Israel Drazin

Why do we need judges?

The parasha Shoftim (16:18-21:9) begins with Moses requiring the Israelites, “You must make judges and officers in every gate that Y-h-v-h gives you for your tribes. They must judge the people with righteous judgment. They must not show any [special] respect to anyone nor take gifts because gifts blind the eyes of the wise and pervert the words of the righteous. You must follow justice, justice, so that you can live and inherit the land that Y-h-v-h your God gives you.” Why does Moses stress that rules by judges, when they are righteous, assure “you can live”?

  • In 1986, when I was on active army duty as a brigadier general, the Lubavitcher Rebbe invited me to come and see him. When I complied, he requested that I teach the Seven Noahide Commandments to army chaplains and soldiers. I agreed to do so. Later, he asked that I place my speech in writing. I did this also.[1]
  • The Seven Noahide Commandments are rules developed by rabbis. They and the Rebbe felt that the practices improved their lives when non-Jews observed them.
  • The Bible states that Noah’s generation violated God’s commands. These commands are not mentioned in the Bible. However, rabbis write that these rules were known in oral traditions. They were recorded around 200 C.E. in a work called Tosefta and repeated in the twelfth century in Moses Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah, his Code of Jewish Law, in a revised order.
  • The Tosefta lists the seven as follows:
  • The establishment of law courts,
  • The prohibition against blasphemy,
  • Idolatry,[2]
  • Sexual immorality,
  • Bloodshed,
  • Theft, and
  • Against eating a limb torn from a living animal.[3]
  • Maimonides’ Code orders the commands differently:
  • Prohibitions against idolatry,
  • Blasphemy,
  • Bloodshed,
  • Sexual immorality,
  • Theft,
  • The establishment of law courts, and
  • The rule forbidding eating a limb torn from a living animal.
  • It seems that Maimonides changed the order of the commands to present them in an ever-ascending, step-by-step manner from basic behaviors that people consider obvious to more significant behaviors, which, when understood and properly practiced, could change and improve individuals and society.
  • Maimonides forbids idolatry first. This rule teaches that God created humans and gave them the “image of God” (Genesis 1:27), which he explains in his Guide of the Perplexed 1:1 is human intelligence. This first command stresses that people must use their intelligence, which makes them human. It prompts people to use their intelligence and understand that God created the laws of nature, which are good, and that people must study them to know and value these laws and use them to improve themselves and society. It warns people against passively relying on faith and superstitions, idols that seduce people from their duty to study, think, understand, and use the world intelligently.
  • Proverbs 2 has this lesson: “Open your ears to wisdom and incline your heart to clarity. Call on understanding, a trusted mother whose love is all you need. Seek her single-mindedly as though she were a hidden treasure.”
  • The portion of Shoftim contains many laws. Moses repeats regulations contained in former biblical books and articulates many of them more than once, often three times, for emphasis. I will comment on only a few here.
  • Scripture frequently states that God will choose the site of the future temple. We know that God did not make a choice, but King David selected Jerusalem for political reasons. It is the city between the southern two tribes led by Judah and the northern ten tribes. Placing his castle and temple between the two helped unite the twelve tribes. Why did the Bible say God made the selection?
  • We should accept Maimonides’ view in Guide 2:48 that whenever the Bible says God did or said something, the event occurred according to natural law, and God is given credit because he created or formed this law.
  • The portion outlines the rules of kings. Jews are allowed to have kings. However, certain restrictions and duties severely limit the king’s role. King Solomon violated all of these commands. His acts resulted in terrible consequences for him and his descendants, as Moses predicted for violations.
  • Although understood by most people as being very wise, as I show in my book The Authentic King Solomon,[4] scripture’s I Kings seem to say that despite saying Solomon is intelligent nineteen times, he was pretty foolish. Dictionaries state that the essential feature of irony is the contradiction between what is said and the intended meaning. The story of Solomon is composed of irony. Solomon may have had good intentions, but amazingly and ironically, every one of his acts missed its mark.
  • Solomon intended to unite the twelve tribes into a strong united nation, yet immediately after his death, as recorded in chapter 12, ten of the tribes broke from the monarchy of Solomon’s son and formed their country because they were dissatisfied with the way Solomon conducted his reign – his high taxes and enslavement of his people for the constructions he wanted – and his son foolishly declared he would continue his father’s behavior.
  • Solomon married many wives to improve relations with other nations, but, as chapter 11 testifies, his wives “swayed his heart after the gods of others, and his heart was not perfect with the Lord his God.” The marriage to seven hundred women and the collection of three hundred concubines raise serious doubts that Solomon respected women and treated them appropriately. It is, therefore, ironic that the only testimony of his wisdom is from three women, two prostitutes who implore the king to settle who is the mother of a child, which he decides in a ridiculous, even dangerous manner, and a pagan queen who visited him and spent time discussing riddles.
  • He built the first Temple to draw his people to God and offered many sacrifices. But his wives persuaded him to create many temples, not just one, for their idols. The ten tribes who abandoned his rule built their own temples.
  • Solomon sought to bring his people internal peace and rest from outside interference, but his actions provoked three rebellions against him during his lifetime.
  • He divided the tribes into administrative sections to diminish their tribal loyalty. He assigned Jeroboam as the tax collector for the two tribes of Joseph, despite Jeroboam being from one of the tribes of Joseph from whom Solomon tried to protect himself. Jeroboam led one of the three rebellions and fled to Egypt, where Pharaoh protected him until Solomon died.

[1] The speech is on the internet with a version in a Lubavitch magazine.

[2] Moses repeats this mandate multiple times including in this parasha in 16:21 and 22, as well as later in the portion.

[3] As discussed in the prior essay for the portion Re’eh, virtually everyone agrees that proper treatment of animals leads to proper treatment of fellow humans.

[4] Gefen Publishing, 2017.

About the Author
Dr. Israel Drazin served for 31 years in the US military and attained the rank of brigadier general. He is an attorney and a rabbi, with master’s degrees in both psychology and Hebrew literature and a PhD in Judaic studies. As a lawyer, he developed the legal strategy that saved the military chaplaincy when its constitutionality was attacked in court, and he received the Legion of Merit for his service. Dr. Drazin is the author of more than 50 books on the Bible, philosophy, and other subjects.
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