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Parsha Shoftim Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

Parsha Shoftim Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

In this week’s Torah portion we read of several interesting things that are conveyed by God through Moses. This portion is titled “Judges,” which leads us to some remarkable points on justice and judgment within the nation of Israel. In these chapters, the leadership of Israel are all mentioned: the judges (Sanhedrin), the king, the priests, and the prophets. The reason they are in such close proximity is to show us that there is something linked between all these positions. Obviously, they are connected because each job deals with the administration of people. But why are they all mentioned within the same portion?
 
In America today, our government is based on a system of “checks-and-balances.” According to Britannica.com the definition of the term “checks and balances” is: “[a] principle of government under which separate branches are empowered to prevent actions by other branches and are induced to share power.” The idea of checks and balances are to ensure that each entity of government does not attempt to overstep their boundaries. Each branch of government is held responsible for their actions by other government powers.
 
Is this the reason why all the Jewish authorities are mentioned in the same portion? Is it the same kind of idea, where everyone in a position of government or leadership is accountable and answerable to everyone else?
Clearly, each different institution of Israel’s government system could be corrected by one of the other entities. We see throughout scripture where a priest corrects a king, or where a prophet calls out the priesthood, or where a king stands rebuked by a judge. 
The Prophet Nathan rebukes King David by Eugene Siberdt (1851-1931)
However, this wasn’t an idea of “checks and balances.” Instead, the reason all of these entities are mentioned together is because they’re supposed to support each other and lift each other up. The job of each entity was not to ensure that the other wasn’t overstepping their boundaries. The job of each entity was to empower the others in a righteous and just direction. Can you imagine if each entity of government knew it wasn’t their job to control the others, instead it was their job to encourage them in a way of godliness and righteousness?
 
Can you imagine if we understood the concept, that our job is not to “put right” or “check and balance” each other?
If we could only realize that our life is not about correcting but about lifting each other to a higher place of righteousness and justice. Life is about bringing others with us to a place of mutual encouragement, enabling us to ascend to higher.
 
A verse from this Torah portion in Deuteronomy 16:20 says, “You shall follow what is altogether just, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God is giving you.”
 
I could talk about how important establishing judges and walking in just judgment is, especially for the children of Israel. Their very tie to the land of Israel is connected to following a path of righteousness and justice in judgment. But there is something else interesting in this verse that we miss if we are only reading the English.
 
The verse starts out saying in Hebrew “Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof.” It repeats the word “Tzedek” which means “Justice” or “Righteousness.” The question that the Rabbis have asked over the centuries is “why does it repeat the word Tzedek?”
 
Ibn Ezra writes, “The word appears twice: because one must pursue justice, whether it be to one’s gain, or to one’s loss; or the repetition denotes ‘time after time’ — all the days of your life…”
 
Ibn Ezra’s takeaway was to pursue righteousness whether it hurt or benefited. Always choosing “time after time” to walk in righteousness. As Nachmanides once said,
“[T] he reason for repeating the word justice is that the Torah reminds you that righteousness emanates from the emanation [of] justice.” Righteousness comes from righteousness. As it is said in Judaism, “A mitzvah (good deed) leads to a mitzvah.”
 
It was not only the job of the Judges to promote righteousness and justice, but it was up to the whole nation of Israel to strive for a higher standard. If righteousness emanates righteousness, then when people pursue a higher standard it lifts all the people around as well. A good picture of this is illustrated in the Baraita where it says, “When the verse states: ‘Justice, justice, shall you follow,’ one mention of ‘justice’ is stated with regard to judgment and one is stated with regard to compromise. How so…two boats [are] traveling on the river and they encounter each other, if both of them attempt to pass, both of them sink, as the river is not wide enough for both to pass. If they pass one after the other, both of them pass.”
 
We cannot be like the boat that is not willing to compromise and in the end destroys both ships. Instead our hearts need to desire to move forward, together, toward a higher and better place of righteousness. We need to learn to use the Torah to speak and bring life into the world. If you’re using your boat to ram other ships, then you’ve missed the whole point of Torah.
 
The story of the 2 ships is followed by a story about 2 camels on a steep cliff. If neither camel is willing to “lay down its rights” then both fall. We must learn to walk together with those around us. Even if we feel we’re right… is it really worth having the “right-of-way” when it means you have to push others off the cliff? In the end this attitude will eventually destroy yourself as well.
 
Rebbe Nachman of Breslov has a famous saying within Judaism that goes like this, “The whole entire world is a very narrow bridge and the main thing is to have no fear at all.”
 
So, if the whole world is a narrow bridge, or, in this case, a narrow steep cliff, then not only should we have no fear, but we should also be helping each other on the journey. Because, a helping hand equals a helping hand, righteousness equals righteousness, and justice equals justice. The more we bring into the world the more the world responds back in kind. Not just to us, but it spreads like a fire from person to person. It’s like a smile, a smile to one person, could affect the day of many other people. That’s the idea. Spread righteousness, you never know how much closer you might be bringing the world to the day of Mashiach (Messiah)! All I know is righteousness brings more righteousness, just like a smile brings more smiles!
In another part of this weeks portion, Deuteronomy 18, God says, “I will raise up for them a Prophet like you from among their brethren, and will put My words in His mouth, and He shall speak to them all that I command Him And it shall be that whoever will not hear My words, which He speaks in My name, I will require it of him.”
 
Acts 3 tells us that Yeshua is the Prophet that was prophesied of in Deuteronomy. He carries God’s words in his mouth. Here is what He said about the topic of justice and righteousness, …whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 7:12) Receive and live the words of Yeshua, they are still relevant today!
 
I can’t help but close in repetition. Love brings more love to the world, righteousness brings more righteousness to the world, justice brings more justice to the world, and being like Messiah will one day, hopefully very soon, bring King Messiah to this world!
 
Shabbat Shalom,
Samuel

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