Shoftim 5773 – Gilayon #811
(link to original page)
Click here to
receive the weekly parsha by email each week.
Should a slain person be found on the soil…
Lying in the field, it not being known who struck him
down. Your elders and your judges shall go out and measure
To the towns that are around the slain person.
And measure – Even if it
is clearly closer to a certain town, it is obligatory to engage in measuring,
for all the unusual activity will cause people to come out of the measured
towns [to see what is happening] and if someone has left home and not returned,
his relatives will come and recognize the slain person and testify to his
identity and his wife will not remain an aguna (A woman whose husband has disappeared. She may not remarry unless his
death has been determined.) and his sons may claim their inheritance and
the court may not protest, and this way it will be known who may have
accompanied the man and sometimes the event will receive publicity.
(Hizkuni ibid., ibid.)
The story is related of two
priests who were rushing up the [altar] ramp, one pushed the other [who had
preceded him] into the four cubits [of the altar], he took a knife and stabbed
him in the heart. Came Rabbi Tsadok, stood on the stairs of the hall and said:
Listen to me, our brothers, House of Israel, it says (Devarim 21) "Should a slain person be found, etc., your
elders and your judges shall go out and measure – come, let us measure
and see over which should a calf be offered, over the Temple hall or the
courts? The congregation all wailed and wept.
Later the father of the young man
arrived and said to them: My brothers, I am your atonement, my son is still
twitching and the knife has not yet been defiled. This comes to teach us
that the impurity of a knife is more serious a matter to Israel than is the
spilling of blood, and thus does it say (II
Kings 21): "And Menashe also spilled so much innocent blood that it
filled Jerusalem, mouth to mouth" – from here they said: Because of the
sin of murder, the Shekhina departed and the Temple became impure.
(Tosefta Yoma 1, 10)
"Judges" and "laws" –
Between the children of noah and the jewish people
begins with the command to appoint judges and officials1. The
subject under discussion is the mitzvah to establish an enlightened and
effective legal system. Perhaps the actual goal is a comprehensive
economic-political-legal system capable of improving men's' lives collectively
so as to justify their description as a community "in the image of God".
It can be definitely said that God commands
today "rule of law". It seems that this is more or less how Ramban
understood the word "mishpat" (Leviticus
you shall do" – 'These are things written in the Torah which, were they
not to have appeared, it would have appropriate to say them', thus in the words
of Rashi. […] But according to the plain meaning "mishpatai" – "my
laws", according to its simple meaning, [refers to] the laws appearing in
the parasha of "V'eleh HaMishpatim" – "And These
Are the Laws" and throughout the Torah, and therefore it says "which
man shall live by them" – for the laws were given for the life of men
living in communities and for the welfare of man, and so that man not
injure his fellow nor kill him.
Being that the
command to appoint judges is the mitzvah to establish rule of law, it is
bound up tightly with another mitzvah that obliges many more people to
establish rule of law: the mitzvah of dinim – of establishing
courts and laws – of the descendents of Noah, i.e., the Noahide laws. (Today
the descendents of Noah number approximately seven billion, Jews making up
about 0.2%). Both Jews and gentiles are commanded by God to establish
governments of law and justice.
What is the
relation between the Jewish government of law and that of the children of Noah?
Needless to say, this is a complex and complicated question. In my opinion, a
deep truth is to be found in the approach of Rav Hayyim Hirshenson who
considered the commandment to appoint judges to be a special Jewish version of
universal mitzvah of denim – of laws. He opined that every
enlightened nation embodies its unique version:
[…] and thus
all segments of humanity create for themselves rules and regulations 'which Man
shall create and live by. There is no difference whether these laws were
made through national concurrence, such as with the American constitution, or
on the advice of a political sage, as in the case Lycurgus and Spartan law, or
by divine command, such as the laws of
organization and decorum for the sake of human and national existence […] (Musagei Shav V'ha’emmet p. 71).
All the above
simply means that God desires the improvement of man – every man, everywhere – by
means of the rule of law. This is reason that He commanded the Jews to
establish the rule of law by means of judges, and so did He command those not
Jewish, i.e., 99.8% of humanity, through the mitzvah of dinim [the
requirement of maintaining courts to provide legal recourse]. If we wish to
fulfill God's will, we should try to clarify if there is, indeed, any chance
that the rule of law and justice can exist throughout the world. Does this not
sound like a crazy dream?
But if we
observe the development of man from an evolutionary viewpoint, we see that men
do march towards the reality of universal rule by law with remarkable speed.
According to Yuval Harari (Kitzur Toldot Ha'enoshut), humans were
once "hunter-gatherers", organized into groups of about 150 people
who knew each other personally. Today, according to the index of the
respected economic magazine "The Economist", about a half of the
human race lives in "democracies" or "flawed democracies".
These are nations which maintain developed government of law, interwoven with
each other through international law and cultural and trade relations.
This and more.
