Monday, September 1, 2008


The imperative of appointing judges (“You must establish judges and officers” / “Shoftim VeShotrim Titein Lecha…”) is concluded with the words “and they will adjudicate the nation with true justice” (“VeShaftu Et HaAm Mishpat Tzedek”). There is a disparity in that the first half of the sentence is a direct command to “you” (plural) while the latter words speak of a third person nation that will naturally become impartial arbiters of law (veshaftu) as opposed to obedient appointees (veyishpetu).

The Kli Yakar raises these questions and marshals this response: The text instructs one who has the power and means to select judges and officers to assign people who will be honest and not allow for bribery even by those who chose them. This is why it stresses to choose judges who will impartially try even you (titein lecha). It flows naturally that if you pick individuals that can handle even you, the influential communal leader then surely they will pass judgement with righteousness over the rest of the nation (VeShaftu - it will definitely happen, that they will judge, Et HaAm Mishpat Tzedek - the people fairly).

The Kli Yakar was Rav in the large metropolis of Prague. This is one of several places where he addresses a problem of his place and time in his commentary, a context that will ring familiar to us today. He says that the Torah is specifically stating that it is improper to do what politicians did in his time. People were appointed via nepotism, practically on condition of overlooking wrongdoings of those who appointed them. This led to inequity all around, as different people earned different verdicts for the same crime.
Hashiva Shofteinu

G-d, please return to us judges as once
and give us the advisers
of our early days as a nation.
Thus, remove from us sorrow and sighing,
and rule over us uniquely and alone
with kindness and mercy.
And treat us righteously in justice;
Blessed are You Hashem,
King who loves righteousness and justice.
Tamim Tihiyeh

"You should be wholehearted with your eternal G-d. " The Ramban counts this as a positive mitzvah; to only inquire about the future from G-d through the sources He provides such as nevi'im - prophets, and the Urim VeTumim - Breastplate of the Kohen Gadol. We should not inquire of astrologers or the like. Upon hearing astrological predictions we should respond by saying "everything is in the hands of Heaven."
This command follows warnings against using diviners to find out about the future. While others define it differently, the Ramban understands this mitzvah in light of what precedes it. He cites and agrees with Unkelus, who explains this command to mean that we must be whole-hearted in our fear of G-d.
It is not a new fashion to turn hopes toward places other than G-d. It wouldn't be a command to trust only in G-d if there wasn't the inclination not to. Particularly for those who have an open world view, it is important to remember the differences between ourselves and others.
I remember well the Shabbos years ago when my dear friend Shamai's father in law to be spoke at Shamai's aufruf. It was the week of Parshat Shoftim and his father in law said that he could think of no better expression to sum up Shamai than to say that he is tamim with Hashem. I agree. May we all be blessed to truly be whole in our attachment to G-d.
P.S. Here's my post on Shoftim from last year, which was submitted to AJWS. It's part of a larger post about what was at that time the big talk in the Jewish community. Remember?

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