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Parashah 48: Shof’tim (Judges) 16:18–21:9
18 “You are to appoint judges and officers for all your gates [in the cities] Adonai your God is giving you, tribe by tribe; and they are to judge the people with righteous judgment. 19 You are not to distort justice or show favoritism, and you are not to accept a bribe, for a gift blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of even the upright. 20 Justice, only justice, you must pursue; so that you will live and inherit the land Adonai your God is giving you.
21 “You are not to plant any sort of tree as a sacred pole beside the altar of Adonai your God that you will make for yourselves. 22 Likewise, do not set up a standing-stone; Adonai your God hates such things.
17 “You are not to sacrifice to Adonai your God a cow or sheep that has a defect or anything wrong with it; that would be an abomination to Adonai your God.
2 “If there is found among you, within any of your gates [in any city] that Adonai your God gives you, a man or woman who does what Adonai your God sees as wicked, transgressing his covenant 3 by going and serving other gods and worshipping them, the sun, the moon, or anything in the sky — something I have forbidden — 4 and it is told to you, or you hear about it; then you are to investigate the matter diligently. If it is true, if it is confirmed that such detestable things are being done in Isra’el; 5 then you are to bring the man or woman who has done this wicked thing to your city gates, and stone that man or woman to death. 6 The death sentence is to be carried out only if there was testimony from two or three witnesses; he may not be sentenced to death on the testimony of only one witness. 7 The witnesses are to be the first to stone him to death; afterwards, all the people are to stone him. Thus you will put an end to this wickedness among you.
8 “If a case comes before you at your city gate which is too difficult for you to judge, concerning bloodshed, civil suit, personal injury or any other controversial issue; you are to get up, go to the place which Adonai your God will choose, 9 and appear before the cohanim, who are L’vi’im, and the judge in office at the time. Seek their opinion, and they will render a verdict for you. 10 You will then act according to what they have told you there in that place which Adonai will choose; you are to take care to act according to all their instructions. 11 In accordance with the Torah they teach you, you are to carry out the judgment they render, not turning aside to the right or the left from the verdict they declare to you. 12 Anyone presumptuous enough not to pay attention to the cohen appointed there to serve Adonai your God or to the judge — that person must die. Thus you will exterminate such wickedness from Isra’el — 13 all the people will hear about it and be afraid to continue acting presumptuously.
(ii) 14 “When you have entered the land Adonai your God is giving you, have taken possession of it and are living there, you may say, ‘I want to have a king over me, like all the other nations around me.’ 15 In that event, you must appoint as king the one whom Adonai your God will choose. He must be one of your kinsmen, this king you appoint over you — you are forbidden to appoint a foreigner over you who is not your kinsman. 16 However, he is not to acquire many horses for himself or have the people return to Egypt to obtain more horses, inasmuch as Adonai told you never to go back that way again. 17 Likewise, he is not to acquire many wives for himself, so that his heart will not turn away; and he is not to acquire excessive quantities of silver and gold.
18 “When he has come to occupy the throne of his kingdom, he is to write a copy of this Torah for himself in a scroll, from the one the cohanim and L’vi’im use. 19 It is to remain with him, and he is to read in it every day, as long as he lives; so that he will learn to fear Adonai his God and keep all the words of this Torah and these laws and obey them; 20 so that he will not think he is better than his kinsmen; and so that he will not turn aside either to the right or to the left from the mitzvah. In this way he will prolong his own reign and that of his children in Isra’el.
18 (iii) The cohanim, who are L’vi’im, and indeed the whole tribe of Levi, is not to have a share or an inheritance with Isra’el. Instead, their support will come from the food offered by fire to Adonai and from whatever else becomes his. 2 They will have no inheritance with their brothers, because Adonai is their inheritance — as he has said to them.
3 “The cohanim will have the right to receive from the people, from those offering a sacrifice, whether ox or sheep, the shoulder, the jowls and the stomach. 4 You will also give him the firstfruits of your grain, new wine and olive oil, and the first of the fleece of your sheep. 5 For Adonai your God has chosen him from all your tribes to stand and serve in the name of Adonai, him and his sons forever.