Today, the absolute majority of men live in countries committed – either fully
or partially – to "The International Bill of Rights", which is
composed of the universal proclamation regarding human rights, which was
adopted after the holocaust, and two treaties, one devoted to "civil and
national" rights, and the other to 'economic, social and cultural"
rights. This is to say that despite all the horrors and failures of the human
race, half the people live in countries which maintain some more or less proper
version of the reign of law, and many more live in countries which have
committed themselves to respect the rule of law in the form civil rights laws,
even though in practice they may not do so. We have, therefore, come a long way
since the time a community would contain up until about 150 members who knew
each other personally. Something is happening among people. True, for a large
segment of humanity, the world order remains murderous and brutal to an
unimaginable degree. And it may also be that the little bit of positive order
achieved will be swallowed up in the depths of chaos and violence. But in light
of evolutionary development, there is also a chance that we are on the way to
an all-humanity rule of law based on, among other things, the rights of man.
Are we, the
chosen people dwelling in
also obligated to support the common effort for the advancement of the reign of
global rule of law? If it is clear that God wants rule of law for all men, is
it not self-understood that our Torah commands us to act in this direction? In
today's cultural climate, I suspect that the answers on the tongues of many are
likely to be quite embarrassing. Fortunately, the captains of the State of
Israel spared us this embarrassment when they announced and signed before the
entire world that the Jewish State is committed to international law, including
human rights, and even stated in its declaration of independence that the
Israeli government will be faithful to the principles of the Charter of the
United Nations which is also based, among other things, upon human rights.
some important halachic decisors, including Rav Hirschenson, this public
commitment of the Jewish state commits us according to Torah law. The violation
of a covenant cut with the nations is viewed by the Torah as a serious
transgression, as can be shown by the penalty imposed for the violation of the
covenant with the Givonites (I Shmuel 21:1-9). (Unfortunately,
a penalty such as this cannot be instituted today because of a conflict with
the law on human rights!) R. Hirschenson and others of his school, enlist many
halachic proofs to prove that which should be self-evident: God also want Jews
to contribute their share to the world reign of law and justice. In R.
Hirschenson's words (Ela Divrei HaBerit, vol.
I, p.69): "It is forbidden for the Jewish people to violate
international law, even though they are not according the laws of
be considered in the eyes of the nations to be murderous savages opposing
international law and laws of civilization". There is no doubt that in our
day, according to this approach, the Torah obligates us to observe
international law on human rights. This being the case, when a God-fearing
person seeks to know the will of God, he will search not only in the Talmud,
but also in the universal declaration on human rights and in the two
shed light on the meaning of the words "the beginning of the flowering of
our redemption" appearing in the Prayer for the Welfare of the State.
These words emphasize the great importance of the rebirth of the Israelite
nation in the holy land. They say that the establishment of the modern Jewish
State is the beginning of the flowering of our redemption. What, then,
is the continuation of the redemption? An answer is given in the last section
of the prayer as it appears in the prayer books: "Shine forth in your
glorious majesty on all the inhabitants of your universe". These words
direct us to the Prophets. Thus the Prayer for the Welfare of the State expresses
an idea found also in
Declaration of Independence:
The State of
Israel […] will be based on the foundations of liberty, justice and peace in
the light of the vision of the Prophets of Israel." In light of the
importance of international law in general and human rights in particular in
the realization of the will of God, we can understand why the Declaration,
immediately following mention of the vision of the Prophets of Israel,
continues with "[the State of Israel] will maintain complete equality of
political and social rights for all its citizens without difference of
religion, race, and gender; will guarantee freedom of religion, conscience,
language, education and culture; will protect the holy sites of all religions;
and will be loyal to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.
From the above we conclude that
the establishment of the State of Israel was the beginning of the flowering of
our redemption; the next stage is a world order of law and human rights. The mitzvah
which opens our parasha, "Judges and officials shall you appoint in
all your gates" reflects God's will for improvement of man, every man,
everywhere – by means of the reign of law. May it be His will that His light
enlighten our eyes, and that we maintain his kingship over us soon, in our
'shoterim' in modern Hebrew denotes 'policeman', in Biblical context it
has been translated as 'officials' 'officers', 'overseers' and 'scribes'. K.G.
Shaya Rothberg teaches in the Conservative Yeshiva in Yerushalayim.
Between Justice and Victory
"When you go out to wage war
…" – this is to
teach us, that if you have practiced true justice, be assured that when you go
to war, you will win. And so said David (Psalms
119:121) "I have done
what is just and right; do not abandon me to those who would wrong me."
"You Shall Not Let A Soul Remain Alive.
No, You Must Proscribe Them… Lest They Lead You…" The Ethics of War, Then and Now
It is a mitzvat asey – a positive
commandment – to proscribe the seven nations, as is written "proscribe,
yes, proscribe them" and if one has the opportunity to kill one of
them and does not do so, he has transgressed a negative precept, for it is
written "You shall not let a soul remain alive." But[today] none of them remains.
Laws of Kings, 5:4)
"Lest they lead you…" – from this you learn that if they
were to repent, they would be accepted" (Sotah 35b). Destruction was obligatory only if their idolatrous
corruption presented an inciting example; it was not a duty if they agreed to
return to the duty of humanity's ethics.
