Parshas Shoftim

Moses proceeds to review the regulations necessary for a civilized society. Local judges and officers were to be appointed in every city, and justice was to be administered righteously and impartially. A bribe of even a small sum is forbidden. The Sanhedrin — the Jewish High Court of seventy one judges — is to make Torah-based binding decisions on new situations to prevent the fragmentation of the Jewish people. When the Jewish people request a king, the king was not to misuse his power to amass horses, maintain a harem nor accumulate great wealth. To order his priorities and not become haughty he should write a copy of the Torah and carry it with him. When the Jewish people had righteous kings such as David and Solomon, it was a blessing. When we had wicked kings such as Jereboam and Ahav, it was a curse.

The nation’s conduct in war is mentioned. The Jewish people are told not to be afraid of the enemy, not to destroy any fruit trees in battle, and that they should first give the enemy a chance to make peace. The portion also forbids all forms of superstition and ‘magic’ practiced by the soothsayer. We have no need for such tricks because of our true prophets and faith in G-d. The Jewish people are promised by G-d that He will send prophets to guide them, and Moses explains how a genuine prophet may be distinguished from a false one.

The Month of Elul

In the month of Elul we begin to recite Psalm 27 in the Shacharis and Mincha (morning and afternoon) services. Psalm 27 begins with the words “To David: The L-rd is my light and my salvation.” The Midrash tells us that “my light” (אוֹ ִרי) is associated with Rosh Hashanah and “my salvation” (ְו ִי ְש ִעי ) is associated with Yom Kippur. We also find that a later verse in the Psalm, “That He will hide me in His tabernacle . . .” (ִכי ִי ְצ ְפ ֵנ ִני ְב ֻסכוֹ ), is associated with Sukkos. In this Psalm, King David exclaims: “One thing I ask… is to dwell in the house of God all the days of my life.” We focus on the unifying force of G-d in our lives, and strive to increase our connection to Him as we begin the month of Elul.