Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )
GOOD MORNING! On a beautiful fall day in Seattle, two months before graduating the University of Washington, I took my lunch to a grassy island nestled between the cross streets. I looked both ways, saw only empty streets with no cars, and crossed in the crosswalk -- but the light was red. What I didn't see was the policeman jaywalking over to give me a ticket for crossing against the light!
Expressing my remorse, I graciously accepted the ticket, sat down to lunch and had an inspiration! After graduating, my plan was to go to law school. I would use the ticket as an opportunity to experience being a lawyer. I took the ticket to the law library, looked up the citation and lo and behold -- the policeman incorrectly cited me for jaywalking, not crossing against the light. I had him!
I had 3 choices with the ticket: 1) Send in a check for a $10 fine 2) Spend a couple of hours watching safety films of people getting hit by cars or 3) Go to court. Nothing was going to keep me from my day in court!
The day of the trial I got up early, took the bus to the courthouse and because of a traffic jam arrived 5 minutes late. After waiting for an hour and a half to be called, I asked the bailiff when my case would be called before the judge. He looked at the list and informed me that when I didn't answer the roll call, the judge released the policeman who was there to testify and issued a warrant for my arrest.
"You have 3 options," the bailiff informed me. "You may wait until the end of the cases and plead guilty, you can post bond or you can turn yourself in at a later date, spend the night in jail and be tried the next day."
Thrilling! A chance not only to be a lawyer for a day, but to experience jail in a safe environment! A few weeks later I told my 3 best friends of my plan to turn myself in, experience jail and get tried. Looking at the worst, unforeseen scenario I advised each of them that if they didn't hear from me by 1 p.m. the next day, to immediately call the jail and find out what happened and to come get me out.
After a night in jail having fascinating conversations with prisoners who hadn't paid their parking tickets, I appeared in court. I had my 8 ½ x 11 inch yellow pad waiting for my big moment with the judge.
I pled "Not guilty!" ready for battle -- and the judge responded, "OK, the court date will be in 3 months..." But I was promised a trial! "Yes," replied the judge, "but that can't happen if the policeman isn't here to testify." Good point! One I should have thought of. Perhaps that was the moment that ended my illusion of becoming a great trial lawyer.
The bailiff informed me that I could post bond or wait in jail for 3 months for the trial. Enough is enough! When I went to post bail, the court officer asked, "With what will you post bail?" I responded, "I have a check in my possessions." I can still remember his smile -- maybe more of a sneer or a smirk. "Sonny boy, look around you. Do you really think that the great City of Seattle is going to trust you people to write a check?"
The guard escorted me back to the cell to await processing for my three month wait in jail. Am I worried? No way! My 3 best friends are going to come and get me at 1 pm. One o'clock, two o'clock, three o'clock .... seven o'clock -- no one has come to bail me out.
At 8 p.m. they let us make phone calls. I could only reach the father of one of my friends who came and bailed me out. My friends? One thought I was kidding, one forgot and the third hadn't gotten around to checking. With friends like these, who needs enemies?
Finally, the day of trial. I show up extra-early, yellow pad in hand, loins girded for battle. After 2 hours, I get called before the judge, asked how I plead (you know the answer to that!) and then the judge mumbled something. I asked the judge to please repeat what he said, but louder. He replied, "Case dismissed. The policeman didn't show up."
This week's Torah portion is Shoftim which deals with the court system, testimony, punishment. Take the lesson: obey the law! Cross in crosswalks with the light, fully stop at stop signs even at 3 a.m. -- and remember, "You may be able to beat the rap, but you can't beat the ride."
Shoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18 -- 21:9
Topics in this week's portion include: Judges and Justice, Forbidden Trees and Pillars worshipped as idols, Blemished Sacrifice, Penalties for Idolatry, The Supreme Court, The King, Levitical Priests, Priestly Portions, Special Service, Divination and Prophecy, Cities of Refuge, Murder, Preserving Boundaries, Conspiring Witnesses, Preparing for War, Taking Captives, Conducting a Siege and the Case of the Unsolved Murder.
This week we have the famous admonition: "Righteousness, Righteousness shall you pursue, so that you will live and possess the Land that the Almighty your God, gives you" (Deut. 16:20).
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based on Love Your Neighbor by Rabbi Zelig Pliskin
The Torah (Deuteronomy 20:2-8) states that before the Jewish army went to war an announcement was made that certain categories of people should return home: he who has built a new house, but has not dedicated it; he who has planted a vineyard, but has not partaken from the fruits; he who has betrothed a wife, but has not married her. Verse 8 reads:
"And the officers shall speak further to the people and they shall say: 'Is there a man who is fearful and fainthearted? Let him go and return to his house and let him not make the heart of his brethren faint as well as his heart' ".
What does this mean and what is the connection of the fourth category to the previous three categories?
Rabbi Yosi Haglili explains (Babylonian Talmud, tractate Sotah 44a, cited by Rashi) that the fourth category refers to someone who fears that he is unworthy of being saved because of his transgressions. Rabbi Yosi adds that this is the reason why the other three categories were told to go home. If someone would leave the ranks because of his sins, he would feel embarrassed. However, since other groups were also sent home, people would not know which individuals were leaving for which reasons.
This is truly amazing. A large number of soldiers are sent home in wartime in order to save a sinner from humiliation. We must learn from here that we must do everything possible to protect people from shame.
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The difficulties of life are to
make us better, not bitter