Shoftim

“Get out of the way of justice. She is blind.” Sometimes even justice, as Stanislaw Jerzy Lec (1909-1966) once quipped, can appear to be so impartial as to be dangerous. The passion for truth behind the Torah’s pursuit of justice could not be clearer, as Moses instructs: “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). So when the judicial system is set up in Ancient Israel, attention is paid to appointing judges and law enforcement officers in every city. Crimes must be investigated impartially and evidence thoroughly examined for there to be any hope of Justice according to Mosaic Law. Most importantly, there is the establishment of two credible witnesses required for any conviction and punishment. Prohibitions against idolatry and sorcery as well as laws governing the appointment of king are expounded, along with the guidelines for cities of asylum for the inadvertent murderer.

Alongside these laws, this week’s parshah also sets forth the rules of war, including exemptions from the military draft as well as the requirement to first offer peace before launching the offensive and attacking a city. Moreover, laws of war prohibit the wanton destruction of staples that are of value even though they nourish the enemy, for example, the prohibition of cutting down a fruit tree.

The special ritual to be followed when the body of a person killed by an unknown perpetrator is found in a field, articulated as the law of ‘Eglah ‘Arufah. It focuses again on the responsibility of both the most proximate community and its leaders for what could have been done to prevent this tragic loss of life. Finally, we are reminded that every generation is responsible and entrusted with the task of interpreting the law to keep it dynamic as a living system.