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  • Writer's pictureRabbi Skorka

Shoftim- Justice and kindness

This parashah begins with the command to establish a judicial and policing power in the society that the Israelites are going to build in their land. The biblical text demands that all the vices that compromise equal justice must be eradicated. Neither the powerful nor the weak should receive preferential treatment. The practice of bribery must cease.

Justice is one of the manifestations of God in human society. According to the psalmist, justice and equity are the foundations of God's throne (Ps. 89:15; 97: 2). The rabbinical text Shabbat 10,a declares that for anyone who judges his neighbor with equity it is as if he or she were allied with God in the creation of this world. This is because without justice all creation falls apart. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel states that the world is based on three things: truth, justice and peace (Avot 1:18). In the vocabulary of the Bible, the word Elohim is used both to designate God and those who hold leadership offices in society (See Rashi concerning Benei Elohim in Genesis 6.2:). It is especially used as a synonym for a judge or judges (Exodus 21: 6 ; 22:27).

But along with justice, the virtues of goodness and mercy must always be present (Deuteronomy 6:18).

Once the parashah lists these commands, it presents the prohibition of placing pagan images near the altar of God. The proximity of these two topics in the text is explained in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 7, b), which says that every community that appoints an improper person as a judge is effectively planting a pagan icon within Israel.

An absence of justice is a necessary condition for high levels of corruption to appear within societies. It allows the development of despotic regimes in which a few powerful figures dominate and plunge their peoples into miserable living conditions. When misery, in turn, corrodes people’s dignity, they become dehumanized. Paganism triumphs over the plan proposed by God, which, according to the Bible, is for humanity to be God’s partner in the perennial recreation of existence.

Shabbat shalom!


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