"The hand of the witnesses should be against him first to put him to death, and the hand of the nation at the end" (Devarim 17:7). Giving testimony in a court of law, especially in capital cases, is an awesome responsibility. The Talmud describes the harsh tone and even accusatory statements directed at the witnesses, warning them of the dire consequences of false testimony: "You are responsible for their blood and the blood of their descendants until the end of time" (Sanhedrin 37a).
The basic duty of every government is to provide security and protect its citizens from both internal criminal activity and external enemies. Parshat Shoftim, which contains the mitzvah to appoint a king, thus also contains the mitzvot of appointing a police force and the laws relating to a Jewish army. Our inability to have a Jewish army for close to two thousand years served to highlight our national degradation. During the battles for Jewish emancipation in the 18th and 19th centuries, Jews fought hard for the right to join the armies of their host countries.
Evil does not exist in a vacuum. A culture is needed for evil to be nurtured, in which it can grow and develop. And when that happens, aveirah gorreret aveirah; one misdeed leads to another, greater sin. Perpetrators of corporate wrongdoing do not begin by defrauding shareholders of billions of dollars. Rather, they might begin with a little plagiarism in college, and some padding of a resume. They may then move on to borrow office supplies for personal use, to fail to declare some income, and then on to some misleading advertising.
Judaism has always placed tremendous emphasis on intellectual achievement and development. Talmud Torah k’neged kulam—the study of Torah is equal to all other mitzvoth—speaks to this emphasis. Our Sages teach that, "An ignorant person cannot be pious” (Avot 2:6).
Judaism has long understood that politics and religion are a dangerous mix. Political office was destined for those from the tribe of Judah and the religious functions of the state were carried out by the kohanim and levi’im. The Ramban asserts that the Hasmoneans, being kohanim, sinned greatly in trying to usurp the kingdom for themselves following their successful revolt against the Hellenists.
"Tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice, justice you shall pursue in order that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your G-d is giving you" (Devarim 17:20). Perhaps the most important ingredient for a functioning society is an honest, impartial, and fearless justice system. Without justice, anarchy reigns and society crumbles. The inability of the courts to deal with the many injustices in the early part of the first century CE was the precursor to destruction and the exile of the Jewish people.
Almost always, wrongdoing requires that people work together to perpetrate such. As has been accepted in the legal systems of Western countries, it is the enablers, more than the perpetrators themselves, who are viewed with greater opprobrium. Those who enable sin violate the biblical prohibition against lifnei iver, placing a stumbling block before the blind. According to Tosafot (Avodah Zara 22a, s.v. teipuk), even if one only aids and abets a rabbinic violation of the law, one nonetheless violates lifnei iver on a biblical level.
This week's d'var Torah is dedicated in honour of the upcoming wedding of Estie Roz and Avner Zeifman. May they share much happiness and built a bayit ne'eman b'yisrael. Mazal-tov to the extended families.
The hallmark of democratic societies is a strong, fair, and impartial judicial system; without one, anarchy rules. In many ways, the dispensing of justice is the fundamental difference between first-world and third-world countries, where corruption and graft is often the norm, and where disputes are likely to be settled by force.
“Do not sacrifice to G-d, your Lord, an ox or sheep that has a blemish; any bad thing, it is an abomination to the Lord, your G-d” (17:1). While it is understandable that our offerings to G-d should be wholesome, the Torah's condemnation of this practice is rather striking. The Torah refers to a blemished offering as a to'evah, an abomination. Such harsh language is generally reserved for sins of great severity, such as having dishonest weights and measures (Devarim 25:16), or idolatry (17:4).