Skip to content

Parashat Shoftim 5779 — 09/07/2019

Parashat Shoftim 5779 — 09/07/2019

Devarim 16:18-21:9

Truth, Justice and the Jewish Way

Those of you who are my age will recognize the tag line of Superman, who was Jewish of course. (Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster created him in 1938, as Hitler’s long shadow fell over Europe, and of course over the Jews especially. Many see in Superman a reworking of the legend of the golem of Prague. The clincher for me was a panel where Clark Kent is kneeling at the grave of his adoptive parents. The “thought bubble” above his head presumably was a prayer in Kryptonian, but was actually the prayer Kel male rachamim, the traditional Jewish prayer for the dead.)

There is another aspect to Justice, and that is Mercy. In Hebrew these two opposing tendencies are called the midat haDin (Attribute of Strict Justice) and the midat haRachamim (Attribute of Mercy) or midat haChesed (Attribute of Lovingkindness). Chesed is associated with Avraham, with unboundedness, with the male principle, with the Tetragrammaton (the Divine Name that is not pronounced) and with the right hand of Gd. Din is associated with Yitzchak, with boundaries, with the female principle, with the Divine Name Elokim (associated with nature and natural law) and with Gd’s left hand. The two are absolutely opposed to one another. Justice requires strict action and reaction. This is the way nature works of course. Jump off a cliff and you will have a hard landing at the bottom. Gd’s nature is more forbearing than this – having created a finite creature with free will, Gd understands that at times we fail and helps us find the path back to Him.

Where does Truth fit in here? Clearly, Truth is more associated with the midat haDin than with the midat haRachamim, at least on the surface. The Truth is the Truth, with no wiggle room. Gd’s own seal is Truth according to the Rabbis. Truth is that which, like Gd, never changes. But Truth is also associated with Ya’akov, the third of the Patriarchs of our people, and is in many ways the synthesis of the characteristic of chesed / Avraham and din / Yitzchak.

Before going on with R. Goldin’s discussion, I’d like to quote a Midrash, to which we will return after our discussion.

Rabbi Simon said, “When the Holy One, blessed be He, came to create Adam, the ministering angels formed themselves into groups and parties, some of them saying, ‘Let him be created,’ whilst others urged, ‘let him not be created.’ Thus it is written, Love and Truth fought together, Righteousness and Peace combated each other (Ps. 85:11). Love said, ‘Let him be created, because he will dispense acts of love;’ Truth said, ‘Let him not be created, because he is compounded of falsehood;’ Righteousness said, ‘Let him be created, because he will perform righteous deeds;’ Peace said, ‘Let him not be created, because he is full of strife.’ What did the Holy One do? He took Truth and cast it to the ground.” (Genesis Rabbah, 8:5)

The Torah states in our parashah, Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – Justice, justice shalt thou pursue. Why is tzedek / Justice doubled? Here is what R. Goldin says, explicating R. Ashi in tractate Sanhedrin of the Talmud:

… the reiteration “Justice, justice…” references the legitimacy of two distinct judicial paths: justice and compromise. Based upon the circumstances and the judgment of the bench, either of these paths can be followed.

R. Goldin goes on to reference a dispute on the subject of compromise between R. Eliezer and R. Yehoshua. Both Rabbis use as their text the same verse: Truth and a judgment of peace shall you execute in your gates (Zech 8:16). R. Yehoshua focuses on the “judgment of peace” part and concludes that a judgment that maintains peace mean compromise, and rules that a judge is obligated to try to bring the parties to some kind of compromise solution. R. Eliezer, on the other hand, argues that this reasoning leaves Truth out of the equation. While it is certainly acceptable for the parties to come to a compromise before coming before the court, the judges’ loyalty has to be to the truth and to the path of strict justice. The practical halachah follows R. Yehoshua’s view:

Halacha thus mandates that peace, the greatest of Gd’s blessings, must be aggressively pursued by Gd’s judicial agents in this world, even when that peace comes at the expense of truth.

I’d like to approach this whole dichotomy between “peace” and “truth” from a different angle. Our Sages tell us that “the Seal of the Holy One is Truth.” This is Truth with a capital “T” – that which never changes, as we mentioned above. Now when Truth is getting in the way of what Gd wants to accomplish, He casts it to earth. What does this mean? The earth, i.e. material existence, is always changing. There is nothing absolute about the changing, relative world. I think that by “casting Truth to earth,” Gd is making Absolute Truth relative, as it were. In the heavens, Truth can be absolute. On earth, we have seen what happens when small-minded people, possessing a piece of relative truth, tries to assert that it is Absolute Truth. This bogus absolute is indeed the enemy of peace.

“Peace” in Hebrew is shalom, from the root that means “wholeness.” Our perception is generally on the level of parts, pieces of the whole picture. As we go from the fragmented surface to the depths of creation, things become more integrated, more whole. We see individual pieces’ fitting together to create greater levels of order and structure. Gd is the ultimate wholeness, all encompassing, as we say in our liturgy: Ayn od milvado / There is nothing other than Him. From Gd’s perspective, there is no conflict between Truth – Absolute, unchanging Truth – and Peace – complete Wholeness. It is only from the perspective of finite creation that Truth, like the first Tablets, is cast to the ground and shatters into pieces. It is our job to pick up the pieces and create a new, greater Wholeness.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Shoftim

Parshat 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.

