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Archive for the ‘Parasha Shoftim’ Category

Parasha Shoftim – Just Leadership

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on August 16, 2007

Weekly Parasha (Torah Reading) Shoftim Devarim 16:18-21:9Haftarah Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12

Focal Point Devarim 17:14-20

14. When you come to the land the Lord, your God, is giving you, and you possess it and live therein, and you say, “I will set a king over myself, like all the nations around me,”
15. you shall set a king over you, one whom the Lord, your God, chooses; from among your brothers, you shall set a king over yourself; you shall not appoint a foreigner over yourself, one who is not your brother.
16. Only, he may not acquire many horses for himself, so that he will not bring the people back to Egypt in order to acquire many horses, for the Lord said to you, “You shall not return that way any more.”
17. And he shall not take many wives for himself, and his heart must not turn away, and he shall not acquire much silver and gold for himself.
18. And it will be, when he sits upon his royal throne, that he shall write for himself two copies of this Torah on a scroll from [that Torah which is] before the Levitic kohanim.
19. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, so that he may learn to fear the Lord, his God, to keep all the words of this Torah and these statutes, to perform them,
so that his heart will not be haughty over his brothers, and so that he will not turn away from the commandment, either to the right or to the left, in order that he may prolong [his] days in his kingdom, he and his sons, among Israel.

This text is about Leadership – the Leadership of Israel, and what G-d expects of it. Earlier in this Parasha we find Dev 16:20 “Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.” which clearly envisions what is the basis for the existence of the inheritance. Justice.

To get a king is not formulated as a command – it’s a prediction – there will come a time when the People of Israel will say I will set a king over myself, like all the nations around me…” when the People will want what the rest of the world wants, and that is a rejection of G-d.

1 Samuel 8:7 And the LORD said unto Samuel: ‘Hearken unto the voice of the people in all that they say unto thee; for they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected Me, that I should not be king over them.

The People is supposed to be ruled by G-d, through Elders/Judges who expound on Torah and apply it to every day life. That’s the IDEAL.

In reality it is quite different. G-d takes into account that the People will want a King, and then states what this King is to be like. Those statements are commands:

He may not be a foreigner, he may not acquire means to bring the People back into slavery, he may not have many wives or hoard riches, and above all, he must write a Torah scroll and read it every day of his life, so he can keep it.

I have been scourging the State of Israel in my Divrei Torot lately, and I suppose this isn’t going to be any different.

Civil Government is not ideal for the People of Israel – in fact it’s supposed to be governed by G-d and Torah, not by elected officials. Elected Officials will always pose a risk and a possibility for corruption, but G-d has made provision for this eventuality in Torah. Commands that very clearly stipulates under what conditions those elected officials are to rule. Above all they need to keep Torah. They need to be so well acquainted with Torah that they have in fact written an entire scroll for themselves, so that they can keep it with them at all times.

I doubt the current Leaders of Israel have done that, or are anywhere near such close proximity of Torah. In fact, one only has to look at the recent additions to the Legislation of the State of Israel to realize that they are in fact very far from what G-d states is the obligation of a Just Leadership:

A Racist Jewish State

On a more local level – how do we exercise Leadership? Do we accept Community Leaders that do not know Torah, that discriminate against converts, bnai teshuvah, that honor the rich and the “powerful” for aliyah? How about Leaders that accept and encourage prejudice and violence against those that do not belong to their specific Community? Does your community hide rabbis that abuse their position to violate children sexually, beat their wives. Are your Leaders on the forefront when it comes to safe-guarding civil and human rights in Society?

If they are – congratulations! If they are not, you need to do something about it.

Shabbat Shalom!

Posted in Devarim 16:18-21:9, Haftarah, Parasha Shoftim | 2 Comments »

You are a Good Man…

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on August 3, 2007

for helping people who you didn’t even know” (from the TV series “Jericho”.)

The saying “Charity begins at home” has been hammered into us to such a degree that the thought of helping someone who we do not know is seen as a mark of a Good Person. There’s something wrong with this picture.

Oh, I agree that Tzedakkah (Righteousness and Justice) cannot be practiced if it has not been taught from an early age, in some manner. But the intention of such teaching should be that the person being taught brings the very idea of Tzedakkah with him or her to others, regardless of relation, as a matter of fact. There’s nothing “Good” in the idea of Tzedakkah (or the less righteous/just idea of Charity) it’s just what it is supposed to be. Righteousness and Justice.

My guess is that people who extend those two values only to their loved ones or their specific community still do it out of a sense of Obligation – which in essence is not less than towards the Stranger. Doing what is my duty is not Good. It’s Righteous. And Righteous is what G-d expects of us.

