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Perhaps the most central theme of Parshas Shoftim is the responsibilities and authorities of the leaders and guides of Bnei Yisrael. This position would develop over time, beginning with a single authority in Moshe Rabbeinu, morphing into prophets and Shoftim, and eventually splitting into a Beis Din responsible for determining and deciding all matters related to Torah law, and a king responsible for enforcing the law and day-to-day needs of the nation. During the time that Moshe was leading the nation and they could observe his direct pipeline to Hashem, it was easier to accept his authority and believe he was giving over the correct message. However, as we moved away from Moshe, and the leaders’ connection with Hashem became more hidden, it became necessary for the Torah to establish the authority of the nation’s future leaders.
A clear example of this is found in Perek 17 Pasuk 11, “עַל־פִּ֨י הַתּוֹרָ֜ה אֲשֶׁ֣ר יוֹר֗וּךָ וְעַל־הַמִּשְׁפָּ֛ט אֲשֶׁר־יֹֽאמְר֥וּ לְךָ֖ תַּֽעֲשֶׂ֑ה לֹ֣א תָס֗וּר מִן־הַדָּבָ֛ר אֲשֶׁר־יַגִּ֥ידוּ לְךָ֖ יָמִ֥ין וּשְׂמֹֽאל” “According to the teaching that they will teach you and according to the judgment that they will say to you, shall you do; you shall not turn from the word that they will tell you, right or left.” Rashi comments on the usage of the phrase “right or left”, that even if they tell you left is right and right is left, you must listen to them. The Ramban expands on this that even if you believe the opposite of what Beis Din determines is the halacha, even to the point where it seems as obvious to you as the difference between right and left, you must trust and support their decision.
This same concept is seen later on in the parsha in perhaps an unexpected location. The Torah warns us, “לֹ֤א תַסִּיג֙ גְּב֣וּל רֵֽעֲךָ֔ אֲשֶׁ֥ר גָּֽבְל֖וּ רִֽאשֹׁנִ֑ים בְּנַֽחֲלָֽתְךָ֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר תִּנְחַ֔ל בָּאָ֕רֶץ אֲשֶׁר֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹהֶ֔יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לְךָ֖ לְרִשְׁתָּֽהּ” “You shall not move back the boundary of your fellow, which the early ones marked out …in the land that Hashem, your God, gives you to possess it.” (19:14). As we saw earlier in the Torah, portions of Eretz Yisrael were divided out to each shevet based on a careful determination of what each tribe required. While Hashem was the one who determined these portions, the pasuk attributes it to the “early ones”, which the Ramban explains refers to Elazar the son of Aharon and his successor as Kohen Gadol, and Yehoshua bin Nun, the successor to Moshe, along with the heads of each individual tribe. Why are they given credit for acting on Hashem’s direct orders? In order to make the same point as before.
The Written Torah is in many ways incomplete. There are many examples of laws found in the Torah with little detail to how they are supposed to be done. As a result, it is up to our Torah experts to determine the true meaning of the Torah and how we are supposed to practice. However, explains the Ramban, it’s impossible for everyone to come to the same conclusions when dealing with vagueness and ambiguity. Without trusting the authorities, the Torah would break down very quickly into several different versions. Therefore, the Torah itself teaches us that we must trust in our leaders.
Even if an individual might have clearer logic, greater intelligence, or perhaps even better intentions, it makes no difference. As leaders of the Jewish people, they have been blessed with guidance from Hashem to the point where even though they may not be on the same level of greatness as Moshe, in our eyes we must afford them the same amount of respect.
Thank you to everyone who participated in this year's SOS program. The program has now ended for the Summer. Stay tuned for next year's!
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