Skip to content

Parashat Shoftim 5776 — 09/10/2016

Parashat Shoftim 5776 — 09/10/2016

Devarim 16:18-21:9

You shall be wholehearted (tamim) with Gd your Lord (18:13)

Jacob was a wholehearted man (ish tam) who dwelled in tents (Gen 25:27)

What does it mean to be “wholehearted” (tam).  R. Steinsaltz explains:

We generally envisage an ish tam as a type of lowly creature, a pale young man, an idler, who sits in the tent and does not know how to perform even the simplest of tasks.  Yet from the Torah’s account, Jacob does not seem to fit this description at all.  He is not simple and naïve…

In modern Hebrew, a tamim is a naïf, a person whose mental capacities may be lacking in some way.  But this is not the plain meaning of “Be wholehearted with Gd your Lord” and of the word tamim as it generally appears in the Torah.  Rather, the Torah speaks of temimut in the sense of wholeness and wholeheartedness.

We have the same distinction in English, between someone who is simple-minded, developmentally challenged, and one who is innocent, guileless, and yet by no means unaware.  It is the difference between being childish and childlike.  Clearly, when the Torah uses this word, either to describe Ya’akov or to exhort us, it means the latter – we should have the innocence of a child, we should approach life innocently.  It does not mean that we should be foolish or stupid about what we do.  However, being childlike and innocent is not something that is easy to accomplish.  Innocence, by definition, is something unforced, real, not something that one can “put on.”  Children are innocent because everything is new and exciting to them and one of the best things we can do as parents is to preserve this innocence as long as possible.

When one loses the ability to see something new and simply go with it – whether because of one’s own personality, the society in which he lives, or the education that he received – this is a poisonous way to live one’s life.  Such a person will never again be able to see things in a straight way.  This actually happens to some people.  They reach a state where they assume that behind every smile lurk dark thoughts.  They lose the simple ability to recognize and accept the good in things.

It is difficult to be a tamim.  Perhaps it is easy for one who has never suffered disappointments in his life.  For someone who has never been kicked from behind, it is easier to relate to people according to the expressions on their faces. … The problem exists primarily with those who have already encountered dishonesty in interpersonal relationships.  Yet even these people are charged with maintaining their temimut, and this is not easy at all.

The problem is very widespread, particularly in a large society where social controls on behavior have become weak or have broken down altogether.  In areas where there is little or no trust between neighbors, or business associates, or even spouses, it is necessary for survival to be constantly on guard, constantly calculating advantages and disadvantages, constantly looking for leverage.  Most of us have been in situations like this.  They are not pleasant, and though we may get used to them, there is something very dulling to be on edge all the time.  You can get a crick in your neck from looking over your shoulder all the time.

We have an example of this issue writ large in the 3rd chapter of Bereishit.  Adam and Eve were created innocent.  They were naked but they were not ashamed, just like small children, until after they ate from the tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil.  Then they were ashamed of their nakedness and attempted to cover up, as most people naturally do as they get older and get socialized.  What happened to them?  According to the Sages, Good and Evil, which were previously theoretical choices (like whether or not to put you hand in a fire) now became part of their makeup.  In other words, they could no longer just look at things simply any more.  Let the calculations begin!  Or, as the popular song goes, “We’ve got to get ourselves back to the Garden!”

But how are we to do this?  How are we to recover innocence once it is lost?  First, let’s characterize a state of loss of innocence a bit more.  According to R. Steinsaltz, what causes us to lose our innocence is getting “kicked from behind” and who have “already encountered dishonesty in interpersonal relationships.”  Think of an abused child.  When someone is exposed to this kind of treatment, it leaves deep scars and stresses in all aspects of the personality, including the physical body.  As we experience when recovering from a wound, scar tissue is generally hard and stiff, and inhibits our ability to respond appropriately to situations.  This is the case for emotional scars as well.  When presented with a new situation, we find ourselves reacting as if we were facing the same old situation that has been seared into our memories, whether or not that reaction is appropriate.

