Consideration: Parshas Shoftim. By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
Many contend that the United States is currently being led by a president who is out of touch. He is not in control, is often dishonest, breaks campaign promises, doesn’t follow the will of the people, makes wrong decisions, and knowingly skirts the constitution.
A Covid-inspired nationwide ban on evicting renters who have not paid their rent expired July 31st. The Supreme Court ruled that the ban exceeded the government’s power and could not be renewed without an act by Congress, but the progressives couldn’t muster enough votes to enact such a law, so last week President Biden was pressured into announcing a new, albeit narrower, eviction ban.
Biden admitted that “the bulk of the constitutional scholarship says that it’s not likely to pass constitutional muster.” In other words, he knew that he was likely acting in an unconstitutional fashion. But, he explained, “I went ahead and did it. I can’t guarantee you the court won’t rule if we don’t have that authority. But at least we’ll have the ability, if we have to appeal, to keep this going for a month, at least — I hope longer than that.”
Meanwhile, they’ll press forward with their attempt to save people from paying rent, and as long as they can drag it out, they will.
That is not the way Biden promised to govern. In fact, all during the campaign, he, other Democrats and the media continued harping that it was imperative to vote for Biden if only to “end Trump’s assault on the rule of law.” Biden said that a vote for him would be a vote for “the rule of law, our Constitution.” Apparently, that hasn’t happened.
Throughout the campaign, Biden claimed that he would govern as a mainstream Democrat, and it was that promise that helped the lackluster candidate beat back the long list of progressives who were running against him in the primary, convincing middle-of-the-line voters to choose him over Donald Trump in the general election.
But you couldn’t tell that from the way the administration has been handling every issue that has come down the pike. We’ve seen massive government spending, plans for all types of new taxes, myriad new regulations, open borders, advancing critical race theory at every opportunity, and actions to satisfy every whim of The Squad and other radicals.
Biden and his administration, along with allies Schumer and Pelosi, continue moving ahead with their socialist agenda, even as recent elections demonstrate that a majority of Democrats aren’t supportive of the progressive takeover of the party. For example, last week in Cleveland, in what was termed an upset, mainstream Shontel Brown beat the heavily favored radical candidate for a congressional seat. In New York, Eric Adams beat back a slew of progressives to win the Democrat primary – tantamount to winning the election – for mayor of New York City.
The government continues to dump – read: waste – money on silly programs, such as increased unemployment benefits and other holdouts from when the economy was in lockdown because of Covid. That infusion is causing runaway inflation and shortages of workers and, consequently, goods and services. No matter, Biden denies that one thing has anything to do with the other.
Another situation in which Biden denied that his action would affect what anyone could have expected would be the outcome, was when he announced in July that he would quickly pull U.S. troops out of Afghanistan, where they have been stationed for the past twenty years to prevent terrorists from establishing bases there from which to attack the U.S. and other Western targets.
On July 8th, he said that the goal of denying terrorists a haven in Afghanistan was accomplished. To the question that the Taliban could be expected to sweep back in and gain control of large swaths of the country, he said, “I trust the capacity of the Afghan military, who is better trained, better equipped, and more competent in terms of conducting war.”
Anyone could have told you that to speak that way showed that he was not in touch with reality. In fact, since that statement, the Taliban have been fighting and beating the Afghan army and setting up shop wherever they please.
But it doesn’t matter. Nobody confronts him on any of these things and he continues to steer the country on a downward path. Nor is he forced to answer for his bumbling response to Covid and the new variant. He and his administration swing and swerve, with a different story and strategy every day. First, it’s no more masks. Then, it’s yes masks. First, it’s no mandate forcing people to take the vaccine. Then, it’s pretty much down to you’re going to have to get the shot, like it or not.
They couch it in different language, as epitomized by former Chicago mayor and Obama aide Rahm Emanuel, who said on Sunday that he would advise the administration “not to use the word mandate.” He would say to “call it a requirement to participate in the rest of the economy opening up.” They’re playing word games with people.
In Eretz Yisroel, as well, the country is being led by a bumbling crew of hypocrites. They took over a country in which Covid had become largely absent, and now it is once again spreading, unafraid of their pronouncements and edicts.
The government kept the country open throughout the weeks of summer vacation, knowing that the people wouldn’t stand for another lockdown. But they sit behind closed doors and plot on a shutdown in honor of the upcoming YomimTovim. They will seek to shut shuls and yeshivos, preventing people from davening and celebrating as Jews have been doing for thousands of years.