“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.

“Shoftim” means “judges” and this parshah speaks about judges, kings and prophets, people who might serve as intermediaries between us and Gd to guide us toward justice even when our hearts are not yet sufficiently pure.

In this parshah, Moses tells us that at Horeb, Mt Sinai (Exodus says “Sinai”, Deuteronomy says “Horeb”) our ancestors heard Gd’s voice and bid Moses to go on the mountain and speak with Gd, lest they die. Gd tells Moses they have said well: an intermediary is needed.

And Moses speaks of judges, kings and prophets who will be appointed and will arise: intermediaries who will guide us when we are still not pure enough to be completely at ease in Gd’s Presence, to “love Gd with all our heart, all our soul and might” which includes perceiving Gd everywhere and so “loving our neighbor as ourselves”

Fortunately, there can be a situation and come a time when we do not need intermediaries, when we know Gd directly.

In Jeremiah 31:33-34, Gd says we will all know Him: no intermediary is necessary.

““And they shall teach no more every man his neighbor and every man his brother saying `Know Gd,’ for they shall all know Me, from the least of them unto the greatest of them” (Jeremiah 31:33)! (translation from “Modern Times”, by Jacob Immanuel Shochet, posted on

Joy is rising in our world, though the headlines don’t seem to show it. Soon we will be pure enough, our world will be pure enough, open enough to Gd, to Love, so that the fear of Gd’s voice which existed at Sinai/Horeb will no longer rise.

“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 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.

At this time, the closest we can come — and we hope that it is close — to the formally appointed 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. But, fortunately, we are growing in the ability to spontaneously Love and to create the world so pure that the Rabbinical Court will be a place for Torah recitation, singing, dancing in the Joy of Oneness — no disagreements to resolve.

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. We are growing in Wholeness so that we are guiding our life more and more within Wholeness, in Fulfillment, so there will be no fear to draw us into fragments of Life.

Shoftim talks about kings: they are like judges in their power and Gd commands them to be humble, not to think themselves better than others, and each king is commanded to write a copy of the Torah Scroll for himself, to keep it with him [or her!] always. [Greatness comes from humility, because humility is the awareness that the individual is only great through connection to Wholeness, Gd, the Self]. What is commanded for a king can certainly be useful for anyone. Learning to create our own Torah scroll in the way that the trained soferim, Torah scribes, do would be a wonderful experience in attuning ourselves to Torah on the level of meaning, language, words, but also on the level of letters, the level of the way body, mind, feeling, ink, pen and parchment interact to produce letters, words, spaces, words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, all of Torah in written form. This delightful action can help reveal to us the Torah that is not words on paper but the Liveliness of Gd, One with Gd.

To become a Torah scribe requires considerable training and Torah scrolls created by them are quite expensive so for most of us, we will probably have to substitute reading the Torah, reciting Torah, and keeping a printed copy of Torah by our bedside or some other place that is convenient. But, now and again, we can copy the words by hand, the best we can and rise and rise through this Joy.

Torah is on the Internet in many places and so anytime we are near a computer, we can take a few minutes now and again to dip into Torah and return to our other activity with some fine refreshment.

Shoftim describes the creating of cities of refuge: Here we see justice in another form — places where someone who accidentally killed will be safe from retribution. Better is to rise in purity so that our world rises with us and there are no accidents, much less accidental killings, and no need for cities of refuge.

Unblemished offerings: These symbolize the purity that justice is — unblemished. Since the real offering is not the physical offering, or even the prayers that we offer today as a substitute for the physical offerings: the real offering is ourselves. So we offer ourselves to Gd as the Mi Shebeirach prayer says: “Give us the courage to make our lives a blessing..”

Witnesses: As an example of standards of evidence, two adults witnessing someone about to break Torah law were required to warn him. In a world, where all live in Canaan, the Promised Land, fully realized Synchronicity/Integration, this might not even be necessary for small children. But even when it is, in a world where everyone experiences “The World is My Family” anyone seeing any child in danger of breaking a law would certainly unhesitatingly, lovingly warn the child.

Rules of war: Peace terms are to be offered before attacking a city. In a world where everyone is in harmony with Gd, with One, wars will not arise.

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. A harmonious world shows us exactly the appropriate materials and tools at exactly the right time.

Community Responsibility: 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. With each of us becoming more and more attuned, the community becomes attuned, murder does not occur.

These specific examples of justice depend on our attunement to Wholeness, to Oneness, and this depends greatly on the justice, the purity, of our daily routine. When our daily routine is healthy, we see things as they are, act appropriately in a spontaneous way.

Shoftim is an aspect of Torah that gives specific examples of the qualities of judges and specific examples of ways to ensure that justice is done. Through our reading, reciting, hearing, writing this passage we can move to the Universal Justice that is Love, Joy, Harmony, Oneness, Wholeness, Gd, Self.

How nice!

Baruch HaShem