Clearly what is needed is greater flexibility of mind.  In order for our mind to be flexible, our awareness must be as broad as possible.  If things are constantly blindsiding us, we will not be able to respond properly to any challenge, let alone all of them.  Conversely, if our awareness is broad, we can take into account many factors that might impinge on our decision how to respond to whatever is facing us.  We have discussed on many occasions that underlying our existence and our individual awareness is a field of universal awareness that is unbounded in time or space, and that this awareness can be incorporated into our daily lives by regularly contacting it.  When one does this, every action one performs is done against a background of a very profound silence.  It’s almost as if the world slows down, as if we’re performing a graceful dance or Tai Chi routine.  In this relaxed but highly alert state, we can act appropriately for every situation.  We don’t have to retreat from life to keep ourselves pure.  We can tackle life with the gusto, and the innocence, of a young child, but with the wisdom of the ages as well.

Haftarah: Yishaya 51:12-52:12

Wake up! Wake up!  Clothe yourself with strength O Zion! (52:1)

This verse is in the middle of the 4th of the “seven [haftarot] of consolation” read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh haShanah, so I think it has particular significance.  It doesn’t exhort us (“Zion” = the people of Israel) to repent.  Rather, it tells us to “Wake up!”  Now repentence and waking up have similarities and differences.  When we repent, we literally “return” to our true self.  If we get mired in sin, what we are doing is covering over our true, unbounded nature with a covering of materiality to which we get attached.   When the thought that we are not thinking or behaving properly starts to enter our minds, we have to go from the state we are in, back to our original pure state.  When we are exhorted to “wake up,” we again are told that our true nature is unbounded, but no path is provided – we don’t have to go anywhere to be what we already are, we just have to awaken within ourselves and be what we already are.  Whether it takes t’shuvah to become clear enough to wake up, I don’t know.  Perhaps t’shuvah is the reality of the sinful state of consciousness, while awakening is the reality of the purified state of consciousness.  “Discuss amongst yourselves.”


Reflections on This Week’s Torah Portion

by Steve Sufian

Parsha Shoftim has the theme of “Justice”, and illustrates through this the discussion of appointment and behavior of judges and kings, the need for witnesses to prevent violations of Torah law and witnesses to attest that a crime has been committed.

To me, “justice” is a quality of attunement with Gd: only in perfect attunement can we act completely justly — but good intentions and good actions from innocent hearts can move us in the right direction.

“Justice” seems a bit of an austere word: Think of it as “Love”, as in “Love Gd above all else” and “Love Thy neighbor as thy self [Self] and it feels better. Where there is Love, there is no blemish, no violation, perfect attunement, Justice.

“Shoftim” means “judges” and the commandment to establish judges indicates that people are not able to act completely in harmony with Gd’s Will, so there will be disagreements.

The appointment of judges also suggests that there are some people, the judges, who are able to act at least to a good degree in accord with Gd’s Will — promising help to those a bit out of tune to get into tune and participate in a harmonious society.

Judges will be appointed in every generation and they will administer justice without bias and they will teach Torah law and people must follow, not deviating. Teaching Torah law means, to me, not just teaching the 10 utterances, the 613 commandments, for people to memorize and follow: it means teaching harmony with Torah, which is harmony with Gd, teshuvah, return to Oneness. It means teaching people to realize they are impulses of Gd, characters in a story Gd, One, tells within Himself/Herself/The Self.

In our generation, the closest we can come — and we hope that it is close — to the judges intended by Gd is the Supreme Rabbinical Court in Israel which is respected by rabbinical judges not only in Israel but throughout the world.

Shoftim repeats the law against idolatry and adds a law against sorcery: both involve putting trust in a partial value not in the Wholeness that is Gd.

Kings are like judges in their power and commanded to be humble, not to think themselves better than others, and each king to write a copy of the Torah Scroll for himself, to keep it with him always. [Greatness comes from humility, because humility is the awareness that the individual is only great through connection to Wholeness, Gd.

Cities of refuge: Here we see justice in another form — places where someone who accidentally killed will be safe from retribution.

Unblemished offerings: These symbolize the purity that justice is — unblemished.

Witnesses: As an example of standards of evidence, two adults witnessing someone about to break Torah law were required to warn him.

Rules of war: Peace terms are to be offered before attacking a city.

No Wanton Destruction: For example, no cutting down a fruit tree that is bearing fruit in order to use its wood to build a house.

Action when a dead body is found without witnesses to the murder: the whole community is held responsible; it is the community’s lack of attunement to Torah, to Gd, that led to the crime.