Parashah Shoftim 2018 (Judges) Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9

Watch for my new book, Parashot Drashim- Commentary on the Weekly Torah Readings for Both Jews and Gentiles, to be released sometime in September 2018.


If you prefer to watch a video, click on this link: Watch the video.

In the previous parashah, God reminded the people of the Holy Days (the Moedim) that they are to observe when they are in the Promised Land. Now God tells them to appoint judges in all their cities who are to judge rightly:

(Deut. 16:20) “Justice, justice shalt thou follow, that thou mayest live, and inherit the land which the Lord, thy God giveth thee.”

God instructs the judges that no one is to be executed unless there are two or three witnesses, and if a witness gives a false testimony then what was to happen to the accused will be done to that false witness.  God also tells them when they ask for a king that the king must be an Israelite and also read and follow every commandment God has given.

God reminds the Levites of their role, and how they are to receive payment from the offerings brought to God.

God tells the people that he will raise up for them a prophet like Moses who will have God’s words in his mouth. God also confirms his commandments against worshiping any other gods, and that those living in the land now are to be totally destroyed because of all the evil they have done.

There are commandments regarding the laws of warfare, which include not destroying fruit trees, reasons some men can be excused from military service and that those people who were not to be utterly destroyed would be given a chance to make peace before the Israelites attacked them.

Finally, God gives the means by a city or town that has an unsolved murder can be absolved of the blood guilt.

How can there be justice if the Canaanites were to be totally destroyed? Women (not virgins) and young males were to be slaughtered, often along with all their animals, as well. This is justice?  On the other hand, causing the sin of a false witness to fall on his own head and requiring more than just one witness in a case of capital punishment certainly is a just and fair system. So how do we reconcile these two, apparently opposite decrees?

We do so by remembering one of the most basic and repetitious of all God’s commandments to his people- they are to be holy, as he is holy.

That means not even a trace amount of sin should be found anywhere in their camps, towns, cities or homes. Keeping animals that are unclean, or devoted to another god, would be wrong. Allowing those who God has judged to death for their sinful, unrepentant pagan religions and worship would be sinful, rebellious and would lead the people of God into sin (as we saw happen in Numbers 25.)

The regulations about keeping any form of sin out of the camp, which can be expanded to mean out of the lives of the people of God, was necessary to help maintain the holiness of God’s chosen people. Remember, these were a people that were to be priests to the world (Exodus 19:6) so everything they did, every day, must be designed to avoid sin. Although it seems cruel to us today, in those days total destruction of the conquered peoples was standard. The fact that God said people who were not on the “Holy Hit List” could be allowed to live if they surrendered is a demonstration of the compassion that God has for all people.

And the complete destruction of the sinful people is a demonstration of the awesomeness of God’s judgment.

Micah tells us (Micah 6:8) that what God wants is justice, mercy and to walk humbly with God. We cannot walk anywhere near God, let alone with him if we are sinful. Justice was the first thing God had Micah tell the people was what he wanted of them. Justice, then mercy and finally to walk humbly with God.

To the Jewish mindset, justice is an important and holy thing which encompasses more than just hearing both sides of a story. The Greek idea of justice  (under Plato’s definition) means a harmonious social arrangement which confirms separation of human rights in that slaves are subservient to their masters and should be content to be so. The Hebrew form of justice is that which requires the equality of human rights.  Even a condemned criminal that has been hanged must have his body removed before sundown (Deuteronomy 21:23) as a sign of respect for him as a human being.

Each of us must respect everyone as a separate human being with rights, even when they are sinning and unrepentant. Justice must be given fairly- no bribes, no special treatment for poor or rich, and there must be multiple witnesses whose witness has to be validated and truthful.

When we deal with the darkness in the world, we must be a light which exposes sin and also shines brightly to lead others to the truth.

Do not allow yourself to be turned one way or the other when you are in a position to judge others. This means not just in a criminal court but in your everyday life. If you are a manager and have to write an evaluation, your personal feelings towards the person, good or bad should not influence your evaluation of their value to the company or the quality of their work. If you are in a social group where people are gossiping about each other, you must separate yourselves from those who gossip and be an example of fairness. Try not to talk about someone else unless you are complimenting them; if you have nothing good to say about someone else, then say nothing.

