Those that govern the people

Insights into People in the Torah: Portion of Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18–21:9)

Moshe Kempinski

Judaism Rose Wolf Sefer Torah Dedication
Rose Wolf Sefer Torah Dedication
צילום: PR

Attitudes towards the rebirth of Jewish commonwealth in Israel are very similar to the old adage/question: "Do you see the glass as half empty or as half full?"

That is to say, do we bemoan and wail how what we see has become such a caricature of what is meant to be in this land. Or do we understand and see the seeds and blossoms of a new thing?

Our judicial system seems to be stricken with peripheral vision. Our police, sometimes rife with corruption and small-mindedness. Those that claim to be the Levites of our nation seem to have forgotten the rest of the people; and the vision that once led this people into their destiny in some quarters seems to have waned.

The Torah portion of Shoftim essentially deals with the establishment of four bodies whose roles are to provide governance and guidance in the Land of Israel. The words and instructions regarding these institutions are being delivered by Moshe 36 days before his death. The systems seem to be so important that Moshe makes them a critical part of the intricate legacy he bequeaths his people before he leaves this world.

The four bodies are shoftim veshotrim, judges and officers (Deuteronomy 16:18), kohanim, or Levitical priests (18:1 ), a melech, or the king (17:14), and the navi, the prophet (18:15). Each of these individual bodies or people represent a different function and purpose.

The first is a judicial system that any nation needs to institute. The second represents a system of national and individual worship, while the third, the king, points to leadership that binds them all together. Yet the fourth, the prophet or those who bear those prophetic words, represents the vision and direction that this nation must follow in order to thrive and survive.

Why such a cumbersome system? Why would Moshe spend so much time focusing on its establishment during these last critical days of his life? Is it intended to uplift this nation and to raise it as banner in the world?

Behold, I have taught you statutes and ordinances, even as HaShem my G-d commanded me that ye should do so in the midst of the land whither ye go in to possess it. Observe therefore and do them; for this is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples, that, when they hear all these statutes, shall say: 'Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.' For what great nation is there, that hath G-d so nigh unto them, as HaShem our G-d is whensoever we call upon Him? And what great nation is there, that hath statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law, which I set before you this day? (Deuteronomy 4:5-8)

Is it all related to that? Is it about the Jewish people being extolled? That is clearly more the byproduct than the goal and purpose. The answer seems to be related to a declaration made by G-d through the prophet Isaiah:

Thus saith G-d HaShem, He that created the heavens, and stretched them forth, He that spread forth the earth and that which cometh out of it, He that giveth breath unto the people upon it, and spirit to them that walk therein: "I HaShem have called you ( the children of Israel) in righteousness, and have taken hold of your hand, and kept you, and set you for a covenant of the people, for a light of the nations (ohr hagoyim)." (Isaiah 42: 5-6)

Note that it says "a light of the nations," not "a light to the nations," as is usually translated. Yet, today that seems like a goal much too high to be attained and much too fraught with dangers, animosity and pitfalls. This is a people that would undergo peaks and valleys. This is a people that would experience great achievements and also fall into great disappointments and tragedy. These are people with human frailties and fears .As a result, many individuals would not or could not on their own be a light to anyone, even unto themselves.

Yet, G-d declares, "HaShem did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because you were more in number than any people; for you were the fewest of all people; but because HaShem loved you, and because he would keep the oath which he had sworn unto your ancestors." (Deuteronomy 7:7, 8)

This is a people that would be used to create a new reality in the world, not because they deserved it and not because they were so important. Their worthiness and their importance comes from one source, and that is G-d.

That fact is the sole purpose of this people and their Divinely chosen message. That is the reason for the cumbersome system. This people living in their own land would be the greatest statement of G-d's rule in this world.

"And you shall be unto Me a mamlechet kohanim ve-goy kadosh (a kingdom of priests and a holy nation)." (Exodus 19:6)

Mamlechet is represented by the king, a system of worship represented by the kohanim and Levites, a "goy", or developed nation, represented by law and order, and the holiness embodied by the vision of a prophet. Only in such a fashion will this people on their land succeed in becoming a "light of the nations". Any compromise in any of the spiritual and Divine requirements of any of this system would simply prove to be, G-d forbid, a desecration of G-d's name.

Only the re-establishing of spiritual vision, of true justice, of Heaven-directed worship and a leadership that binds all those together will bring about the re-establishment of a mamlechet kohanim vegoy kadosh.

So, is the cup half empty or half full? Even if according to some it  may seem to be more than half empty( a statement I would completely disagree with) but it is in the process of being filled.

In spite of the hardships and the threats surrounding us, something is blossoming. In spite of the fears and antagonism of segments of our own people, something is growing.

Look into the eyes of the young people and you will find the vision.

Search the actions of all those people involved in acts of charity and loving-kindness and you will see the seeds of true justice and order.

Listen to sweet melody of prayer Friday night at the Western Wall, and you will sense the new worship and prayer.

Experience the roar of Selichot prayers at the Kotel during this month of Elul and you will experience majesty.As for a King, we are in the month of Elul, when haMelech basadeh - "the King is in the field."

LeRefuat yehudit Bat Golda Yocheved and Yehudit bat Chaya Esther