(iv) 6 “If a Levi from one of your towns anywhere in Isra’el where he is living comes, highly motivated, to the place which Adonai will choose, 7 then he will serve there in the name of Adonai his God, just like his kinsmen the L’vi’im who stand and serve in the presence of Adonai. 8 Such a Levi will receive the same share as they do, in addition to what he may receive from selling his inherited ancestral property.
9 “When you enter the land Adonai your God is giving you, you are not to learn how to follow the abominable practices of those nations. 10 There must not be found among you anyone who makes his son or daughter pass through fire, a diviner, a soothsayer, an enchanter, a sorcerer, 11 a spell-caster, a consulter of ghosts or spirits, or a necromancer. 12 For whoever does these things is detestable to Adonai, and because of these abominations Adonai your God is driving them out ahead of you. 13 You must be wholehearted with Adonai your God. (v) 14 For these nations, which you are about to dispossess, listen to soothsayers and diviners; but you, Adonai your God does not allow you to do this.
15 “Adonai will raise up for you a prophet like me from among yourselves, from your own kinsmen. You are to pay attention to him, 16 just as when you were assembled at Horev and requested Adonai your God, ‘Don’t let me hear the voice of Adonai my God any more, or let me see this great fire ever again; if I do, I will die!’ 17 On that occasion Adonai said to me, ‘They are right in what they are saying. 18 I will raise up for them a prophet like you from among their kinsmen. I will put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I order him. 19 Whoever doesn’t listen to my words, which he will speak in my name, will have to account for himself to me.
20 “‘But if a prophet presumptuously speaks a word in my name which I didn’t order him to say, or if he speaks in the name of other gods, then that prophet must die.’ 21 You may be wondering, ‘How are we to know if a word has not been spoken by Adonai?’ 22 When a prophet speaks in the name of Adonai, and the prediction does not come true — that is, the word is not fulfilled — then Adonai did not speak that word. The prophet who said it spoke presumptuously; you have nothing to fear from him.
19 “When Adonai your God cuts off the nations whose land Adonai your God is giving you, and you take their place and settle in their cities and houses, 2 you are to set aside three cities for yourselves in your land that Adonai your God is giving you to possess. 3 Divide the territory of your land, which Adonai your God is having you inherit, into three parts; and prepare the roads, so that any killer can flee to these cities. 4 The killer who will live if he flees there is someone who has killed his fellow member of the community by mistake, who did not hate him in the past. 5 An example would be if a man goes into the forest with his neighbor to cut wood and takes a stroke with the axe to fell a tree, but the head of the axe flies off the handle, hits his neighbor and kills him. Then he is to flee to one of these cities and live there. 6 Otherwise the next-of-kin avenger, in the heat of his anger, may pursue the killer, overtake him because the distance [to the city of refuge] is long, and strike him dead — even though he didn’t deserve to die, inasmuch as he hadn’t hated him in the past. 7 This is why I am ordering you to set aside for yourselves three cities.
8 “If Adonai your God expands your territory, as he swore to your ancestors that he would, and gives you all the land he promised to give to your ancestors — 9 provided you keep and observe all these mitzvot I am giving you today, loving Adonai your God and always following his ways — then you are to add three more cities for yourselves, besides these three; 10 so that innocent blood will not be shed in the land Adonai your God is giving you as an inheritance, and thus blood guilt be on you.
11 “However, if someone hates his fellow member of the community, lies in wait for him, attacks him, strikes him a death blow, and then flees into one of these cities; 12 then the leaders of his own town are to send and bring him back from there and hand him over to the next-of-kin avenger, to be put to death. 13 You are not to pity him. Rather, you must put an end to the shedding of innocent blood in Isra’el. Then things will go well with you.
(vi) 14 “You are not to move your neighbor’s boundary marker from the place where people put it long ago, in the inheritance soon to be yours in the land Adonai your God is giving you to possess.
15 “One witness alone will not be sufficient to convict a person of any offense or sin of any kind; the matter will be established only if there are two or three witnesses testifying against him.
16 “If a malicious witness comes forward and gives false testimony against someone, 17 then both the men involved in the controversy are to stand before Adonai, before the cohanim and the judges in office at the time. 18 The judges are to investigate carefully. If they find that the witness is lying and has given false testimony against his brother, 19 you are to do to him what he intended to do to his brother. In this way, you will put an end to such wickedness among you. 20 Those who remain will hear about it, be afraid and no longer commit such wickedness among you. 21 Show no pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.
