Weekly Reading Insights

Shoftim 5762

Overview of the Weekly Reading: Shoftim
To be read on the Shabbat of 2 Elul 5762 (Aug.10)

Torah: Deut. 16:18-21:9
Haftorah: Isaiah 51:12-52:12 (4th of the Seven Haftorahs of Consolation)
Pirkei Avot: Chapter One, (Chapter Six outside of Israel)

Stats:Shoftim contains 14 positive mitzvot and 27 prohibitive mitzvot. Among the Weekly Readings,
ranks 36 out of 54 in number of verses, 28 in number of words, and 31 in number of letters;
it is written on 191.6 lines in a Torah parchment scroll, 27 in overall length.

Shoftim opens with the command to appoint judges and officers to uphold justice. The Jews are warned not to make idolatrous trees, pillars, or offer blemished animals, and are told the penalties of idolatry. The Jews are commanded to set up a Supreme Court and a monarch. The Levites are not to have territorial shares of the Land, but they receive portions of the Jews' sacrifices, meat, produce, and shearings. Laws regarding prophets, both false and true, are given. Also relayed are rules of cities of refuge, havens for the escaped unintentional murderer. An intentional murderer, however, receives the death penalty. Additional laws discussed are the prohibition against moving boundaries to steal land, or to testify falsely, who is not drafted to the army, who may or may not be taken captive, and a warning not to cut down fruit trees when waging siege on a city. Shoftim concludes with laws concerning a corpse of an unknown murdered individual found in the field: The elders of the closest city must decapitate a female calf over running water to atone for innocent blood shed in their midst.


"You shall appoint judges... in all your gates." (16:18)

In the homiletic explanation of this passage, "your gates" refers to our sensory orifices (our eyes, ears, nose and mouth) which are the gates between the person and all that surrounds him.

You should "appoint judges" on "all your gates," that all one's senses should be led by the "judges" of his soul, the intellect of the G-dly soul with which he learns Torah. The Torah should control the functioning of one's sensory powers.

(Lubavitcher Rebbe)

" Neither shall you set up for yourself any pillar (matzeiva), which the L-rd your G-d hates." (16:22)

The word "matzeiva" comes from the Hebrew root meaning constant, steady and permanent.

Do not look at this world as an end unto itself, the Torah counsels. Regard it merely as a passageway to be navigated and a preparation for the World to Come.

(Kedushat Levi)

"According to two witnesses...shall a case be established." (19:15)

The word which the Torah uses here for "case" is "davar," which alludes to the "dibbur" (speech) of prayer. The "two witnesses" likewise stand for our love and awe of the Alm-ghty. The Torah teaches that our prayers must be uttered with this love and awe in order for them to be worthy and contain substance.



Selected with permission from the five-volume English edition of Ohr HaChaim: the Torah Commentary of Rabbi Chaim Ben Attar, as translated and annotated by Eliyahu Munk.
The holy Rabbi Chayim ben Moses Attar was born in Sale, Western Morocco, on the Atlantic in 1696. His immortal commentary on the Five Books Of Moses, Or Hachayim, was printed in Venice in 1741, while the author was on his way to the Holy Land. He acquired a reputation as a miracle worker, hence his title "the holy," although some apply this title only to his Torah commentary.

"When you approach a city to fight against it, and you call out to it 'peace'." [20:10]

Perhaps this paragraph alludes to something that Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai said in Zohar volume 2 page 62 that G-d sends man an additional soul to guide him on the right path and to save him from committing sins against Him. We may perceive G-d as addressing this additional soul telling it: "when you approach a city," i.e. the body of the human being whom you will inhabit which is known as ir [city]. We know from Zohar Chadash Ruth page 97 on the verse in Kohelet 9:14 "there is a small city with few inhabitants," that the city Solomon speaks of is the human body. This additional soul may be the "miracle" needed to protect the Jewish soldier at the time he goes into battle as it helps stop him from committing sins which could result in this violent death in war.

The Torah was careful to write 'aleyha' [against it, but lit. her] which here needs to be translated as "on her account." The idea is that this soul is intended to save the body from the evil urge; it is in line with the verse in Kohelet 9:14 which continues "against which [the small city] a great king comes and lays siege to it. An insignificant looking wise man saves that small city form the onslaught of the great king using his wisdom" [compare Nedarim 32].

"..and you call out to her 'peace.'" The meaning is that you do not immediately wade into the den of iniquity [your evil urge] and try to conquer it in one single frontal assault; rather you first suggest that it also give heaven its due, as a result of which it will experience great benefits. As a result the evil urge will allow that man has a duty also vis-a-vis heaven. After all, secular activities such as eating and drinking in this life also enable man to perform his spiritual tasks better. As a result of this accommodation with the evil urge one assures oneself of not losing one's hereafter altogether.

"It will be if they an answer of peace, etc.,…and they shall serve you." [20:11]

The word vayehi - 'it will be if' as usual, refers to something joyful; here too, if you approach to the evil urge is in the manner we have just described so that you have opened the door a crack to spiritually positive values, G-d in His turn will open this door wide, i.e. the 248 bones and 365 sinews which man's body is constructed of and they will all become subservient to the soul [instead of to the evil urge]. The body will then perform both the positive commandments and refrain from violating the negative commandments.

"..and they shall serve you," i.e. like a slave who is afraid of his master and will neither deviate to the left not to the right.

An essay from Rabbi Shaul Yosef Leiter


Rabbi Moshe Weber, OB"M, of Jerusalem, was a very saintly person who did not just talk the talk-he truly lived Judaism. Once, he commented on a verse from this week's Torah portion to an ingenious yeshiva student: "You should be innocent-tamim-with the G-d your Lord" (18/13). Rashi explains that this means that we should relate to G-d with innocence, relying upon Him and accepting His Providence, and not seek out the future. The teaching cannot be clearer: it is forbidden for us to investigate the future. Not only does this coincide with the preceding verses forbidding sorcerers and conjurers, but it is also a general principle that prohibits us to be overly-concerned about the future. We should simply accept what happens to us. This lesson was a guiding light for Rabbi Weber, and he expected it should be for all of us.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe points out that there is a bit of a problem here, since it is clear in the verses that immediately follow that while non-Jews go to future tellers, G-d is warning us not to do so. "A prophet will arise among you and only to him should you listen!" Apparently, a prophet will be sent so that we will not resort to seeking diviners. The Ramban explains these verses "We should unite our hearts to Him alone, and believe that He is the sole cause of all; He truly knows all of the future, and from His prophets alone should we inquire and never from the charlatans." So if G-d Himself sends us prophets to tell us about the future, what does Rashi mean about not seeking out the future?

The Rebbe says that Rashi's statement can be comprehended by focusing on a detail in his explanation. Rashi writes not to search out the future, and specifically avoids using more common words like 'ask' or 'delve'. This is because asking or delving into the future via a prophet is permissible, as is discussed in the verses. The prohibition lies in making a concerted effort, an obsessive preoccupation with the future because this demonstrates a fear based upon a lack of faith in G-d. This is the commandment of being innocent. We are allowed to try to figure things out and plan ahead; on a community level, it is even a mitzvah to plan for the future. Yet, a person is supposed to accept all that happens in an innocent way, without fear or worry, to believe that all is from G-d and for his or her good.

The Baal Shem Tov notes that the verse's first word-"tamim"-begins with the letter tof. In the middle of the letter tof is a dot. This dot in its center is like our center point, our heart. This is where we express being tamim-innocent, and from our hearts it will spread to the rest of our lives.

Shabbat Shalom,


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