Shoftim means judges and opens with how judges should act, followed by how the Levites should be treated. It deals with laws relating death: specifically to unwitting killers, war and what should be done when a corpse is found in a field and nobody knows who murdered the person.
Shoftim – Daniel Reisel
Daniel is a junior doctor working in London. A past programming co-chair of Limmud Conference and Limmud Fest, he currently chairs the board of Yachad.
"Tamim tih'ye im Hashem Elokecha—Be wholehearted with the Lord, your God" (Devarim 18:13), states the sidrah (portion) of Shoftim.
Wholehearted. The Hebrew word is tamim—which is related to tam, innocent. On the written scroll of the Torah, the word tamim is written with a large taf to underscore its significance.
What does it mean to be wholehearted? To have integrity. To be authentic. To be true to yourself.
Several of the heroes of our tradition are described as having integrity in this way. When the text introduces Noah, we are told "ish tzadik tamim haya—he was a righteous and pure person" (Bereishit 6:1). At the threshold of his life, God bids Abraham, "hitalech lefanai v'hiye tamim—walk before Me and be wholehearted" (Bereishit 17:1). Similarly, the text describes Jacob as "ish tam, yoshev ohalim—a pure soul, a dweller of tents" (Bereishit 25:27).
Job too is introduced as "tam v'yashar—wholehearted and upright" (Job 1:1). No one was put to the test like Job. No one held fast to their integrity as tenaciously as Job did either. Even Job's wife scoffed at him for his faithfulness (tum here is a cognate of tamim): "Odcha machazik b'tumatecha—Do you still hold fast to your integrity? Barech Elokim va'mot—Curse God and die" (Job 2:9). Yet Job refused to yield to despair.
Each of these moral giants is described as wholehearted and pure at the outset of their journeys. Journeys that required of them everything they had. Noah was challenged by events in his life, from which, by some accounts, he never recovered. Abraham was tested repeatedly by God—at S'dom and Gomorrah, at the Akedah. The Jacob who embraces his brother at the end of his life is not the same as the boy he once was.
The task that confronted each of them is the same that we face: how do you preserve your integrity in the face of life's challenges? How do you avoid giving in to the feeling of despair and passivity? How do you keep your passion and your wits about you in the maelstrom of life?
An answer may be found in the opening of the parasha, in the luminous decree: "tzedek tzedek tirdof—justice, justice shall you pursue" (Devarim 16:20). Never forget, the parasha urges, that the pursuit of justice, which is the foundation for life, is an active process. The force of the word tirdof places the emphasis firmly on a determined, ongoing, always-changing process of striving for what is just.
We are all born tamim. The way to remain wholehearted in the face of life is to make justice your quest and your priority.
Another Voice"Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you." (Deuteronomy 16, 20)
"Justice in the life and conduct of the State is possible only as first it resides in the hearts and souls of the citizens." Plato