20 “When you go out to fight your enemies and see horses, chariots and a force larger than yours, you are not to be afraid of them; because Adonai your God, who brought you up from the land of Egypt, is with you. 2 When you are about to go into battle, the cohen is to come forward and address the people. 3 He should tell them, ‘Listen, Isra’el! You are about to do battle against your enemies. Don’t be fainthearted or afraid; don’t be alarmed or frightened by them; 4 because Adonai your God is going with you to fight on your behalf against your enemies and give you victory.’
5 “Then the officials will speak to the soldiers. They are to say, ‘Is there a man here who has built a new house, but hasn’t dedicated it yet? He should go back home now; otherwise he may die fighting, and another man will dedicate it.
6 “‘Is there a man here who has planted a vineyard, but hasn’t yet made use of its fruit? He should go back home; otherwise he may die fighting, and another man will use it.
7 “‘Is there a man here who is engaged to a woman, but hasn’t married her yet? He should go back home; otherwise he may die fighting, and another man will marry her.’
8 “The officials will then add to what they have said to the soldiers: ‘Is there a man here who is afraid and fainthearted? He should go back home; otherwise his fear may demoralize his comrades as well.’ 9 When the officials have finished speaking with the soldiers, commanders are to be appointed to lead the army.
(vii) 10 “When you advance on a town to attack it, first offer it terms for peace. 11 If it accepts the terms for peace and opens its gates to you, then all the people there are to be put to forced labor and work for you. 12 However, if they refuse to make peace with you but prefer to make war against you, you are to put it under siege. 13 When Adonai your God hands it over to you, you are to put every male to the sword. 14 However, you are to take as booty for yourself the women, the little ones, the livestock, and everything in the city — all its spoil. Yes, you will feed on your enemies’ spoil, which Adonai your God has given you. 15 This is what you are to do to all the towns which are at a great distance from you, which are not the towns of these nations.
16 “As for the towns of these peoples, which Adonai your God is giving you as your inheritance, you are not to allow anything that breathes to live. 17 Rather you must destroy them completely — the Hitti, the Emori, the Kena‘ani, the P’rizi, the Hivi and the Y’vusi — as Adonai your God has ordered you; 18 so that they won’t teach you to follow their abominable practices, which they do for their gods, thus causing you to sin against Adonai your God.
19 “When, in making war against a town in order to capture it, you lay siege to it for a long time, you are not to destroy its trees, cutting them down with an axe. You can eat their fruit, so don’t cut them down. After all, are the trees in the field human beings, so that you have to besiege them too? 20 However, if you know that certain trees provide no food, you may destroy them and cut them down, in order to build siege-works against the town making war with you, until it falls.
21 “If, in the land Adonai your God is giving you to possess, a murder victim is found lying in the countryside; and the perpetrator of the murder is not known; 2 then your leaders and judges are to go out and measure the distance between it and the surrounding towns. 3 After it has been determined which town is the closest, the leaders of that town are to take a young female cow that has never been put to work or yoked for use as a draft animal. 4 The leaders of that town are to bring the heifer down to a vadi with a stream in it that never dries up, to a place that is neither plowed nor sown; and they are to break the cow’s neck there in the vadi. 5 Then the cohanim, who are L’vi’im, are to approach; for Adonai your God has chosen them to serve him and to pronounce blessings in the name of Adonai; they will decide the outcome of every dispute and matter involving violence. 6 All the leaders of the town nearest the murder victim are to wash their hands over the cow whose neck was broken in the vadi. (Maftir) 7 Then they are to speak up and say, ‘This blood was not shed by our hands, nor have we seen who did it. 8 Adonai, forgive your people Isra’el, whom you redeemed; do not allow innocent blood to be shed among your people Isra’el.’ And they will be forgiven this bloodshed. 9 Thus you will banish the shedding of innocent blood from among you, by doing what Adonai sees as right.
Haftarah Shof’tim: Yesha‘yahu (Isaiah) 51:12–52:12 [Messianic adaptation: conclude the reading at 53:12]
B’rit Hadashah suggested readings for Parashah Shof’tim: Mattityahu (Matthew) 5:38–42; 18:15–20; Acts 3:13–26; 7:35–53; 1 Corinthians 5:9–13; 1 Timothy 5:17–22; Messianic Jews (Hebrews) 10:28–31