Parshat Shoftim

August 17th, 2018

Parshat Shoftim opens telling us to appoint judges and officers of the law and then warns the judges not to take bribes and judge fairly in Ch16 v20 “Justice, justice shalt thou follow (in Hebrew zedek zedek tirdof), that you may live, and inherit the land which the Hashem has given you.” The Hebrew here is intriguing with the repeating of the word zedek for justice and the use of the word tirdof which literally means to chase after.

The Talmud Sanhedrin which discusses the double zedek with reference to the fact that in Vayikra we find “with justice you shall judge your fellow” using the term zedek once only. Rav Ashi looks at this from the point of view of the people involved and suggests that there are two ways that arguments can be settled either in court or by compromise out of court. He brings examples like two ships facing each other in a narrow passage or two people on camels meeting on a narrow road and trying to settle right of way in a sensible manner not like the way some people drive on our roads in Israel or in the words of Aretha Franklin – r-e-s-p-e-c-t. The Rabbis suggest it means that you can chase after a court and judges that suits you, hence the use of the word tirdof, and do not have to be bound to the local court.

Rashi here goes for the later explanation that you can choose which court to handle the case but the Ibn Ezra sees the double use to impress upon individuals to always run after the righteous path all the way through life and therefore we have the second part of the sentence that you may live and inherit the land. The Ramban is much more philosophical and suggests that if we live righteously in this world we inherit the land of Israel and that this is preparation for our entitlement in the world to come. The Chasidic R Bonim M’Pesicha explains that whatever you seek you should always only use honourable methods not like the well known saying  ”the ends justifies the means.”

R B H Epstein understands the emphasis here to be related to the importance of the trust of the people in the judges and legal system. He notes the beginning of the Book of Ruth where we are told, “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah (Elimelech), together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.” In his view the opening words connecting the fact that this was in the days that judges ruled to the famine tell us that that legal system was not working and this was the cause of the famine in the land. We are then told that sadly Elimelech and his two sons died and R Epstein connects this to fact that he had left Israel as despite being an influential person who could have changed the system.

Fortunately most of us do not have contact with the legal system, but in our day to day life we do want things to be done correctly. As with most towns in Israel our town Netanya is expanding and new areas are being built up. Opposite where we now live there is still a large expanse of open land with various small building spread around. In one of the buildings there is club of sorts which often plays loud awful music late in to the night. When this happens we call the local complaints line “106” to send out the local police to deal with the noise. Recently I went to the offices of the local council as I was interested to know what the building plans are for this open land which is slowly being built up and asked about the noisy building and discovered that is does not exist on the council maps. Netanya has over the years had a reputation of being a lawless town with a few unpleasant people so I am not sure whether we want to chase after the matter.