These are hard things for us to do, as human beings, because we are so full of emotion, which is so easily affected by our iniquity. Justice is something that must be above emotion, above personal desire and above our own idea of what “should be.” Justice must be based on established law and accepted behaviors, whether or not we individually agree with those laws or behaviors, and always based on the person’s rights as a human being and a child of God.

To be holy as God is holy is not easy; when we have to judge someone else, for whatever reasons, maybe the best way to start is to “put ourselves in their shoes.” Everyone has a right to decide for themselves what they will do and how they will act, whether that be the judge or the judged. The downside of this right to decide is that God will hold each of us accountable for those decisions, whether you make it yourself or you just do what someone else told you to do.

That should be a very sobering thought.

Where Has Justice Gone?

If you prefer to watch a video, I didn’t do one for this post. Sorry.

For three years I have been an annual pass holder for a really enjoyable activity at the Brevard Zoo called Tree Top Trek. It is a series of fun obstacles that are set up in the tree tops some 20-40 feet above the ground, with zip lines throughout it. I have been going two to three times a week for the past year and a half (since I retired) and just about all the staff, composed mostly of college-aged kids, know me.

I have had friendly conversation with all of them, and even on one occasion enjoyed a hug with one of the women. They have all been friendly and we have exchanged jokes. It has been very enjoyable for me to go, not just for the good workout I get but also for the camaraderie with these young people.  No one ever told me that I was doing anything wrong.

A week or so ago I received a phone call from the woman who manages Tree Top Trek telling me that she has just now been advised that over the past few months 4 of the staff have written complaints about me being unsafe and making improper gestures (whatever that means), and after reviewing this with her senior staff they have decided to terminate my pass and refund me a pro-rated amount of the cost of my annual pass.


I told her I was shocked to hear about this, and never did or said anything to anyone to purposefully hurt or upset them. I said I have always tried to be friendly and don’t have any idea of what she is talking about. No one ever said I upset them, no one ever told me I am in violation of safety rules and if I continue I will be evicted, and no one ever told me I was doing something inappropriate. There are always senior staff members and a manager on site, so if anyone had a problem (I asked her) why didn’t anyone say anything to me?  I assured her if I had been made aware of any of these allegations I would have immediately apologized and made correction to my behavior.

I also asked if she would tell me who said what, and her reply was that “for legal reasons” she would need to check if she could do that. Legal reasons? What laws, either municipal, state or federal, would prevent her from telling me what I was alleged to be doing wrong? Especially if those things got me kicked off their property!

I have had similar experiences during my 40+ years in the corporate world, both personally and hearing about others. This country has a Constitution that, under the 14th Amendment, guarantees everyone equal treatment under the law, and under the 6th Amendment (Confrontation Clause) states all people have a right to face their accuser. It has come to the point today where these two foundation stones of a free republic are ignored by the corporate world. I was subjected to a Witch Hunt and found guilty in a Kangaroo Court, which resulted in being persecuted for actions that I didn’t even know I was doing.

If I had done something wrong, I certainly would have corrected it.  The first time anyone does something wrong it is their responsibility to correct that action, but how can they if they don’t know about it? Isn’t it only fair to say, “When I first did that it was my fault.  But, because you never told me about it, when I kept doing it that was your fault.”?

The system of law we have has always been based upon the premise that one is innocent until proven guilty. Not any more. Today the way it works is that the first one to complain, wins.

I was told they investigated the claims against me, yet how can you investigate something when the accused hasn’t been part of that investigation? It is really sad that these people believe what they are doing is right- their idea of investigating a claim against someone is to ask everybody if that person has ever done anything wrong. Then they collect their accusations and decide what to do. The accused has no input to this at all. If this had been a jury trial, it would have been one where the prosecutor makes the case and presents witnesses against the defendant, but the defendant and the defense lawyer aren’t present, don’t get to hear the prosecutions case and are not allowed to rebut the witnesses.

