Parashat Shoftim (Judges), פרשת שופטים
Devarim/Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
The most famous line from this Parsha is “tzedek, tzedek tirdof” — “Justice, Justice you shall pursue.” (16:20). The fact that justice is said twice signifies the extra care we must take to ensure justice is our top priority.
1. The first instructions in this Parsha are:
You shall appoint judges and officers for yourself in all your gates that the Lord, your God is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people with righteous judgment.
You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and corrupts just words.
Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.
Every tribe and city was to create its own judiciary system. To build a fair, safe and stable society, the appointed judges had to be known as upright individuals who did not cater to the wealthy, play favorites or accept bribes.
While writing this d’var Torah, I thought about how a contemporary authority figure (supervisor, clergy person, parent, teacher, etc.) may show bias and favoritism. Favoritism is always damaging to those who aren’t favored and “taking bribes” can mean treating one human being as more ‘valuable’ than another.
2. GD tells Moshe/Moses to instruct the people to create readily accessible and clearly marked “cities of refuge.”
Refuge cities granted asylum to a person who killed another person accidentally, with no malice or ill-intent. e.g. A workplace accident or something similar. Without a refuge city they were likely to be killed by family members of the deceased. (Deuteronomy 19:2-13).
Upon arrival, the refuge seeker presented himself to the elders at the city gate. After being provided with room and board, he would be taken to the Sanhedrin, the highest court of law. If the court agreed the death was accidental (not murder), the refuge seeker was granted safe sanctuary.
We may think of government asylum and sanctuary cities as something relatively modern, but they were documented in the Torah millennia ago.
Metaphorically, the Jewish Sages equated “cities of refuge” to spiritual safe spaces that we all need to cultivate and create.
They also saw the verse “You shall appoint judges and officers for yourself in all your gates that God is giving you” as a personal obligation for every individual:
“And in all your gates – the gates of the body (eyes, ears, nose, mouth, hands, feet), since by means of them a person connects with the surrounding world – that a person is obligated to appoint a judge and officer to monitor everything that enters and exits through these gates, according to the instructions of the Torah.″Lubavitcher Rebbe
Each “gate″ has a beautiful purpose for which it was created, but they can also be used in negative or destructive ways. We must make sure we use our senses for a G-dly purpose by monitoring our “gates” with our inner judge and inner policing of our behavior.Netivot Shalom
Sometimes we judge ourselves unjustly, other times we shirk our duty to be accountable.
A person needs to contemplate his actions to ensure that nothing he does is harmful. At some point during the day, a person should set aside time to meditatively look through all his actions, paying careful attention to what he is doing when caught up in the emotion and charge of the moment.Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzzato (the Ramchal) 1707-1746
I suggest journaling every day to unpack any strong emotions that may have arisen over the course of your day and how you expressed them. Were you angry? Agitated? Abrupt? Distressed?
After journaling about your day, write down strategies you can think of to navigate emotionally charged situations in a way that is fair and just to yourself and others around you.
The job of our inner-officer is to safe-guard. The job of our inner-judge is to judge ourselves and others truthfully. If you’re projecting emotions unfairly, let your inner-judge amend the situation. If you’re reacting to hurtful, inequitable treatment, let your inner-officer guard your self-respect. Many of us have been taught to show favoritism to the person hurting us over ourselves.
One thing is for certain — we all need fair and equitable societies, congregations, schools, legal systems and governments in order to truly live. Create a designated safe space for yourself and someone else today.
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