simply not changed their “tone” in Arabic.

“Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof – pursue righteousness,” the Torah tells us in the verse from this week’s Torah portion, and we ask, what is tzedek, and where is this thing called ‘justice?’ A fanatic Islam is threatening the peace of the world, from Jerusalem to Washington, from Oslo to Dar-a-Salaam and Nairobi, from the chemical plants of the Sudan to the mountain caves of Afghanistan. The world must not turn a blind eye to innocent victims of a continuing campaign of terror and intimidation that began long before the Jewish state came into being, long before Israel came to control Arab towns and villages in the aftermath of a war inflicted upon it. More than that, the international community must cease casting the victim in the role of perpetrator — and the perpetrator in the role of victim. Israel is the litmus paper of the world. If the security for its citizens is at risk, you can be sure that citizens of other enlightened nations the world over will soon be in jeopardy, too. Israel wishes to come to terms and have peace with its Arab neighbors, but this will be impossible as long as there is murder and mayhem rampant in the Arab world because of fanatical Islam.

“You shall appoint judges,” the portion of the Torah bids us. It is time that the world would learn that not all that glitters is gold, and the one who shouts the loudest is not necessarily the victim. The court of international opinion should learn the lesson of this week’s Torah reading, “Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof – Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue,” for, surely, the Lord will not allow the blood of innocent victims to go unclaimed. Let the people of the world, all of God’s children, heed the worlds of Amos, His prophet, “But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!”

Amen

 

Shoftim 5759

 

This week’s Torah portion begins with a most profound passage from Sefer Devarim: "Shoftim veshotrim titen-lekha bekhol sh’arekha asher Adona’y Elohekha noten lekha lishvatekha vshaftu et ha’am mishpat-tzedek. Lo tate mishpat lo takir panim vlo tikakh shokhad ki hashokhad y’aver eyney khakhamim visalef divrey tzadikim. Tzedek tzedek tirdof lma’an tikhye v’yarashta et ha’aretz asher Adona’y Elohekha noten lakh. You shall appoint for yourself judges and officers in all your towns which the Lord your God is giving you, according to your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment. You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous. Righteousness, [and only] righteousness, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you." [Deu. 16:18-20]

Judges are important people in our civilization. I don't know if you are aware of the number of judges in the population. I read a statistic reporting that there is a judge for every two hundred and fifty Americans. We are all aware that there are not enough judges -- and not enough courts. As a result we have a great problem with "delayed justice," cases not coming up to judgement in all due dispatch. The complaint about the slow arm of justice is explained by the claimj that there are not enough judges and not enough courts. Why is that? Because of the cost involved! To properly carry out swift justice would cost a great amount of money, which the United States cannot afford.

So, what do you think was the proportion of judges to population in Torah society in anciet Israel? A scholar has figured it out and came up with the answer: a judge for every twenty two people! One for twenty-two in Judaism, one in two fifty in the United States of America, the most blessed with riches nation in the history of the world. We in the U.S. can't afford to bring the proportion down to one in 125 -- it's to expensive. The Israelites had a proportion of one in twenty two! How, in the name of all that is holy, could they do it? Where they more willing to pay taxes? I doubt it!

The answer is really so simple that it is enmarassing to state! Justice was free in Israel. The judges of Torah Judaism did not receive pay. Indeed, that is precisely what the text I read to you stated. It is just that we don't think in such terms these days. Imagine, a court that does not charge "court costs. . ." Judges that do their jurist duty without pay, having another profession by which they earn their living. The text says, "and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous..." and we smile and think to ourselves, "of course, no bribes..." However, if it is so "of course," why do you think the Torah mentions it? Because it does not really adress the issue of a bribe per se. It speaks of any form of payment that would make a judge consider the source of his income in applying consideration to the case at hand. Only a judge who has no financial interest in sitting on the bench is totally free of bias! Thus, judges in Israel were people who knew Torah and who had another profession by which to earn their living. When they acted as judges, the only recompense they received was the equal of their take home wage for the time they sat on the bench. Thus they were able to render true justice, as the text tells us, " Tzedek tzedek tirdof lma’an tikhye v’yarashta et ha’aretz asher Adona’y Elohekha noten lakh. Righteousness, [and only] righteousness, you shall pursue, that you may live and possess the land which the Lord your God is giving you." May the day soon come when Tzedek becomes the standard of our nation and of the world. We shall all be the richer for it!

 

Amen

 

 

 

Shoftim 5760

 

This week's Torah portion is found in the book of Dvarim (Deuteronomy), chapter 16, verse 18 - going on to 22:9, and is called Shoftim, which means ‘judges.’. It begins with this exhortation: "You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right. Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue, so that you may live and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you." It sounds so right, so sanctimonious, in the best sense of the word. This exhortation to pursue tzedek is absolutely fundamental to the creed of Judaism. Yet it sounds terrible. It gives Judaism a bad name, and makes it possible for its detractors to claim that Judaism is a legalistic oppressive system that demands more of its adherents than what it ‘gives’ back.

Of course, it is the wrong impression – the first teaching of Judaism, which we read ten chapters ago in our current book of the Torah, is “ve’ahavta et Adona’y elohekha – and you shall love the Lord your God...” However, love must be mitigated by judgement, and a society without rules and judgement is an anarchy. This week’s Torah lesson teaches us that there were to be four ‘authorities’ within Judaism to dispense authority and guidance to the members of the tribes. 1) ‘Shoftim v’shotrim – judges and officials (it today’s world we call there ‘officials’ police).’ 2) Melekh - a king. 3) Kohanim leviyim – the priests and Levites. 4) Navi - prophet.

