Friday, August 29, 2014

Dvar Torah for Parshas Shoftim

AIMeMTorah would like to thank Mark Cheirif for filling in this week.

When superficially reading through sefer Devarim, one can't help but notice that each parsha seems to be a potpourri of random ideas awkwardly forced into one section. This week's parsha, Shoftim, is no exception. It covers such diverse topics as appointing judges and law enforcers, more laws regarding עבודה זרה, not to bring a בעל מום as a sacrifice, appointing a king, some מתנות כהונה, laws of interacting with נביאים, establishing ערי מקלט (again), not encroaching upon another's land, and various laws of war. Although it is often difficult to find one perfect theme to unify all the different topics in a parsha, it appears that Shoftim can be boiled down to two: the apportionment of land and positions of power. Considering the incongruity of these two motifs, it would seem appropriate for the parsha to list them in a linear, disassociated layout, never mixing one with the other. This cannot be further from the truth. Taking note of the פתוחות וסתומות, one can see that sections dealing with apportionment of authority and it's responsibilities are sporadically interspersed with the drawing and enforcement of appropriate delineation; appointment of judges is immediately followed by the prohibition of planting trees used for עבודה זרה within the borders of the מקום המקדש; the establishment of a king proceeds the reiteration of שבט לוי's homelessness; the laws of believing a נביא transition to the designation of cities of refuge. The truth is, not only are sections about laws of authority interspersed within sections regarding definition of borders; rather, much of the the former is defined by the latter. The Sanhedrin operates within the confines of the מקום המקדש only when ישראל retain a degree of sovereignty over their land, and specifically due to the Levites' lack of נחלה are they afforded the privilege of their alternative נחלה, the מתנות כהונה. But what is the reason for the Torah's interconnection of authority and space, land and leader? There always is the obvious practicality of the law official's responsibility in dealing with legal apportionment of land and property. But is the connection merely mundane, or is there some deeper philosophical underpinning lurking between the lines? Rashi seems to touch upon this idea in a comment on the pasuk "צדק צדק תרדף למען תחיה וירשת את הארץ אשר ה' אלקיך נתן לך" (דברים טז:כ)in which he says "כדאי הוא מנוי הדיינים הכשרים להחיות את ישראל ולהושיבן על אדמתן" "The appointment of proper judges is enough to sustain Yisrael and return them to their land." Rashi is answering the question of what inheritance of ארץ ישראל has to do with appointing judges. He answers quoting the ספרי that says that the act of assigning appropriate, fitting judges allows for the sustainability of ישראל and their establishment upon the land. Similarly, the Seforno says on the same pasuk that having appropriate judges is especially important בארץ, because the lack thereof prevents ירושת הארץ. These comments just deepen the question, still, what is the profound basis for connecting the parsha's disparate themes? To answer this question, one has to hone in on the wording of the pasuk linking the two ideas. The Torah doesn't merely say to choose judges, rather, it frames the appointment as an act of צדק צדק תרדוף. Leaders in ישראל are there to engage and literally chase צדק, not just to sit comfortably in their ivory tower and judge. The link between land and leadership is not just the mundane fact that it is the law official's responsibility to deal with legal apportionment of land and property. The judge cannot narrow his scope to monetary apportionment alone to ensure sustainability of ישראל on their land. They must, first and foremost set a tone of chasing justice, intensely seeking morality, because ארץ ישראל is not your average land. It is a land that spits out its inhabitants for violating their integrity, a נחלה that demands meticulous adherence to greatness. Mediocrity in any pursuit בארץ, no less the upholding of justice and morality, is simply untenable. As the Seforno says on the opening pasuk of last week's parsha, ראה, that before entering the ארץ, we were given only two options, a duality of opposite extremes, ברכה and קללה. Mediocrity is not an option, rather, one must choose between intense success and dismal failure. It is the leaders responsibility to uphold the nations moral fiber to ensure that they always chase greatness assuring the fulfillment of .ישמח ה' במעשיו לתת להם נחלת גוים

Shabbat Shalom!

Mark Cheirif originally hails from Dallas, Texas. He has studied in Yeshivas Derech Etz Chaim in Jerusalem and currently studies in Lander College for Men in Queens, New York. He is a first-time contributor to AIMeM.

Click here for last year's Dvar Torah for Parshas Shoftim

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