Parashat Shoftim 5778
“Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates…” (Devarim 16:18)
This week’s parasha, parashat Shoftim, begins by saying: “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates…” (Devarim 16:18). This verse literally expresses the importance of having judges and policemen in each one of the cities, granting justice and equity to the inhabitants.
However, some sages interpreted this verse differently. In the verse it says: “Judges and offices shalt thou make thee…” The sages call attention to the words “thou make thee;” saying that one should judge himself first, and after that, one may judge his fellowman. In other words, we should be our own judges and policemen.
This message coincides with the message of the current season. The month of Elul, the last one of the Jewish year, began last Saturday and Sunday, and we are headed toward the Yamim Noraim, days of Awe. In the month of Elul, it is customary to blow the shofar in the morning to begin to get into the mood of reflection and meditation In Elul we must be our own judges so that on Rosh Hashanah God will judge us, after our introspection.
This parasha covers many topics that may help us to think and judge ourselves. It is written, “Tzedek, Tzedek tirdof”, “Justice, justice shall you pursue…” (Devarim 16: 20). Have you pursued justice during this year? Have you done something to make the world better and fairer for all its inhabitants? Have you been righteous in your dealings with your neighbors, friends and family?
Parashat Shoftim tells us about some of the rules that had to be fulfilled by the king of Israel. One of them was to write two Sifrei Torah. One was to be left in the palace and the other one was to carried with him everywhere he went. “Let it remain with him and let him read in it all his life, so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God, to observe faithfully every word of this teaching as well as these laws” (Devarim 17: 18). The question we can ask ourselves today is: Have you carried the Torah everywhere you went? Have you followed the messages of the Torah at different times in your life?
The parasha also talks about false witnesses. “If the man who testified is a false witness, if he has testified falsely against his fellow….” (Devarim 19:18) Regarding our relationships, how did you behave this year? Have you been truthful and sincere? Or have you been hypocritical and dishonest?
Finally, the parasha tells us about the time when the people had to unite and have the courage to go to the war and conquer the land of Israel. “When you take the field against your enemies…have no fear of them…” (Devarim 20: 1) Have you had the courage to start new challenges and projects? Have you had the initiative to participate in community programs?
“Is there anyone who has built a new house but has not dedicated it? Let him go back to his home, lest he die in battle and another dedicate it” (Devarim 20: 5). Have you enjoyed your house, your family and friends during this year? Have you enjoyed the little things that make you happy?
Many questions arise on these days before Yamim Noraim. Tradition asks us to think about our deeds beginning in the month of Elul. May God help us to have a real Cheshbon Hanefesh, balance of our souls. May God guide us to have the courage to judge ourselves.