The bible tells us what to do when someone sins. It is found in Matthew 18:15-17:

If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.

I do not expect everyone to do what the bible says we should do- that is a fact established by human history. But our laws are based on what we are told in Matthew 18, and if corporate America ignores these basic tenets of interpersonal relationships, then what happens to justice? We read the news and watch “cop” shows which include court cases all the time. But we aren’t experiencing it in our everyday lives. What we do experience is what happens to us daily, which for most people is what happens at work.

And what happens at work is that when someone complains about someone else, the alleged person is wrong from the git-go. That person never even gets a chance to explain or amend their behavior before they are either written up or fired. And when they ask why they were never told, it is almost always because the other person was too shy, or too afraid, or too upset to tell them. In other words, because the “wronged” person has a problem with being honest with others, you are the one who has to pay for it.

This also reflects poorly on the manager who clearly hasn’t created an atmosphere of trust that would allow the shy and emotionally immature person to come to the manager so that the “bad” behavior could be amended.

I did something wrong, at one time or another, and was never told about it. I was then accused of doing wrong constantly for months on end. Why it took so long for the Manager to find out I can’t say, but when she did she summarily “fired” me.  No warning, no probation, no opportunity to apologize and make it right. So what happens? I am upset, embarrassed and mortified, and the person(s) who felt I had wronged them never get closure, other than some feeling of revenge. The bible says the Lord shall avenge, but, well…since they don’t care about what God says we should do when someone wrongs us, why should they care about leaving revenge to God? Or for that matter, anything else God says about how to treat each other.

I am venting a little, yes, but I am not seeking pity from you or justice from them- there is no justice in the corporate world. I am also not “crying” about being treated unfairly, which I was, but am using my experience to show that we all need to steel ourselves against the unfair and sinful way people treat each other, which is now not just condoned, but encouraged by those who are in positions of authority in both the corporate and political arenas.

The way we learn about interpersonal relations outside of our own family starts in school and continues at the work place. Most people spend 2/3 of their life in “Corporate America” so what they see and hear in the workplace is how they believe they should act. And because of how corporations are today, how people believe they should act has nothing to do with the bible or the bible’s form of justice. And when justice doesn’t exist anymore at the work place it will soon disappear from the country completely.

First we threw God out of the American justice system, and now we have also thrown out Lady Justice. Her replacement wears no blindfold, has no scale and holds the sword over her head, ready to come down on whomever is brought before her.

The worst part of this entire debacle is that I am ashamed because I know that anything I may have done that was considered inappropriate or wrong will reflect poorly on God and other Believers, for many at Tree Top Trek know I am a God-fearing man.  That is how it is with people: if you say you are God-fearing they expect you to be as perfect as Yeshua was, and when you do anything that isn’t “saintly” they automatically say worshiping God is useless because you sinned. I was treated unfairly and persecuted unjustly, but the result will be some people there will think worshiping God is useless because Steve said he worshiped God and was a Minister, and look at what he did.

That is what hurts me more than anything else- I dishonored God.


Parashah V’yashev (and he dwelt) Genesis 37 – 40

The stories of Joseph and Judah are contained in this parashah: Joseph from the time of his childhood to his imprisonment after asking the Cup Bearer of the Pharaoh to remember him, and Judah from the death of his first two sons to the seduction of Judah by Tamar, his daughter-in-law and birth of her twins.

Why, in the middle of the exciting adventures (or more correctly, trials) of Joseph, would we be told about Judah? It’s like a long infomercial right near the end of a Columbo mystery.

The Chumash says that this is to show us the difference between how these two very influential sons of Israel, one who saves the nation and the other whose descendants lead the nation, reacted to temptation.

Joseph is tempted by Potiphar’s wife, and Judah is tempted by Tamar, his daughter-in-law (while in disguise.) Joseph, while he could easily have gotten away with the betrayal (of the trust) of his master, chose to resist sin. On the other hand, Judah fell easily into the sinful trap that Tamar set for him. Judah had no second thoughts about having sex with a cult prostitute, a representative of a foreign and forbidden god.

