Daniel D. Stuhlman

Shoftim — Justice and Community

Parasha Shoftim  Sept 3, 2022

We are expected to learn Torah every day and learn about the world around us. This is the way we appreciate the beauty of God’s universe. While the study of arts and sciences acts as a way to understand the world and guide us in our financial dealing, the study of Torah helps us understand the how and why of the Divine will. Effective study including intellectual curiosity and leads us to critical thinking and independence.

This week’s parasha has two ideas that are intertwined. We are commanded to appoint judges and officers.

Devorim 16:20 צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְ-ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃  

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that your God is giving you.

In verse 17:15 we are commanded to appoint a king. Judges, justice, and kingship are connected. Every person is unique and has his/her own gifts. That does not mean we are created equal. For a society to succeed the power of law is required. Judges are required to decide disputes. While we have to help those with needs, hard work usually succeeds better than laziness.

Let me tell you the story of a very wealthy and successful man. He owns a big business. Let’s call him CEO. A person asked me if I thought wealthy people should give their money to the poor. CEO earned BS and MS degrees in engineering. He started to work for an engineering company that designed electrical systems for large buildings and communities. He was hard working and knew how to guide others. The business was at a juncture and the one day the president makes an announcement that the business is not doing well and will soon close. CEO and the rest of the hard working employees were stunned. CEO examined his finances. He took another mortgage on his home, cashed in his retirement funds, arranged for loans, and offered to buy the business. The owner sold it to him. For many years CEO worked 10-12 hours a day making sure the business worked and the employees and vendors were paid. Those who worked hard were rewarded.  He bet his entire future on building his business and he won.

There is a new employee who never went to college, shows up to work sleepy and rarely on time, and shows no initiative toward excellence. Do you think he has any reason to expect CEO to share his wealth? On the other hand, CEO donates to communal organizations so that those in need can be helped and the community can be a better place for all.

The Jewish king is a leader who is bound by law. He is required to own a sefer Torah to remind him of God’s role in the universe and the community. Independence and community, thought and action, must be balanced to allow the community to grow.

The business lesson is that leadership demands responsibility. No one should expect a free ride. In the pursuit of justice, we still need people with many talents and gifts. Not everyone can lead, but everyone can be part of the community.

Discussion questions

  1. What is the boundary for a judge? What should be done if the judge makes a decision that is against the law?
  2. Laws to control actions may be legislated. What happens when the legislature wants to control minds and thoughts?
  3. In the search for “truth” what is the role of Torah, madah (physical science), and social sciences?
About the Author
Lives in Chicago, Illinois USA. Academic and synagogue librarian for more than 40 years. Graduate of Columbia University in the City of New York, Jewish Theological Seminary, and Jewish University of America. MHL and DHL in Tanah. Gabbai Sheni of Kehilath Jacob Beth Shmuel in Chicago for more than 40 years.
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