| Published: August 14, 2023
This week’s reading, Shoftim, addresses fundamental issues pertaining to the leadership of the Jewish people. It begins with a discussion regarding judges, and later gives rules pertaining to kings, prophets and kohanim (priests). Many commandments are introduced in this week’s reading, including: appointing judges, the obligation to follow rabbinic law and the words of the prophets, the obligations of a king, the punishment for perjury, the laws of war, and the procedure for dealing with unsolved murders.
First Aliyah: We are commanded to appoint judges in every city of Israel. These judges are instructed to adjudicate fairly. Capital punishment is prescribed for idolatry, and various idolatrous practices are banned. The sacrifices we offer to G‑d must be free of blemishes. We must follow the rulings of the Sanhedrin (the rabbinic supreme court) and of the Oral Law. Refusal to accept the Sanhedrin’s authority is a capital offense.
Second Aliyah: Moses instructs the Israelites to coronate a king after they enter Israel. A Jewish king may not amass an excessive amount of horses, wives or personal wealth. The king writes for himself two Torah scrolls. One of them remains with him at all times—a constant reminder to remain humble and follow G‑d’s law.
Third Aliyah: The kohanim were chosen by G‑d to be His holy servants. They do not receive an inheritance (portion) in the Land of Israel, because “G‑d is their inheritance.” Instead, the kohanim are the beneficiaries of various priestly gifts, including select portions of meat from animals slaughtered for private use (not as sacrifices), as well as tithes from crops and wool.
Fourth Aliyah: Although the priestly families were divided into many shifts, each serving in the Temple in their designated turn, a kohen always retains the right to come to the Temple and personally offer his own sacrifices. This section then continues with prohibitions against divination, fortunetelling and similar occult practices. Instead of probing into the future, we are commanded to put our faith and trust in G‑d.
Fifth Aliyah: We also have no need for these abovementioned abominable practices, because we are blessed with prophets who transmit G‑d’s messages to His people. We are commanded to obey these prophets. This section prescribes the punishments for noncompliance with prophets’ words, as well as for an individual who falsely claims to speak in G‑d’s name. This aliyah then reiterates the command to establish cities of refuge for the inadvertent murderer. Moses commands the Jews to designate six such cities and, when G‑d expands the borders of the land (with the coming of Moshiach), to add another three cities of refuge.
Sixth Aliyah: A minimum of two witnesses are required to secure a conviction in a case involving capital or corporal punishment. Individuals who testify falsely are liable to receive the punishment that they sought to have imposed upon their innocent victim. The procedure for battle is outlined in this section. When approaching the battlefield, a kohen addresses the troops, admonishing them not to fear the enemy, and listing the various individuals who are exempt from military duty, such as one who has recently betrothed a woman or built a new home, or a fainthearted and fearful person.
Seventh Aliyah: Before waging battle against an enemy in battle, we are commanded to make a peaceful overture. Only if the enemy does not accept the offer does battle ensue. In the battles against the Canaanite nations, if the enemy does not agree to the peace offer, the Israelites are commanded to completely annihilate them. We are forbidden to cut down fruit-bearing trees while laying siege on a city. The reading closes with the procedure to be followed in the event of an unsolved murder.
The content on this page is produced by and courtesy of chabad.org.