Yet, all Judah lost was his staff and seal, which could be replaced; Joseph, on the other hand, lost his position of importance and was thrown into prison for many years.

It just ain’t fair, is it?

Joseph never really showed any lack of morality (although as a child he showed a lack of judgement in the way he made his brothers angry with him) and Judah showed lack of morality in how he associated with prostitutes, but when Tamar revealed that Judah had neglected his duty to provide her a husband, he admitted his guilt and justified her actions, removing the stigma she was under as an unmarried woman who was pregnant. Judah showed the strength of character that is such an important part of true leadership in accepting responsibility for his actions when he was in the wrong.

Joseph also showed his strength of character by accepting the position he was placed in and continuing to do what is right, even when he was not responsible for doing anything wrong. Judah did wrong and accepted responsibility for it when he was made aware of it; Joseph did nothing wrong, yet he accepted the consequences of what happened and continued to do his best.

The lesson for us is that whether we do wrong or right, we will always be OK in God’s sight if we continue to strive to do what is right in God’s eyes. Judah sinned, Joseph resisted sin, yet Judah got off easy and Joseph suffered years in prison. It doesn’t seem fair, but in the long run Joseph was ruler over all the land, and through his trials not only did Egypt survive, but Israel, too. As Joseph tells his brothers later in this book, it was God that sent Joseph to Egypt so that he could save them from starvation. Joseph saw the truth of his suffering, the reason for it, and accepted it as God’s plan of salvation for him and his family. It’s interesting also that Judah’s story is placed smack-dab in the middle of Joseph’s story because it was Judah who first came up with the idea of selling Joseph into slavery, knowing that he would end up in Egypt. Although the brothers never got that chance (the Midianites found Joseph before the sale to the Ishmaelites could occur), Judah would have been the reason for Joseph ending up in Egypt.

When we have either strife or joy in our lives, we never really know where it will lead until we are already there, and by then it’s too late. So what can we do? We can do our best to always do what is right in God’s eyes. Judah did wrong but accepted responsibility for it, which was something that is right in God’s eyes, and ended up as the ancestor of Messiah. Joseph did right but was treated wrongly, yet because he continued to do what was pleasing to God, even in the midst of slavery and imprisonment Joseph was rewarded and honored. Joseph and Judah were like two sides of the same coin: Joseph in the right and Judah in the wrong, but both showed that, in the end, they did what was proper and pleasing to God, and both ended up in positions of honor. It doesn’t matter if you are always righteous, or if you perform an unrighteous act, God wants you to do what is right as you continue to go on with your life.

As God told us in Ezekiel 33:18:

“When the righteous turns from his righteousness and commits iniquity, then he shall die in it. But when the wicked turns from his wickedness and practices justice and righteousness, he will live by them.”

Judah did wrong, but turned from his iniquity (when he took responsibility for it and vindicated Tamar); Joseph never did wrong even when wrongly accused of iniquity, and both were honored by God. It may seem to us that Joseph got the short end of the stick, that what happened to Joseph just wasn’t fair compared to the sin Judah committed (and sorta got away with), but from God’s perspective all went exactly as it should have.

Considering how everything ended up, I think God did alright, don’t you?

We need to remember that no matter what happens in our life, so long as we trust in God and continue to try to do what is right in God’s eyes, we will be OK.  We will all succumb to iniquity at one time or another, and we will all be mistreated at one time or another, but as long as we take responsibility, atone and try to stay on the path of righteousness, then no matter how many times we fall, God will always be there to help us back up.

I guess what it really boils down to is this: “fair” has nothing to do with it. “Fair” is something conceived of by someone who wasn’t treated the way he or she thought they should have been treated. “Fairness” is a condition of the flesh. I don’t care about “fair”, but I do care about God’s will, and how He says we should treat each other. “Fair treatment” isn’t in the Torah, but compassion is, love is, respect is, and justice is. They are in the Torah and they are how God wants us to treat each other.


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.