Parsha Shoftim and Seeking Justice

Given the assault on our justice system, the FBI and federal judges, not to mention other democratic institutions, this week’s Parsha, Shoftim, couldn’t be more right on.

“18 Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every town the Eternal your God is giving you, and they shall judge the people fairly.

19 Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.

20 Follow justice and justice alone, so that you may live and possess the land the Eternal your God is giving you.”

We are very fortunate to be heirs to a value culture, an ethical tradition, that gives us precious guidance and the foundations upon which we can live. Even when Torah teachings conflict with or don’t address contemporary issues we are given permission to question, interpret and create new judgements.

The function of higher courts is so clear. “If you are unable to reach a decision in capital punishment, litigation…then you must set out and go up to the place that God shall choose  approach the Levitical priests and the higher judge who will make a legal decision.” (17:8-9)

Our ancient wisdom teachers also address, in this Parsha, how we choose our leadership and the wisdom attributes that the people’s leader must have. Besides not having a harem, he must not have accumulated tremendous wealth. Then it goes on to teach “When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the Levitical priests. It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Eternal his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees…”

This month we are ascending, once more, toward Sinai, represented by Yom Kippur. We are Moshe. Are we conscious of our ascent? Of the need to ascend? How do we do that as the Jews, as Americans?

Some of us in the more progressive Jewish community are struggling with Jewish leadership that claims to speak on behalf of the Jewish people. Do we have the Torah teachings at our bedside now? When powerful segments of the Jewish community cry out against antisemitism but not against the suffering of the Palestinian people, we are all in mortal danger. When Jewish leaders support candidates for office who do not respect the rights of immigrants, women, the LGBTQ community and others, we know that we have lost the way.

How do we move forward? Isaiah this week speaks to us. “Awake, awake, stand up Jerusalem… awake, awake, put on your strength…”  Kadimah,   Reb David

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