The text is very clear. Moshe speaks to the people Israel, “ The Lord your God will raise to you a Prophet from your midst, from your brothers, like me; to him you shall listen;” [Deu. 18:15] The non-Jews, the heathens whom God loathed, used ‘oracles,’ ‘witches,’ ‘astrologers,’ ‘clairvoyants,’ ‘mediums,’ ‘spiritualist,’ or ‘diviners’ to predict the future. The role of the prophet in Israel included foretelling the future - but an examination of the writings that they left behind makes it very clear that that was not their major role. When Moshe, the first prophet of God sent to the Jewish people, went up Mount Sinai to receive the Tablets from God, the Tanakh tells us that the people proceeded to break God’s word and behaved in total abandon in an orgy of food and drink and lewd behavior that brought about the wrath of God upon them. Deborah, the judge who won the war against Sisra tells us in her song, “Bifro’a pra’ot beyisrael, behitnadev am, barkhu ya – In times of tumultuous strife in Israel, when the people willingly offered themselves, praise the Lord.” [Judges 5:2] “B’eyn khazon yifra am – Where there is no vision, the people cast off restraint; but he who keeps the Torah is happy.” (Proverbs 29:18) The “tumultuous strife” was caused by the lack of the word of the prophet, vision. Thus we learn that prophecy in a need of the people of Israel if they are to remain faithful to God and true to His teachings. Yes, Judaism is based on Khukim, laws, and Mishpatim, judgements. We have our Shoftim and Shotrim – judges and enforcers. But in the final analysis, it is our Nevi’im, our prophets, with their love of God and His word, who carry us onward from generation to generation, illuminating our path with their vision, and making sure that we remain faithful to our Master.

Seventeen years ago, at the end of the summer, Leah and I celebrated the bat-mitzvah of our first child, Tahl. We had invested all our love and all our knowledge in this child, as well as in the three other children God had blessed us with after she came into our lives. We pledged to ourselves and to each other that we shall present to our children a vision, through personal example, of a life committed to the love of God, the fulfilment of His Mitzvot, and the love of His people Israel and of all His children, humanity at large. This week our love and devotion to our children and to God’s teaching bore fruit, and Tahl has given birth to her own and her husband’s manifestation of love and commitment: a little girl. There is a new link on the chain that connects us to Sinai and to the eternity of God’s creation. I cannot help but conclude with the blessing, Barukh ata adona’y eloheynu melekh ha’olam, hagomel lekha’yavim tovot shegmalani kol tuv. Blessed are you, Lord our God, king of the universe, who rewards the undeserving, who has rewarded me with all that is good.

Amen

Shoftim 5764

Good evening and Shabbat shalom to all of you. I would like to begin my comments in the past and work my way through the present and into the future. Last Tuesday and Wednesday we celebrated Rosh Khodesh, the beginning of the month of Elul, the twelfth in the Jewish calendar. The month we are in now is Elul, the last month of the Jewish year, and the time when we begin the period of self scrutiny that is called in Judaism Teshuva -- a return to God and to the path of Torah. Our Sephardic brothers began riciting “Slikhot” - the additional service of begging for God’s forgiveness.
I am happy to relate this time of year with our portion of the Torah this week – which is most appropriate. It is called "Shoftim," which means "Judges" or even "leaders" – as the judges of old were. The parshah begins with the words, "You shall appoint judges and officials throughout your tribes, in all your towns that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall render just decisions for the people. You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right." [Deu. 16:18-19] These words command us to establish a totally straight and equitable judicial system, and is followed by the words “tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” which is translated, "Justice, and only justice, you shall pursue," but actually, it is more correct to translate it “pursue perfect honesty.” It is not enough to rely on the rulings of a judicial system; the whole nation must be involved in the pursuit of justice for society to function correctly. We must understand from the start the basic principle that is articulated here. It is not the judges who must pursue "tzedek" -- but the whole people!
The Torah text next teaches us to relate to God with honesty and honor, “You shall not sacrifice to the Lord your God any bull, or sheep, where there is a blemish, or anything evil; for that is an abomination to the Lord your God.” [Ibid 17:1] it continues to teach us to have faith in our leaders and judges, to care for our public servants, “The priests the Levites, and all the tribe of Levi, shall have no part nor inheritance with Israel; they shall eat the offerings of the Lord made by fire, and his inheritance.” [Ibid 18:1] This part of this week’s lesson concludes, in my mind, with a most appropriate verse: We become responsible for Mitzvot at age 13, and ‘life’ has a nmumeric value of eighteen, “Kha’y.” Well, verse thriteen in chapter eighteen is short and straight as an arrow from God: “You shall be perfect with the Lord your God.” Need we say any more?
But our portion is not over yet – not quite. It has to warn us: should someone come and begin to teach us God’s word, and then take a fork in the road – the punishment must be swift and unremitting. “But the prophet, who shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak, or who shall speak in the name of other gods, that prophet shall die.” [Ibid 18:20]
This portion is so appropriate for this Shabbat because it comes at the beginning of the time when we are getting ready to stand before the highest Judge in the most exalted court. It is not a question of choice, and no one can escape. Even the angels of high stand trembling, knowing that before the Holy One, blessed be He, none is totally innocent. Yet God does not want to deal harshly with His creation, lest all shall perish. He wants us to follow in the path He taught us, and He shall accept all who seek Him and wish to live under the canopy of His protection. It is the nature of what He created from the beginning – He will judge all of His creation, and we must come before Him in the spirit of this week’s lesson, for life (18) through mitzvot (13) – “You shall be perfect with the Lord your God.” Amen. Shabbat shalom!

 

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