Last week, in Parasha Re’eh, God set a blessing and a curse before the Israelites. The blessing would come when they obeyed God’s commandments and the curse if they forsook them.
This week’s Torah reading, called Judges (Shoftim in Hebrew), discusses the issue of justice according to a Biblical perspective.
God commanded Moses to instruct the people of Israel to appoint shoftim (judges), a word derived from the verb shafat, meaning to judge or to govern, and shotrim (officials or official books, and in modern Hebrew, police officers) to rule at the gates of the cities so that justice would prevail.
These appointed leaders were expected to judge the people with fairness, equality and wisdom. They were forbidden from perverting justice in any way, such as showing favoritism or taking bribes.
“You shall not distort justice; you shall not be partial, and you shall not take a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the righteous.” (Deuteronomy 16:19)
So crucial is the concept of justice to the nation of Israel that the Torah actually repeats this word twice for emphasis, “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)
All crimes were to be investigated thoroughly and the death penalty could only be executed upon the testimony of two or three witnesses:
“On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” (Deuteronomy 17:6)
In fact, it was to be the hands of the witnesses that would throw the first stones at the one accused of the crime and then the rest of the people of Israel would stone the criminal to death. Why such harsh judgments? To purge the evil from among the community:
“You must purge the evil from among you…. You must purge the evil from Israel.” (Deuteronomy 17:7, 12)
Even the showing of contempt toward a judge or law enforcement officer constituted a crime that carried the death penalty.
This week’s portion of Scripture also contains a vital word for the nation of Israel today, as they engage in a battle against the violence and murderous intentions of Gaza’s Hamas terrorists:
“When you are about to go into battle, the priest [kohen] shall come forward and address the army. He shall say: ‘Hear, Israel: Today you are going into battle against your enemies. Do not be fainthearted or afraid; do not panic or be terrified by them. For the Lord your God is the one who goes with you to fight for you against your enemies to give you victory.’” (Deuteronomy 20:2–4)
God wants justice and peace to prevail in Israel.
May the God of Israel give Israeli leaders wisdom to appropriately end the reign of Hamas terror, and be with our young men and women of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces), supernaturally protecting and giving them victory against all terrorist forces that seek to destroy Jewish men, women, and children in the Holy Land.
“Through our God we shall do valiantly; for it is He who shall tread down our enemies.” (Psalm 60:12)
The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil
The entire theme of this Parasha is that of judgment.
The question many of us ask ourselves is, “What about the gray areas? How do we judge rightly especially in situations that are not specifically addressed in God’s Word?”
In the beginning, in the perfect Garden of Eden, humankind was never designed to carry the burden of judgment. God was the only judge.
Adam and Eve (Chava) did not look down at themselves and say, “Oh dear, we are naked; that is terrible! Shameful!” Not until they disobeyed God and ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did they receive this burden.
“When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.” (Genesis 3:6–7)
Eve wanted to have supernatural wisdom like God; therefore, she ate from the tree that gave her knowledge of good and evil, which was meant to be restricted to God’s domain. Now we continue to bear the burden of Adam and Eve’s choice.
Most often, we don’t judge with supernatural wisdom. We look in the mirror and judge ourselves as ugly, imperfect, or shameful—usually reflecting back at ourselves the judgments of others or the measurement we are using to judge others. We look at the actions of others and judge them as wrong, bad, or evil.