Parashat Shoftim 5783

August 14, 2023

Rabbi Rob Scheinberg

When I officiate at a wedding, I typically encourage the parents to bestow blessings upon their children. In addition to the Priestly Blessing, often the parents read a blessing in English that I provide to them, including the lines: “When you speak with your beloved, may you always know the joy of companionship. When you see each other, may your eyes be filled with wonder at the miracle of your love. When you disagree, may you always think of compromise.” I began to be curious about the etymology of the word “compromise,” noting that it has the word “promise” in it, and I wondered if it originally meant something like “promise together.”  I looked it up and discovered that the original meaning of the word “compromise” is a promise that is made by two disputants, at the same time, that they will abide by the decision of someone else who is acting as the arbiter...

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Parashat Shofetim 5782

September 1, 2022

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah Idols of Our Own Making A D’var Torah for Parashat Shofetim By Rabbi Matthew Goldstone Our parasha this week begins with a call to justice – we must establish reliable judges who will judge with integrity and we ourselves must actively pursue justice. Immediately following this charge, the portion switches to a prohibition against setting up idolatrous objects of wood or stone. The next chapter (Deut. 17) continues to interweave discussions of avoiding idolatry through the worship of celestial objects with legal justice – that capital punishment shall only be enacted on the basis of the testimony of multiple witness and that difficult cases should be brought to the appointed judges of the day. The extended connection between avoiding idolatry and the pursuit of justice reinforces their antipodal orientations. Idolatry leads us away from truth and justice. But the nature and manifestations of idolatry...

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Parashat Shoftim 5781

August 13, 2021

Click HERE for an audio recording of this D’var Torah A D’var Torah for Parashat Shoftim By Rabbi Jill Hackell (’13) I’ve been studying a lot lately about trees. Dr. Suzanne Simard has spearheaded research showing that the trees of the forest communicate with each other through an elaborate system of fungi attached to their roots, which has been dubbed the “Wood-Wide Web”. Through it, trees of the same and different species can warn each other of danger, share resources back and forth according to need and circumstance, and bequeath carbon to their neighbors when they are dying. This understanding could change the way we harvest and replant forests for lumber, to maximize preservation of these networks. Our parashah this week also shows concern for trees: “When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees,...

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Parashat Shofetim 5780

August 21, 2020

The Political Philosophy of Deuteronomy A D’var Torah for Parashat Shofetim By Rabbi Len Levin Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel used to say: On three things does the world stand: On justice, on truth and on peace, as it is said: “execute the judgment of truth and peace in your gates” (Avot 1:18). These three principles—truth, justice, and peace—are like three legs of a stool. A three-legged stool is stable, but if any one of the three legs is removed, the stool cannot stand. There are five laws in the portion Shofetim in which these principles of Rabbi Simeon ben Gamaliel are implied: “Justice, justice you shall pursue”—a justice based on truth, without favoritism or bribery (Deuteronomy 16:18–20).   In matters of legal controversy, there shall be a supreme court to decide the law (Ibid. 17:8–13).   You may have a king, but he must have his own copy of the...

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Parashat Shoftim 5779

September 6, 2019

A D’var Torah for Parashat Shoftim By Cantor Sandy Horowitz (’14) “Return to Me”. As I was folding my food-delivery bag I saw those printed words on the bottom. The actual words were “Return Me” (a message for the sake of sustainability) but that’s not what I saw; the mind is a funny thing sometimes. We are in the month of Elul, countdown to the High Holidays. Return to Me! Return to the One in Whose Guidance we trust; return to me, my most sacred authentic self. There are many ways to approach this period of preparation and personal reflection prior to the Days of Awe; a theme from Parashat Shoftim suggests one framework: that theme is justice. This week’s Torah reading begins with God’s establishment of a legal structure, for the time when the Israelites will dwell in their new home across the Jordan. Judges and law enforcement officials are to be established...

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