Shoftim (Deut. 16:18 – 21:9)


I have very mixed feelings about the legal profession. On the one hand, in more than one instance, I have seen money, time, and emotional energy spent on legal matters far beyond any sort of practical justification (cf. Dickens’ Bleak House). My father, of blessed memory, used to call lawyers “the scum of the earth.” And I am tired of an approach to legal practice in which a jury’s emotional reaction to a witness can outweigh the validity of the witness’ testimony, cases can be made to drag on for years, and the goal is not to achieve a fair and just outcome, but to win. On the other hand, responsible attorneys are genuinely concerned for their clients’ welfare and advise them appropriately, pro bono work appears to be an expected part of the profession, there are a not insignificant number of attorneys who choose to work for a pittance to go to bat for the indigent, and I have many friends who are attorneys. And I currently work in my company’s Legal department.


This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim, is largely about the establishment and operation of a legal structure in the Promised Land. Courts are to be set up and magistrates appointed. As in the wilderness, the more difficult an issue is to resolve, the higher up the judicial ladder you are to go Interestingly, the priests are included with the magistrates as adjudicators, though it isn’t spelled out who will rule about what. Once a decision is handed down, it’s final. We read several laws that we’ve read about in some form already, like the prohibition against worshiping other gods, cities of refuge for those who kill someone inadvertently, some examples of capital punishment, false versus genuine prophets, the need for two witnesses, exhortations to judge without bias and to support the Levites and priests since they have no land, and even a version of the familiar “eye for an eye…” verse. In addition to the laws we’ve already read, there are laws concerning limitations on a potential future king (he is not above the law but must be intimately familiar with and observe the Law) and limitations on conscription of soldiers and the conduct of war.

But here, all this is presented under an overarching theme (16:20): “Justice, justice shall you pursue (tzedek, tzedek tirdof) , that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.” “Tzedek” is difficult to translate accurately. Common attempts are “righteousness” and “justice.” But there’s much more to it, which is implied in 18:13, “You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God.” “Justice” has a connotation of rigid adherence to law. Law is needed for an orderly society, but it’s not all that’s needed for that society to thrive. Judgments need to be made carefully and considerately. Wrapped up with the legal component of tzedek is compassion, an awareness that individuals need to be protected and cared about. A town to be attacked must first be offered peace; even in war, its fruit trees must not be cut down. A soldier who is betrothed or has a new house or vineyard or even is just very afraid is excused from battle. A king does not have infinite power. A person cannot be convicted on the basis of a single witness. In short,


“You must be wholehearted with the Lord your God.” (18:13)

Did all of this work perfectly in practice? I doubt it. Anyway, the command is tzedek, tzedek tirdof. While you may not always achieve tzedek, you must always pursue it.

Shabbat shalom,






It’s a Living


A grade school teacher was asking students what their parents did for a living. “Tim, you be first,” she said. “What does your mother do all day?”


Tim stood up and proudly said, “She’s a doctor.”


“That’s wonderful. How about you, Amie?”


Amie shyly stood up, scuffed her feet and said, “My father is a mailman.”


“Thank you, Amie,” said the teacher. “What about your father, Billy?”


Billy proudly stood up and announced, “My daddy plays piano in a whorehouse.”


The teacher was aghast and promptly changed the subject to geography. Later that day she went to Billy’s house and rang the bell. Billy’s father answered the door. The teacher explained what his son had said and asked if there might be some logical explanation.


Billy’s father said, “I’m actually an attorney. But how can I explain a thing like that to a seven-year-old?”


The Mercedes Benz


Carlson was charged with stealing a Mercedes Benz, and after a long trial, the jury acquitted him. Later that day Carlson came back to the judge who had presided at the hearing.
“Your honor,” he said, “I wanna get out a warrant for that dirty lawyer of mine.”
“Why ?” asked the judge. “He won your acquittal. What do you want to have him arrested for ?”
“Well, your honor,” replied Carlson, “I didn’t have the money to pay his fee, so he went and took the car I stole.”


It Was So Cold That…


It was so cold last winter that I saw a lawyer with his hands in his own pockets.




Crazy Lawsuits


* A Los Angeles attorney filed suit on behalf of his miniature poodle when the dog was ejected from a cafe’s outdoor patio. The attorney said that since pigeons and other birds are allowed to roam freely on the restaurant’s property, the ejection was a violation of the Constitution’s equal-protection clause.


* Environmentalists in Japan filed suit on behalf of a flock of geese in an attempt to get the government to earmark funds for wetlands preservation, but a judge ruled that geese can’t sue anybody.




Courtroom Humor


By the Court:  You may call your next witness.

By Defendant’s Attorney:  Your Honor, at this time I would like to swat [opposing counsel] on the head with his client’s deposition.

The Court:  You mean read it?

Defendant’s Attorney:  No, Sir. I mean to swat him on the head with it. Pursuant to Rule 32, I may use the deposition “for any purpose” and that’s the purpose I want to use it for.



The Court:  Well, it does say that.

Quiet pause.


The Court:  There being no objection, you may proceed.

Defendant’s Attorney:  Thank you, Judge.

Thereafter, Defendant’s attorney swatted plaintiff’s attorney on the head with the deposition.


By Plaintiff’s Attorney (the victim):  But Judge …

The Court:  Next witness.

Plaintiff’s Attorney:  … We object.

The Court:  Sustained. Next witness.



Cannonical Murphy’s Laws of Combat


1. Friendly fire – isn’t.
2. Recoilless rifles – aren’t.
3. Suppressive fires – won’t.
4. You are not Superman; Marines and fighter pilots take note.
7. Try to look unimportant; the enemy may be low on ammo and not want to waste a bullet on you.
12. Never forget that your weapon was made by the lowest bidder.
13. If your attack is going really well, it’s an ambush.
14. The enemy diversion you’re ignoring is their main attack.
15. The enemy invariably attacks on two occasions: a. When they’re ready. b. When you’re not.
18. Five second fuses always burn three seconds.
22. The easy way is always mined.
25. Never draw fire; it irritates everyone around you.
26. If you are short of everything but the enemy, you are in the combat zone.
28. Incoming fire has the right of way.
29. No combat ready unit has ever passed inspection.
30. No inspection ready unit has ever passed combat.
59. The side with the simplest uniforms wins.
60. Combat will occur on the ground between two adjoining maps.
72. The complexity of a weapon is inversely proportional to the IQ of the weapon’s operator.
74. No matter which way you have to march, its always uphill.
92. The combat worth of a unit is inversely proportional to the smartness of its outfit and appearance.
94. Every command which can be misunderstood, will be.


Helping Other People – Quotes and Quotations


Until the great mass of the people shall be filled with the sense of responsibility for each other’s welfare, social justice can never be attained.


Helen Keller


I think if I were dying and I heard of an act of injustice, it would start me up to a moment’s life again.


Olive Schreiner


Injustice is a sixth sense, and rouses all the others.


Amelia Barr


If I can stop one heart from breaking, I shall not live in vain; If I can ease one life the aching, Or cool one pain, Or help one fainting robin Unto his nest again, I shall not live in vain.


Emily Dickinson


If you give your life as a wholehearted response to love, then love will wholeheartedly respond to you.


Marianne Williamson

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