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Parshat Shof'yim


"Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your G-d is giving you." Perhaps this line, more than any other, explains why there are so many Jewish lawyers in the world. "You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes...". in Shof'tim, Moses makes very clear the importance of a carefully constructed and fair legal system and civil society in the Promised Land. For example, if a man or woman is accused of worshipping "other gods and bowing down to them" they may be put to death-but only "on the testimony of two or more witnesses; he must not be put to death on the testimony of a single witness. In fact, at least two witnesses are necessary for any "case (to be) valid". Someone who bears false witness against another will be punished for the offense of which the innocent was accused. If the Israelites choose to "set a king over (themselves)" they may do so, as long as he is "one chosen by the Lord your G-d' and "one of your own people". Most importantly, the ruler must keep a copy of the Torah with him "so that he may learn to revere the Lord his G-d, to observe faithfully every word of his Teaching as well as these laws. Thus he will not act haughtily toward his fellows...". Moses also explains the role of G-d's prophets: "Him shall you heed." Shoftim also explains the concept of the three refugee cities (later with three more to be added) where a murderer may find safety as long as the killing was done "unwittingly", not deliberately. There are equally specific rules regarding warfare, with the priest leading the emotional charge. "He shall say to (the troops), 'Hear, O Israel! You are about to join battle with your enemy. Let not your courage falter. Do not be in fear, or in panic, or in dread of them. For it is the Lord your G-d who marches with you...'" Men who have built a new house but not yet lived there; those who have planted a vineyard that has not yet been harvested; and those who are engaged but not yet married may all return home before the fighting begins. Before attacking a faraway town, the Israelite army must "offer it terms of peace." If they are refused, they must kill all the males but they may take as "booty" the women, children, and livestock. In towns that are part of the Promised Land "you shall not let a soul remain alive...lest they lead you into doing all the abhorrent things that they have done for their gods...". Shabbat Shalom!

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