August 25, 2012 – Tidbits of Torah

Shabbat Parashat Shof’tim
August 25, 2012 – 7 Elul 5772

Dear Friends,

What have we been hearing as we turn on the news this week? A lot of election news. Quite a bit of talk about the weather and what we can expect in the days to come. All of this is important, I grant you. But, no less important, is the knowledge that we are already one whole week into the month of Elul. That means that we have only three weeks left to prepare ourselves for Rosh HaShana and for the High Holy Days.

Hopefully, all the news we hear from our surroundings will not deter us from making our spiritual preparations for the New Year 5773 meaningful.

After affirming for us the necessity of setting up a system of justice, including the appointment of judges and officials and after discussing a wide range of issues including questions of war and of peace, this week’s Torah portion, Shof’tim [Judges] includes, at the very end of the parsha [Torah portion], a piece about a very unusual circumstance. The Torah describes a situation in which a slain corpse is discovered in an open area, somewhere between two cities. No one knows who is responsible for this death. The Torah tells us that the elders of the surrounding area go out and measure the distance around the corpse to determine which city is the closest one. Then, after looking into the circumstances to the best of their ability, the elders of the nearest city must come forth with a declaration: “Our hands did not spill this blood and our eyes did not see (Deuteronomy 21:7).”

What is the message of this passage? The Torah expects our elders, our leaders, to take responsibility for what happens within their purview. If they cannot declare that they, and their constituency, did everything in their power to protect the life of the innocent, then they are not fit to be leaders of our people. But, Torah holds our leaders to a high standard because leaders are expected to model the ways of justice and of mercy for us.

We are all paying attention to the candidates for election so that we may best judge their leadership records and potential. That is our civic duty. But, during this month of Elul, each of us should also be paying attention to our own lives. That is our spiritual mandate.

Just as the elders were expected to examine their role in society and to take responsibility if they did not do everything in their power to prevent injustice, so too, we are called upon to examine our role in life. Just as the elders had to ask themselves what they might have chosen to ignore to the detriment of their city and those who passed through it, so too, we are invited in this special month of Elul to ask ourselves: Are there things that I have been ignoring to the detriment of my surroundings? Are there things that I can do to make my world and the world of those around me better?

It is a blessing to have a time each year dedicated to soul searching. Let’s make the most of it so that together we will enjoy a year of life, of joy, of justice and of mercy.
Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Gilah Dror