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Parashat Shoftim 5780 — 08/22/2020

Parashat Shoftim 5780 — 08/22/2020

Devarim 16:18-21:9

I will establish a prophet for them from among their brethren, like you [Moshe], and I will place My words in his mouth; He shall speak to them everything that I will command him. … But the prophet who willfully shall speak a word in My Name, that which I have not commanded him to speak, or who shall speak in the name of the gods of others – that prophet shall die. When you say in your heart, “How can we know the word that Hashem has not spoken?” If the prophet will speak in the Name of Hashem and that thing will not occur and not come about – that is the word that Hashem has not spoken; with willfulness has the prophet spoken it, you should not fear him. (18:18,20-22)

Gd has given us a tall order here – in fact it is one that should be theoretically impossible. We are commanded to listen to a real prophet, and to execute a false prophet (and not to fear him, even if he appears to have supernormal powers). But how are we to tell the difference? To really tell the difference, we would have to be prophets ourselves, in which case we wouldn’t need other prophets to consult. In fact, our Sages tell us that prophecy ceased at the beginning of the Second Temple period, around 400 or 500 BCE. Zechariah, Malachi and Haggai were the last of the prophets. And if the direct application of this passage seems moot nowadays, I would suggest that there are plenty of “false prophets” out there and sometimes it is not so easy to tell who is right and who is wrong, even when we are convinced that we know.

The rather simple idea that if a prophet says X will happen and it doesn’t, then he is a false prophet, has a number of caveats. For example, if a prophet makes a negative prophecy, such as Yonah’s prophecy that Nineveh would be destroyed, and it doesn’t happen, that could be because the people repented, as the Book of Yonah testifies that the people of Nineveh did. So we must look only at positive prophecies.

Even there, Or haChaim finds a case where a positive prophecy, that the wicked King Achav would be victorious in battle against Aram, didn’t pan out. (See I Kings, chapter 22, Sanhedrin 89a.) Four hundred prophets testified that he would score a great victory. One prophet alone, when adjured to speak only in Hashem’s Name, said that Achav would lose the battle, and his life, and the latter is what actually happened. Yet the 400 “false prophets” were not punished. Why?

According to the text, Gd wished to draw Achav to his death in this battle and asked for a spirit to go and confuse the prophets! The spirit of Navot, whom Achav had murdered, was all too happy to take the job, and off he went, planting this false prophecy in the mouths of the unsuspecting 400 prophets. In fact, even the lone prophet who prophesied truly, at first joined the 400. Only when King Yehoshafat adjured him to prophecy only in Hashem’s Name, did the spirit of Navot leave him and he was able to tell the truth, and, while he was at it, explained how the spirit of Navot had messed everyone up. Achav, apparently figuring 400-1 was pretty good odds, went with the positive prophecy, and Gd’s Will was done. Sic transit gloria mundi. In a sense, even the 400 prophets spoke Gd’s Word, but Gd cannot be associated with falsehood in any way, so he had to call for the intervention of a spirit with a grudge to do His dirty work.

One last caveat: Although a prophet cannot innovate a new Torah law, nor set aside a Torah law permanently, he can set aside a Torah law on a temporary basis. The classic example of this is Eliyahu’s test with the prophets of Baal on Mt. Carmel (I Kings 18:20ff). Eliyahu offers an offering to Hashem outside the Temple (Mt. Carmel is in the Haifa region, nowhere near Jerusalem), which is forbidden, and he tests Gd, daring Him, so to speak, to justify His existence by miraculously answering Eliyahu and sending fire from heaven to consume that offering.

So the question is, where does this leave all of us? If a negative prophecy cannot be falsified, because the people prophesied against may have repented, and a positive prophecy cannot always be falsified, because there may be some spirit that has been given permission to mislead them, how can we tell whose prophecy is real and whose is not?

Or haChaim points out that all 400 prophets came out with an identical prophecy (“Go up and triumph” / Aleh v’hatzlach), and it is a given that no two genuine prophets ever express their prophecy in identical terms. This is because prophecy (except for that of Moshe Rabbeinu) involves the direct perception of the transcendental level of existence and the mechanics of the process of its manifestation into creation. But it also involves the individual prophet’s imaginative faculty to convert that experience into words and images that can be conveyed to others. These words and images will depend on the individuality of the prophet, and, I believe, on influences in the environment. Thus, the impurity that was rife in Achav’s court, as symbolized in the spirit of Achav’s murder victim, Navot, also had an influence on the prophecy of the 400 prophets – distorting it beyond recognition in this case. Only when Yehoshafat adjured the one prophet in Hashem’s Name, was he able to settle down and transcend the distortion and deception and speak the truth of his vision.

For better or worse, we don’t have to deal with this issue nowadays, when there are no prophets of any kind. However, we all do have to act in the world, and that action should be in accord with Gd’s Will, which is always in the direction of more order, more harmony, more happiness, more life. The way to assure that we make His Will our will is to station our awareness in the transcendent, from which Gd’s Will emanates, so that our thoughts and actions are spontaneously progressive and life-supporting. Then we will no longer need prophets or seers to tell us what is coming, for whatever comes will be an unalloyed blessing from Gd.


Commentary by Steve Sufian

Parashat Shoftim

Parshah 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.

In discussing Gd’s Judgment given on Rosh HaShana, Rebbetzin Tiporah Gottlieb said something very lovely, in a recent webinar: “Gd Judges us to see what we need” – judgment is not a matter of punishment or reward: it is a matter of determining (so to speak – Gd always knows, no need to make a special point of determining on a particular occasion) on Rosh HaShanah, the Head of the Year, what we need. Gd gives us Justice, what we need.
“Justice” means that which will bring us to Full 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 be sufficiently attuned to Gd that they can serve as intermediaries between us and Gd to know what we need and to guide us to act more and more justly until our hearts are completely pure, our souls are just and we are “Holy, as Gd is Holy.”

In this parshah, Moses tells us that in 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 G-d,’ 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 – there is 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, no needs to diagnose and prescribe paths to satisfaction.

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 sofers, 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 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.

In a deeper sense, “writing our own Torah” means experiencing Torah as fundamental vibrations of Consciousness, of Gd – experiencing this within our own consciousness. Writing and reading Torah in our everyday world can help this experience to grow.

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.
Symbolically, “cities of refuge” are places within our own awareness where stressful thoughts, memories, anticipations do not arise – A Transcendental realm within our awareness.

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 our self. So we offer ourselves to Gd as the Mi Shebeirach prayer says: “Give us the courage to make our lives a blessing.”

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. Symbolically, two adults mean both our waking state self and our Transcendental Self. A child is a thought rising that wants to blossom into action.

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. Similarly, wars will not arise within our mind regarding different choices, interpretations.

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. A harmonious mind bears fruit for action and the action leads to not merely a wooden house, but to The Home of Fulfillment.

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. Similarly, no useless thoughts, dead thoughts, arise in our mind: we think from the Source of Thought and every thought that arises is Live.

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