The name of this week’s Parshah, Shoftim, means “judges,” and the Parshah begins with Moses commanding the people of Israel to appoint judges to decide the law. This is a part of making sure that we live in a just society where laws are fair and are applied properly. If someone is accused of committing a crime, it must be investigated properly, and no one can be judged guilty unless there are at least least two witnesses who actually saw him do the crime. And a judge is never allowed to take bribes, because even if he thinks that he’ll just take the money and then decide the case fairly, the Torah says that this is impossible; people’s minds are always influenced by money.

Laws for Kings

When the Jews come to the Land of Israel and appoint a king, there are certain rules he will have to keep. He can’t have too many horses or too many wives. He must also have two Torah scrolls. One is to be carried around with him, to remind him that even though he is king he must be humble, follow the Torah and remember that G‑d is above him.

Cities of Refuge

If somebody accidentally kills somebody else—for example, if two people are chopping wood together, and the top of one person’s axe flies off the handle and kills the other—then a relative of the victim may be so angry that he wants to go after the killer, even though it was an accident. So the Torah commands the Jews to set up special cities in Israel, called “cities of refuge,” where the person who killed accidentally can run and be safe from the victim’s family. Once a person is in the city of refuge, the family of the person he killed cannot hurt him. But he has to stay there for a long time, until the kohen gadol (high priest) passes away.

Rules of War

Before the Jews go to war against their enemies, a kohen will come and tell them that there is no reason to fear, for G‑d is with them and will fight for them. So everybody should go bravely to war. Everybody except the following: Someone who just built a house, planted a vineyard or has gotten married. Another person exempted from battle is someone who is afraid. Because if he is afraid, that shows that he does not trust in G‑d, or that he knows that he sinned and is not worthy of G‑d’s protection, and in that case he should not go to war with the rest of the Jews.

When the people of Israel come to fight with an enemy, they should first offer peace.

When they take over a country, they are not allowed to chop down or destroy trees that give fruit.

The Laws of “Eglah Arufah”:

If a person is found dead outside a city, the city that is closest has to take responsibility for the death and perform a special procedure with a calf. This teaches us that it is our responsibility to make sure that whenever somebody leaves our city they have enough food and protection for the way, so that they arrive home safe and sound.