Shabbat Shofetim - שבת שפטים

Maqam AJAM

Our Gates

תתן לך בכל שעריך - To ensure that all interpersonal affairs be conducted fairly, the entire nation is commanded to set up law enforcement systems "in all of your gates" (Deuteronomy 16:18). The word "your" (תתן לך בכל שעריך), written in singular, implies that the Torah is also speaking to the individual; making sure that each individual maintains clean homes within their gates. Regarding corruption practices (such as obstructionism, favoritism, or bribery), they are so toxic to this "cleanliness" that they "blind the eyes of the wise, upset the plea of the just," and as per the DSS Temple Scroll (found on this verse), "bring great guilt" (ועושה אשמה גדולה) and "contaminate the house with sin" (ומטמא הבית בעוון החטאה). In contrast, pursuing justice (צדק צדק תרדף); free of corruption, has the ability to cleanse our gates; enabling a higher quality of life (למען תחיה) and success in all endeavors (וירשת את הארץ). Beth Torah Bulletin, August 26, 2017.


כי האדם עץ השדה - In times of war, in addition to the inevitable loss of human life, unnecessary collateral damage is caused to the environment as well. In the case of an army besieging a city, the Torah prohibits the wasteful practice of cutting down surrounding fruit trees in order to deprive the enemies of food supplies. Deuteronomy 20:19 offers the ambiguous reason “because man is a tree.” These words remind us of the important role that nature plays in our lives. Humans must never get so carried away in their pursuits that they end up destroying the actual world that they live in. The Maimonides (1135-1204), in a prohibition termed “Bal TashHeet“ (בל תשחית), takes this further by teaching that not only is it prohibited to destroy fruit trees, but also extends the prohibition to wasting anything useful, such as utensils, clothing, buildings, water, or food. This teaching reminds us to always value what we have and never to waste things unnecessarily. Beth Torah Bulletin, August 18, 2018.


ידינו לא שפכה את הדם הזה - In the rare scenario where a corpse is found outside a city, the city's elders declare "our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see" (Deuteronomy 21:7). For the word "shed," traditionally pronounced "shafekhu" (as per Minhat Shai), the Masoretic Text spells it שפכה (singular form) rather than שפכו (plural form). It must be noted that both the Samaritan Pentateuch and the Dead Sea Scrolls (4QDeut) spell it שפכו (plural form). Many commentators, not dismissing this as a typo, comment on the alternate spelling. One explanation of using the word שפכה in singular form is because each elder, as individuals, upon making the public declaration, feel responsibility for the crime on a personal level and do not pass the burden onto the collective "community." The lesson here is that each individual should feel personally responsible for their surroundings and should not blame others when things do not go right. Tiqqun Highlights, Beth Torah Bulletin, September 7, 2019.

Warning on Wealth

וְכֶ֣סֶף וְזָהָ֔ב לֹ֥א יַרְבֶּה־לּ֖וֹ מְאֹֽד - An instruction for an Israelite king is not to amass for himself too much silver and gold (Deuteronomy 17:17). Most agree that the king should have enough money to pay for basic salaries of his soldiers and to support an army, but to have more than that (i.e. building personal treasuries) will cause a king to become arrogant and diminish his reliance on God. Abraham Ibn Ezra (~1092- ~1167), as noted by Rabbenu Bahya (1255-1340), writes that the prohibition of not amassing too much silver and gold is intended to lessen the tax burden on the people (as this would be the source of the main source of the king's wealth). Unfortunately, King Solomon, he writes, amassed a lot of his wealth by imposing a heavy tax burden on his people. The people were so resentful of these taxes (as they told Solomon's son) that it became a burning issue, and they murdered the king’s tax collector, Adoniram, in his own house (1 Kings 12:18), and ultimately seceded from Solomon's kingdom. In order to appreciate the warnings of the Torah, one must look at King Solomon and learn the lesson of what one should not do in obtaining too much wealth on the backs of other people. Beth Torah Bulletin, August 22, 2020.

Maqam of the Week: AJAM

For Shabbat Shofetim (Deuteronomy 16:18- 21:9), prayers are conducted in Maqam AJAM according to most sources (dissenting view: SABA). The Arabic word 'Ajami means 'foreigner' and this relates to the concept of an Israelite king; an idea originating from the foreign nations. AJAM, also used to express happiness, marks the joyous occasion of electing a new king; one whose sovereignty will be blessed with many long years and prosperity (also viewed as a good/happy sign for the entire nation). HAZZANUT: Nishmat: Ya'arikh Yamim (page 203). Semehim: Elekha Hashem (Selihot) in Ajam.