So being “good” to anyone is what G-d is demanding of us. Let’s not get carried away by the idea that it’s enough to do tzedakkah to our own, and that if we extend it to those we do not know we are “good” – because that is a delusion.

““Justice, justice shall thou pursue!” (Devarim/Deut 16:20 – Parasha Shoftim)” and ” Ye shall have one manner of law, as well for the stranger, as for the home-born; for I am the L-RD your G-d. (Vayikra/Lev 24:22)

So we cannot, and should not, treat people differently depending on their status in relation to us, because to do so is a violation of our obligation towards G-d and men – to not violate this has nothing to with being Good. It is just the way things should be.

Posted in Charity, Chessed, Compassion, Parasha Shoftim, Torah, Tzedakah | Leave a Comment »

And you shall live in terror? – Parasha Ki Tavo

Posted by Henric C. Jensen on July 8, 2007

Because these ideas have been on my mind – I am bumping this Dvar Torah up to visibility.

“And it shall be on the day when ye shall pass over the Jordan unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, that thou shalt set thee up great stones, and plaster them with plaster. And thou shalt write upon them all the words of this law, when thou art passed over; that thou mayest go in unto the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee, a land flowing with milk and honey, as the LORD, the God of thy fathers, hath promised thee.” (Devarim/Deu 27:2-3)

I’d like to connect this Parsha to what I wrote on Parasha Shoftim about Israel’s responsibility and obligation to Live by Torah’s Ethical Imperative in respect to the Stranger.

When Moshe is about to die, and he instructs the People one last time about what they are to do when they have entered the Land that G-d has given them: First they are to offer thanks to G-d for the Land, for the Covenant and for personal privileges and accountability, but before they do that they are to make sure that the Covenant and the Laws of that Covenant are visible to all who come to dwell there – and then the consequences of adhering or not adhering to the Laws of that Covenant is to be read out loud – as a consecration of the Land. It is as if G-d wants to make sure that His Torah is thoroughly imprinted, not just in the People, but in the very Land. Violating Torah means Violating the Land, because Torah is imprinted on the Land.

While each Jew is certainly personally responsible for obeying Torah, and are asked to affirm this in Devarim/Deu 26:2-10, this Parasha clearly speaks about the ENTIRE people as a Collective – and not just the People, but the stranger as well – Devarim/Deu 26:11. If they fail to observe the statutes of Torah, horrible things will happen to them.

This is where Judaism gets its idea of Reward and Punishment from. The first time Torah speaks of Reward for obedience is in Shemot/Exo 20:12 – “Honour thy father and thy mother, that thy days may be long upon the land which the L-RD thy G-d giveth thee.” The implication of a Punishment if disobeyed is also there. Violating Torah means Violating the Land.

People don’t want to hear about the consequences of disobeying Torah – they would much rather hear about the Blessings enumerated in the chapter following the Curses – yet the Curses (Deu 27:15-26; Deu 28:16-19) come before the Blessings (Deu 28:3-6) thus somehow spelling out that we should be aware more of the negative consequences of our actions, rather than what we can gain from acting right.

In Deu 28:66, G-d admonishes in a manner that connects to the present situation in Israel:

The life you face shall be precarious; you shall be in terror, night and day, with no assurance of survival.” (Deu 28:66)

Over and over Israel is warned that forgetting the Stranger, the Widow and the Orphan will put her in the dog-house with G-d. Over and over, also in this Parasha, is she admonished that wrong-doing has its price. So why does she insist on wronging the Stranger? Why does the Modern State of Israel keep forgetting the Holy Charge given to her in ancient times? Deu 1:16 (2), Deu 10:18-19 (2), Deu 14:29, Deu 24:17, Deu 24:19-21 (3), Deu 26:11-13 (3), Deu 27:19, Deu 31:11-12 (2) – to treat the Stranger equal to the Home-born?

This makes me think that the consequences of not caring for those, also those not Jewish, that need it or to wrong ANY human being, is the terror wrought on Israel today. Deu 27:19 is tied to Deu 16:20 by the word JUSTICE – the promise of life and prosperity for the pursuit of Justice is echoed in Deut 28:66, in a manner that almost makes my skin crawl. How can she not see this, and what will it take for her to wake?

Posted in Deuteronomium 27:2-3, Dvar Torah, Holy Charge, Israel, Judaism, Justice, Modern State of Israel, Parasha Shoftim, Reward and Punishment, Torah, Weekly Parasha | 1 Comment »

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