They seek to force people to leave kollel and to squeeze yeshivos and Torah institutions, but this week kollelimand yeshivosacross Eretz Yisroel opened with larger attendance than ever before. They work to suppress and torment us, but the forces of Torah, emunah and bitachon are stronger and longer-lasting than the paste that holds down the prime minister’s kippa.
The decrepit coalitions of ego and depravity are no match for the accumulated eternal inner strength of the Jewish people, fortified under the duress of centuries of exile.
We have something no one else has, and it is laid out in this week’s parsha. The Torah prescribes proper leadership.
“Shoftimveshotrimtiteinlecha.” In order to maintain a society, it is incumbent to establish a system of incorruptible justice. The shoftim, judges, must be learned, intelligent, honest, upstanding and incorruptible. Their ambition and motivation must be to pursue truth and justice. There is no room in the Torah’s system of jurisprudence for people driven by ego and lust for power and money.
The officers of the bais din must also be beyond reproach. They must be men of uncompromising honor and power, who have the skill and determination to enforce the rulings of the shoftim with strength and dignity. Anarchy and mediocrity have no place in our system of rule, for they result in a breakdown of respect for authority and righteousness.
The Torah, in this week’s parsha,also states that when the people choose a king, he must not be driven by a need to enrich himself or a desire for the senseless trappings of power, a big house, a retinue of aides, a fleet of cars wherever he goes, and lots of publicity. The posuk further commands that the king write for himself two Sifrei Torah, from which he should learn throughout his life.
The Torah’s priority is to encourage people to follow an honorable, humble and just path. The monarchy, the Sanhedrin and other institutions were created to foster correct behavior and ensure that society is governed by Torah.
The beginning of the parshais connected to its ending. Proper shoftim and shotrim keep everything straight, honest, compassionate and proper. Under their guidance, the society flourishes and produces a successful, happy populace.
The parsha ends with the mitzvah of eglaharufah, the procedure to follow when a lifeless body of an person is found and it is unknown who killed him. The elders of the city must wash their hands over the eglaharufah and state that their hands did not kill the person and their eyes did not witness it: “Yodeinu lo shofchu es hadomhazehve’eineinu lo ra’u.”
Obviously, no one would suspect the elders of murdering a person. The lesson of the eglaharufah is that the leaders must be able to declare that they worked to establish a society in which murder would never take place.
They proclaim that they established a proper system of justice, a compassionate treatment of strangers, and everything in between. With the kohanim at their sides, the zekeinim proclaim that they did everything in their ability to ensure that no person suffers abuse of any kind. They state that they have always acted in the best interests of the community, without engaging in corruption and favoritism of any sort. They say that there is nothing that they knew of in the city that would cause a person to meet their end in this way.
In our day, although we no longer have the eglaharufah, we still must all be able to proclaim that we have done what we can to set up institutions of jurisprudence, chesed, tzedakah, chinuch, mesorah, and so on, so that people can live their lives without fear of crime, hunger or deprivation.
The obligation to have such shoftimandshotrimis a communal responsibility, not only the responsibility of the zikneiho’ir, the ones who make the declaration when a body is found. It is incumbent upon all people to see to it that their community is a loving, peaceful place, where people get along and proper leadership is in place to guide and lead.
We need to all live our lives in a way that ensures that we can all safely say, “Yodeinu lo shofchu es hadomhazeh,” our hands never spilled the blood – both literally and figuratively – of anyone. We must act in a way to never cause people needless pain. We must be considerate in all we do, including the way we drive. Why is it that in our neighborhoods, people aren’t given a break and aren’t extended common courtesies of the road? Why is it that when people park, they aren’t careful to stay within the lines, allowing others to park as well? These are just minor things; they are indicative of a larger problem. We aren’t considerate.
We must be sensitive to other people’s needs and feelings. We should give chizuk to people who need it. It doesn’t necessarily require much. Sometimes, all it takes is a smile, or a hello, or a good Shabbos. Some people are lonely or shy, and it’s hard for them to get out of their shell. If we help them, it will breathe life into them and be a zechus for us as we approach the yomhadin.
Many years ago, I was away for Shabbos and met someone in the shul where I had gone to daven Friday night. I knew that he lived far from that shul and asked him why he troubled himself to walk there from the other end of town. He said something that stuck with me: “When I come here, I know that at least one person will say good Shabbos to me – the rov.”
Imagine the zechus you get if you are the one to wish such a person a good Shabbos. Imagine if you do it with a smile. Imagine if you ask him how his week was. You’d make his day. You’d make his Shabbos. And you’d earn yourself eternal reward.
Start with the little things. They add up. And when you are down and need a little chizuk, Hashem will repay you.
Elul is a good time to start.