Parshat Shoftim begins with a directive of how Israel must create a functional legal system:
שֹׁפְטִ֣ים וְשֹֽׁטְרִ֗ים תִּֽתֶּן־לְךָ֙ בְּכׇל־שְׁעָרֶ֔יךָ אֲשֶׁ֨ר יְהֹוָ֧ה אֱלֹהֶ֛יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ לִשְׁבָטֶ֑יךָ וְשָׁפְט֥וּ אֶת־הָעָ֖ם מִשְׁפַּט־צֶֽדֶק׃
-You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.
לֹא־תַטֶּ֣ה מִשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹ֥א תַכִּ֖יר פָּנִ֑ים וְלֹא־תִקַּ֣ח שֹׁ֔חַד כִּ֣י הַשֹּׁ֗חַד יְעַוֵּר֙ עֵינֵ֣י חֲכָמִ֔ים וִֽיסַלֵּ֖ף דִּבְרֵ֥י צַדִּיקִֽם׃ –
You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribery makes the wise blind and perverts the words of the righteous.
צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ Justice, justice shall you pursue, so that you may thrive and inherit the land that the HASHEM your Elohim is giving you: (Deut. 16:18-20)
Moshe Rabbenu is emphasizing the importance of establishing a police and court system based on the core principles of fairness and justice. This is in fulfillment of the general instructions that Avraham and Sarah received at the beginning of the history of Israel:
“וְשָֽׁמְרוּ֙ דֶּ֣רֶךְ יְהֹוָ֔ה לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת צְדָקָ֖ה וּמִשְׁפָּ֑ט-
And you shall fulfill the Divine way- doing righteousness and justice.” (Breishit: 18:19)
Rabbi Avraham Yitzchak HaCohen Kook explains the importance of this for all humankind:
“Our mishpat-justice system is the most important component of our spiritual property. It is the most weighty part of our existence as a living nation. It is more important from all the secondary areas that we take pride in. While everything is beloved and wonderful, we must distinguish between those branches that the soul does not depend upon and those that are central to the life and soul of each nation. Our nation is particularly dependent on the rule of justice.” (Letters 1:225, written in 1909)
Rav Kook elaborates further in Eyn Aya:
“The Holy Torah’s primary purpose is to direct the human in a path of eternal well-being…
The soul of all nations and especially our nation is dependent on its justice system…
The purpose of law is to ensure societal life is established properly. However there are a number of opinions about the purpose of societal life among various nations and countries.
A nation that is immersed in the yoke of its material passions can not imagine a purpose for its societal life other than to develop its material realm completely. This will enable all possible passions to be fulfilled in an organized and structured way.
From this lowly perspective, the legal system [and its judges] must support the societal love of fulfillment of material desires…
However, a holy and elevated nation, a nation of God recognizes that “judgment belongs to God” (Deut. 1:17).
The purpose of human society is then understood to be more than just organizing material life in a way that enables humans to fulfill their crudest desires….
The true purpose of societal life is to enable human beings to fill life with light and good, with justice and knowledge of the Divine. A life of pure spirit and holy understanding is the core foundation and goal of human society.
From this perspective the source of the Torah’s societal laws is very exalted and sanctified. It is vastly separate from the crude immersion in material passions. It is raised to the pure and elevated purpose of human society….
The power of the collective national law is then raised to bring about the spiritual fulfillment of humankind….
“Then you will delight in the Divine and I will mount you astride the heights of the world.” (Isaiah 58:14) -Eyn Ayah, Shabbat 1:10
Rav Kook is explaining to us the vital importance of creating a legal system that ensures that the Divine directives of justice, integrity and good are supported in human society and life.
Then we will fulfill the verse:
“תָּמִ֣ים תִּֽהְיֶ֔ה עִ֖ם יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶֽיךָ- You will be wholehearted with YHVH your Elohim (Deut. 18:13)”
May we merit to do so quickly in our days.
Prepared by Rabbi Itzchak Evan-Shayish, www.haorot.com, firstname.lastname@example.org
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