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D’rash Parashah Shoftim

08/21/2020 01:24:12 PM


Pamela Elisheva

Thank you, Rabbi Avi, for giving me the opportunity to deliver the first of my d’rashot at Congregation
Bet Shalom. While it is my first time giving a d’rash here, I have been giving d’rashot back in Bakersfield
since 2001 and I am excited to share my reflections on this week’s parashah, Shoftim.
When I begin my process of writing a d’rash, I first start out by looking at the context of the weekly
parashah. Although we divide up the Torah into weekly parashot, the Torah scroll contains no vowels,
punctuation and certainly no weekly parashah indications. So it important to see where Moshe is going
with his instructions to the people at this point in Devarim. Last week, the final part of Parashah Re’eh
had Moshe repeating HaShem’s commandment for the people to go to the place where HaShem has
appointed three times a year to offer sacrifices and to really acknowledge the specialness of our
covenant with HaShem by being together and celebrating. These days of community Aliyah to the Holy
Temple are Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot.
The next lines in the Torah and the beginning of this week’s parashah? Wel,l it’s back to the reality of
everyday life in our Jewish existence. It is not that we are allowed to do anything we want and then
polish ourselves up for Yom Tov and Shabbat. We are Holy People and each day is an opportunity to
discover what that means through mitzvot. The problem is, with 613 mitzvot, it is hard to remember
them all, much less, figure out the nuances of how each of the mitzvah impacts our lives, but not to
worry! In the first lines of this week’s portion Shoftim the Torah says, “Judges and Officers shall you
appoint in all your cities – which HaShem your God gives you – for your tribes; and they shall judge the
people with righteous judgement.” Shoftim, or Judges, help by providing us with interpretations of
mitzvot and help us to decide if we are following the mitzvot correctly, especially when our emotions
override our sensibilities or our common sense. Specific examples of this override of our common sense
are given in Shoftim: when we secretly violate our sacred code because we know it will cause trouble

with our community, and then we are caught, or if we accidentally kill someone and the aggrieved
relatives want to even the score, or when no one witnesses a murder and it affects the sanctity of the
surrounding community, well, we have a system in place to settle these matters when we ourselves are
not thinking clearly.
I have been studying Talmud since January 5 th of this year through the Daf Yomi cycle. When I sit down
to study, I feel as if I am time traveling back to the time of the destruction of the 2 nd Temple and for the
first 500 years of the Common Era. I try to picture what life was like for the Jewish people to understand
the Sages and Rabbis’ discussions of the Oral Torah for their time and place. So when I study the Torah
for writing the d’rash, I can easily see the judges, mostly elderly, respected members of the community,
sitting at the city gates, learned in Torah, guiding the people. But as I say this, I realize that I am averse
to saying the term “judging the people” as one of their main responsibilities. Such a tough term to hear
in 21 st Century sensibilities. These days, “Judges Judging” evokes getting caught in a crime and going to
trial, something I would not welcome into my life even if they were learned and respected. And yet, the
appointment of Shoftim is commanded by HaShem so that we can survive as a people.
There is a key phrase that HaShem gives us through Moses to outline the responsibilities of the shoftim:
Tzedek tzedek tirdof” Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue. When Moses repeats a word,
Shema Israel. Perk up your ears. Tzedek Tzedek tirdof. Yes, we have talked about the Holiness of the
celebrations where we gather at the place designated by Hashem, but we are also commanded to
pursue Holiness in our everyday lives in our everyday places. Don’t worship other gods ever, especially
in the privacy of our homes or our secret places, or by the influence of those with whom we live so as to
not ruffle their feathers. And if we get caught doing these acts by the community, we need to face the
Judges to hear their judgement of whether a violation of the laws actually occurred.

I find myself in these current times reacting to the oversight of these shoftim, secretly being grateful
that I know longer live in those walled cities with the revered judges at the gates, observing my every
move. But as I write this, it is in the first day of Elul. I am realizing that no matter how my secret
transgressions of Torah Law lie hidden, there is a Judge waiting for me to pass Judgement on me that
certainly knows Torah Law better than the wisest Sage. And Tzedek, tzedek tirdof. Righteousness,
righteousness will be pursued.
Now I call on my inner judge, who is standing in for the Shoftim Gadol, to help me through Elul: I ask my
inner judge: please please be thorough in your examination. Do not, for the sake of convenience,
pervert my transgressions to the side of looking the other way, or to the side of being too harsh out of
guilt. Do not get bribed by the currency of “but everyone else is doing it”. I really do want to live in the
place that HaShem has given me and I know that the key to doing this in peace is to do this in
righteousness. Tzedek Tzedek tirdof. Shabbat shalom.

Fri, September 17 2021 11 Tishrei 5782