Shabbat Parashat Shoftim| 5767
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - The Importance of Appointing Proper Judges - Based on notes for a derasha, courtesy of R. Yisrael Sharir
Our parasha deals with the laws of various leaders of Israel and their roles, namely the judge, prophet, king, and kohen. Each in his own way helps mold Am Yisrael’s character in its state as the nation of Hashem, which walks in the light of the Torah.
The mitzva to appoint judges, while not related directly to Eretz Yisrael, takes on all its halachot, including appointing judges in every city, only there. The Torah also stresses the mitzva’s impact on the inhabitation of the Land (“so that you shall live and inherit the Land that Hashem, your Lord, gives you” (Devarim 16:20). Rashi comments: “Appointment of fitting judges is worthy to have Israel live and be placed on their Land.”
It is interesting that already in Chazal’s time a tendency not to perform this mitzva properly developed. The midrash warns: “Do not scorn judgment for it is one of the three legs of the world, as they said: ‘The world stands on three things: judgment, truth, and peace.’” Many people complained about coercion to submit to the courts and their rulings, both monetary and corporal. Christianity began with objection to the institution of the judiciary in general. Nowadays, we often hear complaints about the perceived lack of tolerance regarding religious matters.
Judaism fought long and hard against the worldview that opposed all punishments. According to the Torah, the mitzva to “remove evil from your midst” is incumbent upon the judge, the king, and, fundamentally, on the public, whom the former represent. Nowadays, few oppose judicial punitive steps for serious legal violations, as they allow society to run reasonably. However, many oppose any type of coercion regarding matters between man and Hashem, under the banner of freedom of conscience.
The Torah does not accept a sweeping distinction between the civil and religious realms. Every mitzva is a link in a single chain, which breaks apart when one link is severed. You can claim that Judaism is based on one principle, as Chabakuk said: “The righteous lives in his belief.” Perhaps it is based on “You shall love your friend as yourself,” as Hillel suggested. However, all agree that each mitzva has a crucial importance in arriving at the spiritual destination.
Judaism is not based on compromises but on truth. It is not overly tolerant, for tolerance brings along dangerous growths. Judaism does not encourage freedom of conscience because it believes that humanity was never given freedom in matters of conscience.
One can learn about the character of society the Torah intends to develop from an ostensibly small matter at the end of the parasha, eglah arufah. A corpse is found in the field; its murderer is not known. The members of the Grand Sanhedrin go out to the place and personally measure to determine the closest city. The city’s elders bring a calf to be killed, wash their hands, and declare that they did not spill the blood or see the murder. Why would we suspect that these elders were involved in the murder? Chazal taught us that even had they seen the victim and not offered him food and an escort as he left them, they would have had a measure of culpability.
Go out and check where in the world there is such a law with a complicated procedure to deal with the murder of some unknown person. Where is there a law based on the thesis that the leaders are responsible to see to it that every guest is properly provided for? Let us try to imagine the application of this mitzva in today’s society, when we hear of a person found strewn on the road from a car accident and do not know who killed him. Then we can understand how far the Torah expects judges to go in cherishing the life of another and that the appointment of proper judges is worthy of having Israel returned and settled in the Land of Israel.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated to the memory of
R' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld o.b.m.
Hemdat Yamim is also dedicated by Les & Ethel Sutker of Chicago, Illinois in loving memory of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z"l.
May their memory be a blessing!