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Shoftim ~ שופטים~ 5774
Moshe further explains the Jewish concept of justice; judgments should never be swayed or tainted regardless of the ulterior motives or reasons. The specific sins of idolatry known as Asherah and Baal are stated here. Sacrifices to the sun, moon, or stars are also forbidden. Two witnesses are needed before idolaters can be given the death sentence. If a legal judgment is too difficult, the litigants must bring the case to the Kohens and the Judge who are found in the “Capital” city. Any King of Israel must be native born. A King of Israel is forbidden to amass horses, wealth, or wives. Each Jewish King must commission a Torah.
The Levites cannot inherit or possess land in Israel, therefore, G-d guarantees their sustenance through donations, sacrifices, and gifts of first fruits. The practicing Levites in “G-d’s Chosen City” cannot exclude any fellow Levite from ritual participation regardless of his geographical origin. Child sacrifice is amongst the greatest sins. Jews are forbidden to consult with astrologers, palmists or enchanters of any kind. The Heathens have soothsayers but Israel shall have prophets. The easiest test of a true prophet is his forecast come true. Moshe reiterates the command to establish “Three cities of Refuge” for those who accidentally kill other persons.
There is no sanctuary for a premeditated murder. One must be ethical in land dealings. The punishment of a false witness is the same as he would have caused to the innocent. Moshe gives instructions on how to prepare for war, and who is exempt from battle. The Israelites must first OFFER peace to our enemies. If they do not accept, then battle is permissible. Wanton destruction in the name of war is forbidden. If a person is murdered in the city outskirts, the elders of the nearest city must ritually declare their innocence in the matter.
MAFTIR Deuteronomy 21:7-9 ~ page 835
HAFTARAH Isaiah 51:12 – 52: 12 ~ page 835
This is the fourth of the seven haftarahs of consolation. The predominant message of this haftarah is that G-d has a special relationship with the PEOPLE of Israel— an appropriate reminder for the beginning of Elul— and that we’ve nothing to be afraid of since the end to difficult times is coming. The opening word of the haftarah, “Anochi”, refers to G-d, specifically with the connotation of “Midat Ha-Rachamim,” the Divine Attribute of Mercy. The word is doubled for emphasis, as are several other words in this haftarah. “Lashon Kefula” (redundant wording) teaches us to emphasize the phrase’s message.
Parashah Study Questions
1. What do you think about the requirement that the witnesses be the first to EXECUTE the death warrant – might it be an unfair deterrent to the prosecution (17:7)?
2. Why do you think (according to the Talmud) the King had to write two Torahs, one he kept in his treasury, and one that never left his presence (17:18)?
3. Are the animal parts gifted to the Levite from every sacrifice (right foreleg, the two cheeks, the 4th stomach of ruminates) considered “choice”, “preferred” or less than ideal (18:3)? What are the benefits or burdens of each of these food parts?
4. If verse 18:15 commands us to obey the prophet, how is it possible that verse 22 empowers us to disobey? How can we know the proper decision?
5. Verse 20:19 states that it is forbidden to cut down fruit trees during war time. Israel has cut down whole olive orchards where snipers shoot while hiding there. Is that permissible?