Parsha Shoftim

    This week’s Torah portion “Shoftim” (Judges) begins with the following verse: “Judges and officers shalt thou make thee in all thy gates. . .” (Deuteronomy 16:18). The midrash regarding this verse tells a story about a king who, although had many sons, loved the youngest son the most. The king had one grove which he cherished more than all of his other groves. Said the King: “I will give the orchard which I cherish more than all that I have to my youngest child, whom I love more than all my children.”

The meaning of the above midrash is as follows: the Almighty says, “I love the Jewish Nation more than all the Nations and I love Justice more than anything else. I therefore, give my favorite thing to my favorite people."
This parable is puzzling. Law and justice are not only practiced by the Jewish people, but are an obligation for all the nations of the world. Even non-Jews must maintain justice systems, as part of the seven Noahide laws. But the idea in this midrash is that justice is something more beloved to the Almighty and He therefore especially gave it to His Children Israel.


   Moreover, legal affairs require maturity, deep understanding and great discretion. These requirements of justice are not appropriate for a little child, and yet, the midrash compares the Jewish people to the king’s youngest child.


The midrash is suggesting a unique kind of justice which exists especially among the Jewish people, who exhibit the feature of being "small". The midrash also compares justice to an orchard. An orchard is different from a field. An orchard grows fruit that provide pleasure for Mankind, while a field yields fruit for man’s essentials. So too in our allegory. Regular justice expected of all nations is compared to a field which is necessary to maintaining law and order. However, the type of justice which is unique to the Jewish people is likened to an orchard which is meant to provide pleasure as well.


    Maimonides divides the role expected of Jewish judges into three categories: 1) "they are vital in the passing down the oral tradition" b) "pillars of teaching" and c) provide law and justice among the Jewish people. The latter two categories are connected to regular type of law similar to that of the Nations. However, the special feature of Jewish judges is primarily in the first category, the role transmitters of the Oral Law.


    Hashem (G-d) passed on the oral Torah and its laws to the judges of Israel, and gave them the strength to learn, interpret and apply the Oral Law (according to the laws of the Torah). In this way the judges of Israel "establish" the oral Tradition. In their application of the Oral Law, regarding which the Almighty commands us: "you shall not deviate from what they will tell you right and left."


    This feature of the correct application and establishment of the Oral Law is the special orchard which the Almighty passed on to the Jewish people, His small child, so that we are partners in the transmission and establishment of the oral tradition. It is necessary that we are small, meaning humble, so that we minimize our own ego and correctly and genuinely transmit the oral tradition according to the will of Hashem (G-d). This is what is expected of Jewish judges. Only then will they merit that their judgment is truly part in parcel with the Torah.

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