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

“Justice, Justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord thy God giveth thee.”

These are the words found in this Shabbat Parashah (16:20) and the rest of this parashah discusses how that justice is to be rendered. Not only to men, but to women, children, widows, orphans, even to the trees.

When we are told not to respect anyone, that means not to give special treatment. Don’t overly accommodate the rich and don’t be extra merciful to the poor. Everyone is equal in the eyes of justice, that is, in God’s justice.

The trees, oh yes, the trees: in Chapter 20, verses 19-20 we are told not to destroy fruit trees when besieging a city because those trees provide food. Trees that do not provide food for anyone can be cut down. I guess if you were an olive tree you’d find that commandment extremely just, right?

There are other rules about fair treatment of people, and some of these rules seem totally unfair, such as completely destroying the 6 nations mentioned in 20:17. With regards to those people, everything that breathed, to include animals, was to be totally destroyed. The reason for this harsh genocide is because those nations had refused to accept peace and conversion. Their religious and social culture was an abomination: sodomy, human sacrifice, incest, prostitution, idolatry,…you name it, they did it! Their perversions were so much a part of their daily lives that there is no way having them in the presence of the people of Israel would not influence and pervert the people from God’s pure ways.

Look at it this way: if you work in a fish market, walking among the fish, working with the fish, handling them, being in the midst of fish all day long- what do you think you will smell like when you get home?

Yet, even with these abominable nations which defiled themselves and the land, the rule was still to be just and fair with them. Every single nation, town, city and village that the Israelites were to conquer was first given the option of making peace. The Chumash tells us that even these nations that were ordered to be totally destroyed were first offered peace, the difference being that the nations far away were offered peace and allowed to continue their lives as tributaries to Israel, whereas these 6 nations were required not just to accepted subjugation, but they had to convert from their religious and social practices to those of the Israelites. Their regular lives had to be completely left behind so that none of their abominable practices would be able to infest Israel. These nations were offered peace, but (obviously) they chose to make war, instead.

Bad choice on their part.

Throughout history we see that nations are formed not by finding open and unoccupied lands which they settle, but by finding settled lands that are desirable, then overcoming and destroying the people there. The ones who are able to stay are the ones that are stronger than the surrounding peoples. In other words, the strongest get to live where they want to, and the weaker get to be slaves or dead. That doesn’t sound very fair at all, except maybe to the ones who are the strongest.

The situation we have in America today which I see as being against God’s idea of “just” is this: God says to treat everyone the same, whether poor or rich, even whether Israelite or foreigner. Yet, in America- a land founded on Godly principles- we have abandoned the idea of justice for what we consider to be merciful and sympathetic treatment of the “less fortunate.”

I don’t really have to list any examples, do I? Don’t we all know of law cases that have been unfair to the large corporations (not that I am all for what large corporations do) simply because they “have the money to pay?” The best known case, I think, is the one about the lady who burned herself opening hot coffee in her lap while in the car. Do you think the settlement for that lady was a just and fair judgment? The civil court awarded her nearly $3 Million dollars; it finally settled in an appeal out of court for less than $600,000. Figure this being  a torts case, the lawyers got at least 1/3 of the settlement (standard personal injury settlement fee), plus whatever additional fees they may have charged, including everything from phone calls to making copies (at dollars per copy, although it costs them cents), which really adds up when a law case can go on for months or even years.

Bottom line: we do not dispense justice the way God says to dispense it. If this case came before a Judge in ancient Israel, he would have thrown it out for being frivolous and unsubstantiated because the lady spilled her coffee on herself. The cup didn’t fail to hold the coffee, the coffee was as hot as any other place would sell it; the reason she burned herself was because she placed it right in her lap instead of somewhere safer. The dashboard, the floor, since the car wasn’t moving at the time she could have gotten out and placed it on the roof- anyplace other than her lap would have been more reasonable.

I don’t really want to get in a discussion about this case, but I do want to point out that justice is supposed to be equally dispensed, and America has lost sight of that. The old adage that the squeaky wheel gets all the grease is more like the rule of thumb in our justice system, today. We are all victims, it is “their” fault that this happened, and I deserve to be compensated way beyond reasonable limits because “they” have the money to pay for it.

In the Torah we are told that the compensation for theft and destruction of someone’s ox is to be 5 oxen, whereas stealing and killing someone’s sheep was to be repaid back with 4 sheep (Ex. 22:1); in cases of robbery the least amount to be restored was the value of the property plus 1/5 more (Lev. 6:2-5). These are God’s commands for justice and His standards. Applying that to the case discussed above, the settlement to the lady should have been around $25,000 to cover expenses ($20,000 plus 1/5). The real money came from punitive damages which were based on MacDonald’s having been negligent, which reinforces what I said about people being victims- she opened the hot coffee in her lap but the resulting burn was MacDonald’s fault.

Maybe part of the reason is that the lawyers need to make sure they get their money’s worth out of it, and that’s fair, really- the worker deserves his wages (Luke 10:7; 1 Timothy 5:18) so they have to figure that in when they are asking for a settlement, but , well….I am going on and on about something that is taking us away from the real message.

We need to dispense justice, God’s justice, to everyone; we shouldn’t be overly sympathetic or overly accommodating just because someone is rich or poor. We are to treat all people with justice based on God’s word, ask for and award fair compensation, and to offer peaceful solution to conflicts of interest.

Ya know what? Maybe the reason Lady Justice is wearing that blindfold is because she doesn’t want to see how we have perverted it?

Everything about God’s way is simple, fair and righteous. We may not understand everything He asks us to do, but since He is God there really shouldn’t be any concern about why. Like I said- He’s God, so when He says “do this”, we need to do that; and, when he says “don’t do this”, we better not do that.

We all grew up with our parents saying, in one way or another, “So long as you live under my roof you will do as I say” and we didn’t always like it, but we understood what it meant. It’s like that with God, only with a small twist:

“So long as you live under my sky you will do as I say.”

Until you can find some sky you can call your own, you best do as Father says.

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