Telephone Torah Study: Justice, Justice Shall You Pursue
Justice, Justice shall you pursue… one of the most famous verses in Torah is in this week’s portion, Shoftim (Deut. 16:18-21:9). Telephone Torah Study this Thursday, 4-5pm. To join in on the conference call, please dial 702-851-4044, when prompted punch in 2, then our pass code 22252#.
Nancy Reuben Greenfield gives an excellent summary of Shoftim for myjewishlearning.com:
Moses continues his last speech to the Israelites before he dies saying: “Judges shall be appointed to judge the people with justice. You shall not twist judgment by recognizing a face or accepting bribery, because both blind the eyes of the wise and cause the words of the righteous to falter. Justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you may live and take possession of the land which God, your God, is giving you.
“Do not make a memorial stone for God, nor offer to God a blemished animal for sacrifice.
“If you find an individual who does evil in the eyes of God and transgresses God’s covenant, then you shall make careful inquiry. If it turns out to be true according to the word of two or three witnesses, then that person shall die. No one shall be put to death on the basis of the word of only one witness.
“If the matter is too difficult for you to decide, between blood and blood, between right and right, between damage and damage, then you shall come to the priests for judgment.
Moses then says: “When you come to the land that God is giving you, and dwell in it, you will want a king. You shall then set a king over yourself who God will choose. This king shall not be a foreigner but one of your brethren. This king must not have many horses, nor many wives, nor amass silver and gold for himself in excess, so that his heart may not go astray. Rather, when he sits upon the throne, he shall write for himself a duplicate of this Teaching in a book. He shall read from it as long as he shall live, so that he may learn to fear God and not lift himself above his brethren nor turn aside from the commandments.
Torah Passage of the Week
You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that your God Adonai is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that your God Adonai is giving you. (Deut. 16:18-20)
Moses directed the Israelites to appoint magistrates and officials for their tribes to govern the people with justice, with impartiality, and without bribes. “Justice, justice shall you pursue,” he said. In the continuation of the reading, Moses warned the Israelites against setting up a sacred post beside God’s altar or erecting a stone pillar.
In the continuation of the reading, Moses warned the Israelites against sacrificing an ox or sheep with any serious defect.
And as the reading continues, Moses instructed that if the Israelites found a person who worshiped other gods — the sun, the moon, or any celestial body — then they were to make a thorough inquiry, and if they established the fact on the testimony of two or more witnesses, then they were to stone the person to death, with the witnesses throwing the first stones.
In the continuation of the reading, Moses taught that if a case proved too baffling for the Israelites to decide, then they were promptly to go to God’s shrine, appear before the priests or the magistrate in charge, and present their problem, and carry out any verdict that was announced there without deviating either to the right or to the left. They were to execute any man who presumptuously disregarded the priest or the magistrate, so that all the people would hear, be afraid, and not act presumptuously again.
Moses instructed that if, after the Israelites had settled the land, they decided to set a king over them, they were to be free to do so, taking an Israelite chosen by God. The king was not to keep many horses, marry many wives, or amass excess silver and gold. The king was to have the priests write for him a copy of this Teaching to remain with him and read all his life, so that he might learn to revere God and faithfully observe these laws. He would thus not act haughtily toward his people nor deviate from the law, and as a consequence, he and his descendants would enjoy a long reign.
Moses explained that the Levites were to have no territorial portion, but were to live only off of offerings, for God was to be their portion. In exchange for their service to God, the priests were to receive the shoulder, cheeks, and stomach of sacrifices, the first fruits of the Israelites’ grain, wine, and oil, and the first shearing of sheep.
Moses told that the Levites were to be free to come from their settlements to the place that God chose as a shrine to serve with their fellow Levites, and there they were to receive equal shares of the dues.
In the continuation of the reading, Moses instructed that the Israelites were not to imitate the abhorrent practices of the nations that they were displacing, consign their children to fire, or act as an augur, soothsayer, diviner, sorcerer, one who casts spells, one who consults ghosts or familiar spirits, or one who inquires of the dead, for it was because of those abhorrent acts that God was dispossessing the residents of the land.
Moses foretold that God would raise a prophet from among them like Moses, and the Israelites were to heed him. When at Horeb the Israelites asked God not to hear God’s voice directly, God created the role of the prophet to speak God’s words, promising to hold to account anybody who failed to heed the prophet’s words.But any prophet who presumed to speak an oracle in God’s name that God had not commanded, or who spoke in the name of other gods, was to die.This was how the people were to determine whether God spoke the oracle: If the prophet spoke in the name of God and the oracle did not come true, then God had not spoken that oracle, the prophet had uttered it presumptuously, and the people were not to fear him.
In the continuation of the reading, Moses instructed that when the Israelites had settled in the land, they were to divide the land into three parts and set aside three cities of refuge, so that any manslayer could have a place to which to flee. And if the Israelites faithfully observed all the law and God enlarged the territory, then they were to add three more towns to those three. Only a manslayer who had killed another unwittingly, without being the other’s enemy, might flee there and live. For instance, if a man went with his neighbor into a grove to cut wood, and as he swung an ax, the ax-head flew off the handle and struck and killed the neighbor, then the man could flee to one of the cities of refuge and live. Moses warned that the Israelites were not to move their countrymen’s landmarks, set up by previous generations, in the property that they were allotted in the land.
Moses instructed that an Israelite could be found guilty of an offense only on the testimony of two or more witnesses. If one person gave false testimony against another, then the two parties were to appear before God and the priests or magistrates, the magistrates were to make a thorough investigation, and if the magistrates found the person to have testified falsely, then they were to do to the witness as the witness schemed to do to the other.
Moses taught that before the Israelites joined battle, the priest was to tell the troops not to fear, for God would accompany them.Then the officials were to ask the troop whether anyone had built a new house but not dedicated it, planted a vineyard but never harvested it, paid the bride-price for a wife but not yet married her, or become afraid and disheartened, and all these they were to send back to their homes.
Moses instructed that when the Israelites besieged a city for a long time, they could eat the fruit of the city’s trees, but they were not to cut down any trees that could yield food.
In the continuation of the reading, Moses taught that if, in the land, they found the body of a murder victim lying in the open, and they could not determine the killer, then the elders and magistrates were to measure the distances from the corpse to the nearby towns.The elders of the nearest town were to take a heifer that had never worked down to an ever-flowing wadi and break its neck. The priests were to come forward, and all the elders were to wash their hands over the heifer.