Parashah Shoftim 2020 (Judges) Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9

This parashah contains the instructions and guidelines God gave to Moses, to teach the Israelites so that they can teach the rest of the world, regarding how to choose the ones who will judge the people. God goes on to lay down what is, in essence, a set of rules that create a constitution. He not only instructs us how to create and run the courts, but also that when a king is desired (which, in the long run, is NOT what God wants for the people) that it shall be who God chooses the one to be king.

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There are instructions regarding prophets and soothsayers, specifically how to recognize a legitimate prophet and that soothsayers are to be killed.

The Cohanim are to be given their wages from the people, and God reiterates his rulings about the city of refuge and lays out other civil laws regarding property rights and witnessing.

Finally, God gives rules for the waging of war, from banning and destroying the sinful peoples of the land to not destroying fruit trees to make siege weapons.

So much good stuff, so little space to comment.

I usually open my mind when reading the parashah before I start to write, and pray for God to put something in that empty space that will glorify him and edify you. Today I was struck with the idea of judging: not the judges that this parashah talks about, but the judging that we do with each other, every day.

When it comes to judging others, we have both instructions for how we should do it, and admonitions against doing it.

How many times have you heard someone tell someone else that they should not judge others, for they will be judged?  The Bible says “Don’t judge, so that you won’t be judged.” (Matthew 7:1), which many people misuse to defend themselves against someone else rebuking them. In other words, they are defending their actions not by reasoning why they take them, but simply by deflecting the accusation by turning the focus back on to the person who is making the judgment.

I say that they misuse this verse because the rest of the verse goes as follows: “For the way you judge others is how you will be judged — the measure with which you measure out will be used to measure to you.”

Judging is what we must do; we are told that one day, as God’s people we will judge the world (First Corinthians 6:2), and anyone who has ever had to write an evaluation on someone will tell you that to do it correctly is very hard and takes practice. We must learn how to judge each other now when we can make mistakes that won’t have eternal consequences, mistakes that can be corrected. It is imperative that we take advantage of this time to learn how to judge others as best as we can.

And let’s not forget that we will be judged as we judge others, so to be the best judge of people we can be is not just to render justice that will be pleasing to God, but it is in our own best interest to judge as fairly, honestly, and as compassionately as we can.

If someone is accusing you of being a certain way, or of not being correct in your opinions, before you respond think about what they are saying. A good judge can discern emotional anger from legal truth, and recognize whatever value there may be in someone’s ranting. If you judge what someone is saying to you as being without merit, then you can defend yourself; but don’t do it by accusing them of being judgmental. Do it by addressing their accusation. If you believe you are being unfairly judged, then attack what the person says and not the person. And when you judge someone for what they have said, again, deal with the statement and not the one making it.

In other words, judge what is said and not who is saying it.

For example, someone says that what you have taught is wrong and you clearly have no spiritual understanding of the Bible. They accuse you of saying things that are evil and tell you that you work for the Devil!

OK, so the first reaction is to give them a knuckle sandwich. Good idea, but not really going to solve anything, so let’s judge what they are saying. If you are certain that what you taught is biblically sound, then instead of attacking them, attack their accusation by quietly asking, “What part of my teaching are you talking about?”  Allow them to cross-examine your teaching, so to speak, and as they tell you what they believe is wrong, you can then respond with the biblical verse(s) to justify your statements. And as far as their personal attack, once you show how their first accusation is wrong, the rest of what they said will fall by the wayside, and people will recognize it as nothing more than ranting.

Judging is not just of others, but of ourselves, as well. We must hold ourselves up to the standards a judge is held to, which we are shown in this parashah. And one last bit of advice to end this Shabbat Message: First learn to judge what should be ignored and what necessitates a reply, and deal with each as it deserves. As we are told in Proverbs 26:4, answer a fool as he (or she) deserves, which in many cases means to just ignore the idiot.  That is often the best judgment you can make.

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I am taking a vacation next week and will be back in September. Until then, L’hitraot and Shabbat Shalom!

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