(Rabbi Shimshon R. Hirsch, Devarim
you approach a town to attack it, you shall offer it terms of peace" –
Scripture speaks in general terms – "When you approach a town" –
certainly this refers to every town and to every war. Be it an arbitrary war (milchemet
reshut), be it an obligatory war (milchemet chova), you must first
talk peace – with the exception of Ammon and Moav, for the Torah specified:
"You shall never concern yourself with their welfare or benefit as long
as you live." Even though you do not present them with terms of peace,
if they, on their own volition, wish to make peace, we accept them. This
illustrates how great is the power of peace.
(Rabeinu Behayey, Devarim 20:10)
shall you surely pursue: And any judge who accepts a bribe or who
perverts justice will not die in old aqge before his eyes have become dim, as
it is said (Shemot 23): And a
bribe shall you not accept, for a bribe blinds them that have sight, etc.
(Mishnah Peah 8, 9)
of the Land Is Contingent upon the Practice of Justice
justice shall you pursue": As the highest unique goal, to be striven
for purely for itself, to which all other considerations have to be
subordinated, the concept tsedek, "Right, Justice," forming
all private and public matters in accordance with God's Torah is to be kept in
the mind of the whole nation. To pursue this goal unceasingly with all devotion
one task, "so that you may live and take hold of the land etc." with
that it has done everything to secure its physical ("may live") and
political ("and take hold") existence. Inasmuch as here the political
security of the land to be achieved by acknowledging and caring for Right and
Justice, is called "taking hold" even after possession of the Land
has been completed,–and the text is obviously speaking of such a time – ,
the significant truth is thereby laid down that the possession of the land
comes into question every minute, and it has to be taken into possession
afresh every minute by the Jewish State as a whole paying acknowledging tribute
to "Right and Justice", and making this realized in the land.
(RaSHar Hirsch, Devarim 16:20,
translated by Y. Levi)
"There Is Not to Found Among You One Having His Son or His Daughter
Cross through Fire, an Augurer of Augury, etc." Don't Believe
All these things are lies and
falsehood, and with them the ancient idolaters misled the nations of the lands
into following them, and it is not proper that Israel, who are very wise,
should be attracted by these forms of foolishness; they should not even
consider that they may have some substance, as is written, "There is no
divination in Yaakov, and no augury in Israel", and it is
written, "For these nations that you are coming to possess: to
sorcerers and augurers do they hearken, but you – not thus has the Lord your
God made you!" Whoever believes in all these things and their
likes, thinking that they are true and are items of wisdom, but that the Torah
forbade them, is but one of the fools and the ignorant… but those who possess
wisdom and whose ideas are whole know with clear proof that all these things which the Torah forbade
are not things of wisdom, but are empty and insubstantial, attracting those
lacking in intelligence who abandoned all paths of truth because of them. . And
this is why the Torah, when admonishing against all these forms of nonsense,
said "Wholehearted shall you be with the Lord your God".
(Rambam, Mishneh Torah, "Laws of
Man and the Tree
Should you besiege a town many days
to do battle against it, you shall not destroy its trees to swing an axe
against them, for them you shall eat, and you shall not cut them down. For is
the tree a human, to come away from you in the siege?
Eliyahu the prophet comes to
announce peace – also the peace between the holiness in the material and the
holiness which is in the supernatural – and in the inner soul of the nation, a
vital stream of nature bursts forth, and it approaches the holy. We all come closer
to nature, and nature comes closer to us, succumbing to our noble demands which
emanate from the source of the holy. From the depths of nature grows a great
demand for sanctity and purity, for refinement of soul and purification of
Rabbi Avraham Y. Kook, zt"l, based on Moadei Reaya)
Halacha favors restraint. It favors reduction over expansion, it is
prepared to sacrifice a degree of energy and courage in society for the sake of
stability and peace, to acquire tranquility of the soul and rest of the body in
return for moderation in the standard of living, especially in the economic and
technological spheres. It seeks to improve the quality of life, not only
because of social aims but – perhaps primarily – in order to shape the moral
image of every individual. At this point we reach equilibrium in man's soul, a
spiritual balance between man's demands and his obligations. Jewish ethics
stand firm on a foundation of self-control and restraint. Without this
basis, all ecological efforts in the world will not avail. At the foundation of
every approach to ecological problems must be the diminishing of desire, sensitivity
to the needs of others – both those of society and of all God's creations.
(Rabbi Aharon Lichtenstein, Hagut IV, Judaism in Contemporary
Oz VeShalom-Netivot Shalom is a movement dedicated to
the advancement of a civil society in
promoting the ideals of tolerance, pluralism, and justice, concepts that have
always been central to Jewish tradition and law.
Oz VeShalom-Netivot Shalom shares a deep attachment
central religious value. It believes that Jews have both the religious and the
national obligation to support the pursuit of peace. It maintains that Jewish
law clearly requires us to create a fair and just society, and that
co-existence between Jews and Arabs is not an option but an imperative.
4,500 copies of a 4-page peace oriented commentary on
the weekly Torah reading are written and published by Oz VeShalom/Netivot
Shalom and they are distributed to over 350 synagogues in
sent overseas via email
Shabbat Shalom is available on our
For responses and arranging to write for Shabbat