Enjoy four short thoughts and a video adapted from the teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe on Parshat Shoftim.

The Human Tree

"For man is a tree of the field."
Deuteronomy 20:19

The tree's primary components are: the roots, which anchor it to the ground and supply it with water and other nutrients; the trunk, branches and leaves which comprise its body; and the fruit which contain the seeds by which the tree reproduces itself.

The spiritual life of man also includes roots, a body, and fruit. The roots represent faith, our source of nurture and perseverance. The trunk, branches and leaves are the body of our spiritual lives — our intellectual, emotional and practical achievements. The fruit is our power of spiritual procreation — the power to influence others, to plant a seed in a fellow human being and see it sprout, grow and bear fruit.
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A Leader's Integrity

This Torah reading contains the command to appoint a king. The idea of a king as an absolute monarch — not merely a ceremonial figurehead — is foreign to our worldview. We are not willing to subjugate our lives to the rule of another human being.

On the other hand, we are starving for genuine leadership. We are disgusted by candy-coated figureheads who lack integrity; who stand for themselves and their personal image and little else.

King David was the exemplar of Jewish monarchy and yet, as he says of himself: “I did not lift up my heart; my eyes were not haughty... I stilled and silenced my soul.” This absolute humility made him a fitting medium for the manifestation of G‑d’s Kingship.

This serves as an example to our people as a whole; for the purpose of Jewish monarchy is to teach the people self-nullification. The purpose of paying homage to a mortal king is to infuse kabbalas ol, “the acceptance of G‑d’s yoke,” into every dimension of our people’s Divine service, deepening the intensity of our commitment until it affects our very essence.
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All-Encompassing Torah

This week’s Torah reading begins with the commandment to appoint judges in all communities. This points to one of the fundamental thrusts of Judaism: that a person be continually prepared to subject himself and his conduct to the review of an outside, objective authority. That authority, however, is not merely another person wiser and/or more experienced than oneself, but rather a repository of Torah knowledge. His decisions reflect the Torah’s wisdom, and not his own.

In that vein, our Sages refer to a Torah scholar as “a walking Torah scroll.” For the guidance which he gives is an extension of the rulings of the Torah and not merely what he thinks is right at the moment.

Judaism is not merely confined to the synagogue. Its scope goes beyond the realms of prayer and study and encompasses every human endeavor. Therefore the Torah contains laws governing agriculture, commerce, employer-employee relationships and other matters which we would not ordinarily place in the sphere of religion.

By empowering Torah judges to show true leadership in the present era, we anticipate the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy: “I will return your judges as in former times,” with the coming of Mashiach.
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The King in the Field

This week’s Torah reading includes the mitzvah of eglah arufah, a ritual act whereby the neck of a calf is broken to atone for the murder of a person who was slain by an unknown assailant.

The eglah arufah was brought to absolve the people of the neighboring city for their responsibility for the person’s death. Why might they be held responsible? Seemingly, the one who has died is responsible for his own death. After all, he left the city, a place of Torah, and went out to the field? Why then are others — the city elders, no less — responsible to atone for his death?

The elders of the city model the obligation that applies to us all — by performing this ritual and declaring: “Our hands did not spill this blood.” Our Sages explain that they are saying that they did not let the slain person depart the city without providing him with food and an escort. “Food” refers to Torah study. Before a Jew goes out to the field, the Jewish community must provide him with “food,” spiritual nurture, and they must also see that others accompany him, so that he will not face the challenges of the field alone.

Parshas Shoftim is always read in the month of Elul, the month when, “the King is in the field.” Every Jew should “follow in His paths,” and leave the security of the “city,” the established Jewish community, and go out and extend himself to those Jews in the “field,” helping them find their way back to their Jewish heritage.
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A Month to Prepare

Throughout the month of Elul, the Jewish people has a collective task: to prepare itself to be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year. Indeed, there is a Jewish custom to wear white on Rosh Hashanah eve, to express the certainty that all will be inscribed in the Book of the Righteous. Clearly, then, the preparation for this must also be with unity: