Parshat Shoftim: Approaching justice as love

Justice is the main subject in Shoftim (Judges). Our Sages say: “By three things is the world sustained: justice, truth and peace.” (Pirkei Avot 1:18), as it is written, “Truth, and a judgment of peace, you should administer at your [city] gates.” (Zachariah 8:16); and in this statement we must understand the context of shoftim.

Judgment is the application of justice, and justice is the righteous thing to do. Hence, by doing the right thing we indeed do justice. Although the word may suggest “law”, its meaning is related to make truth prevail as the foundation for peace.

“You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts the words of the wise.” (Deuteronomy 16:19)

Doing what is right is acting with and for the truth, which is encompassed by love’s ways and attributes that oppose ego’s agenda of manipulation (perversion of justice), self-interest (favoritism), and corruption by pursuing materialistic fantasies and illusions (bribes) at any cost (losing the truth and trust in love).

The portion continues addressing idolatry as the separation from our Creator’s ways and attributes. Idolatry as the masks ego wants us to wear for every aspect of our lives.

“If a matter eludes you in judgment, between blood and blood, between judgment and judgment, or between lesion and lesion, words of dispute in your cities, then you shall rise and go up to the place the Lord, your God, chooses.” (17:8)

Mystic sages comment on this verse saying that our “cities” represent the aspects of consciousness that we have to watch over in order to maintain their harmonious balance and expression. They also say that the gates of these cities are seven in the head (ears, eyes, nostrils and mouth) and two in the lower part of the body. All these must be guided with justice, meaning in love’s ways and attributes.

In sum, we have to conduct every aspect, dimension and expression of our consciousness in the direction of love’s ways. As we have mentioned in previous commentaries, our higher awareness of the Creator (represented by the high priest) is the best judge.

“And you shall come to the levitic kohanim and to the judge who will be in those days, and you shall inquire, and they will tell you the words of judgment. And you shall do according to the word they tell you, from the place the Lord will choose, and you shall observe to do according to all they instruct you.” (17:9-10)

The awareness of love as our permanent bond and connection with the Creator is the best judgment we can have to deal with the illusions of the material world. When love conducts every aspect of our lives, truth is served and peace prevails individually and collectively.

The portion mentions divination, soothsaying, and other kinds of incantations as the lowest means to pursue control over the forces of nature and to transgress love’s ways and attributes (18:10-12, 14) and “Be wholehearted with the Lord your God.” (18:13).

If love is our sustenance as the material manifestation of God’s love, why should we pursue the mirages of ego’s fantasies and illusions? Still, the choices are only ours and also their consequences.

The text continues with a reiteration of the cities of refuge (19:2-21) where the Levites are responsible for bringing back to God’s ways and attributes those who have transgressed against their fellow man.

Our Sages teach that every man, for the primordial fact that he is the image and likeness of the Creator, is not evil. Any crime that he may commit is the result of ignorance, therefore he must be educated with the teachings of the Torah. This is one of the main principles of Judaism. The cities of refuge are places designated directly from our Creator to rehabilitate those who fall into the negative trends of human consciousness.

This is one of the most precious commandments given to us, and we must comprehend it as part of the divine essence that created everything and sustains everything.

God’s love is about learning to be and do His ways and attributes, and the cities of refuge were established for that purpose. When we are not able to live harmonically among our brethren, and transgress against them, we need to be helped in order to redeem ourselves.

This help is available by those who can guide us back to who we really are: the image and likeness of God’s love. The Torah calls them Levites and we also call them the highest level of our consciousness, the sublime awareness that we are always connected to our Creator, the existential knowledge that we are His creatures.

In this awareness we can return to our true identity and be able to amend, restore, or rectify our transgressions against ourselves and others.

“You shall not have pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.” (19:21)

Our Sages emphasize that this is not about revenge or retaliation but to restore, give back or compensate for the damage caused by our negative actions.

The parshah ends with the following verse.

“And you shall abolish the [shedding of] innocent blood from among you, for you shall do what is proper in the eyes of the Lord.” (21:09)

This invites us to reflect on the value of life in order to protect it and to sanctify it according to love’s ways and attributes.

About the Author
Ariel Ben Avraham was born in Colombia (1958) from a family with Sephardic ancestry. He studied Cultural Anthropology in Bogota, and lived twenty years in Chicago working as a radio and television producer and writer. He emigrated to Israel in 2004, and for the last fourteen years has been studying the Chassidic mystic tradition, about which he writes and teaches. Based on his studies, he wrote his first book "God's Love" in 2009. He currently lives in Kochav Yaakov.
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