To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the heaven.

- Ecclesiastes 3:1


Dear Friends,

Our Torah portion this Shabbat is Shofetim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9).  It addresses the foundational value of a just and compassionate society in its admonition that in order to live meaningful, productive and affirming lives we need to seek out justice and spend our days in the pursuit of righteousness (16:20).  That moral underpinning is at the heart of every task and the key obligation of every leadership role an individual plays in his communal and personal life.

Often, people mistake justice for vengeance.  Justice is not the swift sword which exacts a punishment equal for a wrongdoing.  Rather, it is a striving to create a society in which all are treated with equal care and consideration; in which the life of one individual is not deemed more important than the life of any other human being; in which the human imperfections which cause our xenophobic initial response to the other are quashed by a greater human quality which acknowledges the sacred commonality of every living creature as a divine creation.

If this is the underlying premise of our quest for justice, then we should not be surprised when later in this parsha the nature of a just life takes the form of exemptions from fighting in war (20:5-8).  Each exemption addresses the injustice which would occur if a young person could not experience the basic joys and wellbeing of growing into adulthood:  the enjoyment and satisfaction of building a new home (20:5), the sense of accomplishment in harvesting one's own vineyard (20:6) and the unbounding love and bliss of the newlywed (20:7).

The parsha also delineates one additional exemption offered to the individual who acknowledges feelings of fear and faint-heartedness (20:8).  Our initial reading might suggest that the exemption would be for a person experiencing

these emotions before entering battle, but Rashi, quoting Rabbi Jose, the Galilean (2nd cent CE), shares a different insight.  Rabbi Jose understands the fearful and faint of heart as the individual who is troubled by what he/she might have already experienced in war.  The trauma of war is so devastating that the individual is exempt from having to return to the battlefield and experience those horrors again.

Viewed from that perspective, Rabbi Jose implies that the earlier exemptions need to be understood as a therapeutic approach to help the returning soldier deal with his/her PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder):  by having the opportunity to find a loving relationship, to create a warm and inviting home environment and to establish oneself in a career.

Perhaps then, a just society is that future awakening to a world in which all are exempt from the battlefield because we pursue instead a mutual respect and understanding for the rights and basic human dignity of every person, thereby fulfilling the hopes of the Prophet Micah that the sense of justice will be experienced when

"they shall beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation shall not take up sword against nation and they shall never again know war.  But every person shall sit under his grapevine or her fig tree with not one to disturb him." (4:3-4)

May the time not be distant...

Shabbat Shalom,