Shoftim – A thought for the week by Michael Lewis

In Parashah Shoftim Moses sets out not just what we would face but how we were to behave and to live in a new society. This week we have also seen the exam results for our children and grandchildren. As they move on, they too will be challenged by how to cope with new situations, encounters and challenges.

Shoftim opens with the well-known words

צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף
Justice, justice shall you pursue

The instruction is in the singular, it is for each of us rather than a tribal injunction. True justice balances individual needs with the needs of the community. Procedure, a narrow application of settled written law can result in injustice.

Some laws were restricted. The rebellious son was not put to death, but the existence of the law was used as an educational tool. Some laws were extended.

When you lay siege to a city for a long time, do not destroy its trees by putting an axe to them. Do not cut them down

This became extended into the concept of avoiding needless destruction and understands environmental responsibility. Some laws remain to his day.

By the mouth of two witnesses, or three witnesses,…. he shall not be put to death by the mouth of one witness.

A death sentence was almost unknown, and the principle was used to make death sentences almost impossible to apply.


We are told to destroy many nations,

You shall utterly destroy them the Hittites, and the Amorites, the Canaanites, and the Perizzites, the Hivvites, and the Jebusites, “So that they should not teach you to act according to all their abominations”

It was the adopting of their practices, the “abominations” that was rejected. There is Rabbinic discussion that you may not learn to imitate them, but you may learn in order to make rulings and to understand.


As our children move forward into the wider world, they will come across many different cultures. Learning about them is good but, remembering who we are and understanding the foundations of our Jewish heritage is the bedrock of our lives.

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