Shoftim (Judges): Weekly Torah Portion

 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.

©️ 2020 The Wild Pomegranate D’var Torah — All Rights Reserved

The what and how of a d’var Torah.

8 thoughts on “Shoftim (Judges): Weekly Torah Portion

  1. Phil Sutherland

    Some good comments! The one thing that struck me while reading this was that one cannot be a righteous judge without first being led by the principles put forth in Torah. We must first be aware of what righteousness is in order to be a righteous judge, either of ourselves or others. That is unfortunately the one thing that seems to be missing from our society. We cannot expect people to act fairly or behave in a manner that they are not familiar with. We must be guided by sound principles in order to treat others fairly, and judge them fairly, as well as maintain our own conduct both individually and corporately in a proper manner. When people do not have guidance in their lives and know the difference between right and wrong, they cannot discern what is just or fair, act appropriately or treat others with dignity or respect. It is my opinion that much of what we are seeing today is the result of the lack of proper teaching and discipline which directly coincides with taking G-d out of our society. There are plenty of examples in Torah of what happens to societies that turn away from G-d and go their own way. If we are to have any hope of our society recovering, then we have to listen to the wisdom of the words in Torah of how to have a truthful and just society with individuals responsible for conducting themselves in a righteous and just manner.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      Many thanks for reading and engaging, Phil. I agree with your point that we need a foundational understanding of what it means to be fair and just. (Good point!) Racist, haters and bigots (for instance) justify their twisted beliefs as right, fair and just. Abusers and narcissists justify their cruel and destructive behaviors too. We need an ethical value system and sense of accountability in order to understand what it means to pursue justice on behalf of ourselves and others.

      For a practicing Jew, that would be the performance of Torah inspired Mitzvot. A belief in GD, perhaps, but not a given, since there are many secular Jews following the ethical principles of Judaism. For a Buddhist, The Noble Eightfold Path. For a Taoist, the I Ching. For a Christian, the teachings of Jesus. For an atheist, the principles of Humanism. People of all beliefs have ethical value systems that are fair and just. Personally, I don’t think a belief in GD is necessary, although I think a sense of divinity is important. Social justice and world repair is a multiplistic path. It’s all good!


  2. I like this a lot!

    Re: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” the Yehudi HaKadosh (the Holy Jew) said that the repetition of “justice” indicates that not only should you pursue just ends, but you must pursue them by just means too.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      Yesh! I really like that is was clarified that justice must be pursued by just means — acknowledging that there are nefarious means in which one could pursue justice…as in the end justifies the means. Thank for reading and engaging. Shavua tov!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. miriameliana

    Very good advice to journal & go back over it. It helps just to “get it out there” & sometimes I can revisit it after I’ve calmed down & see where my position was a little skewed by emotion.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The Wild Pomegranate (Abi)

      Thank you for visiting with me and commenting, Miriam! I like your reflection. I find revisiting through journaling to be quite helpful.


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