Living Torah by Rabbi Ari Enkin

This week’s Torah portion is Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9). Shoftim is one of the most fundamental Torah portions in terms of how to set up a moral, safe, and wholesome society. The word ‘Shoftim” means ‘Judges’ referring to the Torah’s obligation for us to set up courts, appoint judges, police officers, and all other municipal and national officials in order to ensure a functioning society.

Not only are we told which offices and institutions must be established, but the Torah also goes into minute detail on who is to fill these positions. Not just anyone can serve as a judge and not just anyone can serve as a police officer. It has to be righteous individuals with impeccable dignity and integrity. Individuals whose reputation for honesty, fairness, and impartiality precedes them. Individuals who “take no bribes” and “are not intimidated by personality”. Our officials must be people who are careful, thought out, wise, and impartial.

The story is told of Rabbi Shmuel Salant who served as a rabbinic judge. Once, an injured man who had clearly been beaten and suffered many injuries entered his courtroom. This individual, ‘Roger’ claimed that ‘Simon’, a member of their community, had beaten him. He demanded that the rabbi bring Simon to justice and award him damages.

Rabbi Salant said he would surely bring the perpetrator to justice but first he would have to meet with Simon in order to hear his side of the story. Roger was outraged. “What do you mean you must meet with Simon before ruling on our case? Can’t you see who the victim is? Don’t you see how injured I am?” Rabbi Salant calmly explained that it would be irresponsible to judge a case without hearing both parties. Besides, Rabbi Salant explained, perhaps Simon is truly the victim! Perhaps he is in worse shape than you!

Indeed, with some investigation Rabbi Salant discovered that Simon was the true victim while Roger had actually gotten what he deserved! It was Simon who was awarded damages! From here we see how a judge must be so careful in rendering judgment and ensure he makes the proper inquires.

On a contemporary note – it is only a short while ago that after 2,000 years in exile the Jewish people have been able to come home and establish a Jewish state. A state that values democracy, justice and freedom for all of its citizens. We are living in an era where we are fortunate to be able to fulfill some of the precepts of this week’s Torah portion. Our society is far from perfect, but the more we can adapt the moral code of our divine Torah, the better society it will become. At 64 years old — we’re only getting started!

May God continue to bless our people and our Land! May the entire world realize that by studying Torah law, we can learn how to build a perfect society.


Rabbi Ari Enkin

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