Shoftim (Deut. 16:18 – 21:9)

We spend a lot of emotional energy deciding what’s fair, complaining about unfairness, and listening to others’ complaints about perceived unfairness, especially if you are a parent or teacher.  We usually do not bother to define fairness, believing it to be self-evident.  But what is fair is not always clear.   For example, is it fairer to divide an inheritance equally among heirs or to apportion it according to financial need?  If only one child needs a new winter coat, is it fairer to just say that’s the case, or to get something of equal value but unneeded for the other children?  What we decide is fair is a reflection of our values, like allowing all the kids a chance at bat in Little League versus focusing on winning the game.  This week’s Torah portion present a series of commands that are intended to enable the Israelites to live in a society based on fairness as defined by the Law. 

We read in 16:20, “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof,” usually translated as “Justice, justice you will pursue.”  Tzedek does not mean “justice” in a narrow legal sense, but more “righteousness,” another translation, or “fairness”.  We often use the word tzedakah to mean charity, again, melding concepts of fairness, justice, and righteousness.  Why is “tzedek” written twice?  One commentator, R’ Bunam of P’shis’cha, posits that it is to emphasize that only just means may be used to pursue justice.  The Israelites are commanded to set up a system of judges and magistrates to enable setting up and maintaining a just society.  Evil is to be swept out from their midst (17:7, 9; 19:19).  This includes banning practices “of the nations” such as sorcery, necromancy, fortune telling, astrology, and the like are forbidden.  Legitimate prophecy will come only from a legitimate prophet.  How do you tell if someone is a false prophet?  Very simple: a false prophet predicts in the name of the Lord that something will occur, and it doesn’t. 

Compensation for wrongs must be just, as in “… life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.”  Justice must not be perverted by bribery or false witnesses.  A death sentence requires two witnesses to the crime.  Cities of refuge are to be established to protect those who kill accidentally.  On a more positive note, the Levites and Kohanim are to be provided for.  The military draft is to provide compassionate deferments (e.g., if a soldier is betrothed or has built a new house).  Even war has its limits. Cities under attack are to be to be given a chance to sue for peace first and their fruit trees are not destroyed.  And if a homicide victim is found in the open field, and the killer is unknown, the elders of the nearest town must formally seek absolution of bloodguilt.   Even the king, should there be one in the future, will not be above the law; indeed, he is to write out two copies of the Law to help him learn it.  Judicial and priestly rulings must be accepted as legitimate and obeyed if a just, cohesive, and viable society is to be established. 

Shabbat shalom,


Parshas Shoftim
by S. Galena Posted: 07-09-2006 Category: On 1 Foot

Judge: Justice I shall pursue. 
Defendant: Do you take bribes? 
Judge: NO. I am creditable. 
Defendant: Visa or Mastercard? 



The South Dakota Supreme Court has ruled that a police officer acted correctly when he seized 15 cats from a woman who was driving with the animals running free inside her car. In a 3-2 decision Thursday, the justices ruled that the felines were a distraction and interfered with driver Patricia Edwards’ ability to see where she was going.   The woman claimed that she was too busy texting to be distracted by the cats.


Incorrect Predictions (selected)

  • A rocket will never be able to leave the Earth’s atmosphere.
    • The New York Times, January 13, 1920. The Times offered a retraction on July 17, 1969, as Apollo 11 was on its way to the moon.
  • What can be more palpably absurd than the prospect held out of locomotives traveling twice as fast as stagecoaches?
    • The Quarterly Review, March, 1825.
  • That the automobile has practically reached the limit of its development is suggested by the fact that during the past year no improvements of a radical nature have been introduced.
  • There’s no chance that the iPhone is going to get any significant market share.
    • (Microsoft CEO)Steve Ballmer, USA Today, April 30, 2007.
  • With over fifteen types of foreign cars already on sale here, the Japanese auto industry isn’t likely to carve out a big share of the market for itself.


Too Smart  (abridged)

One day, four military recruiters were sitting in their joint recruiting office, moaning about the lack of qualified recruits. The only prospects they had scored far too low on the aptitude tests.  All four looked up as an old man in a white lab coat entered, carrying a small metal box.

The old scientist said, “I’ve been reading about your recruiting problems, and I have the answer! I have discovered that the perfect military recruit has an IQ of exactly between 110.8 and 135.7. The exact IQ, rounded out to the nearest 10th of a decimal point determines exactly which military job a person is best suited for. Additionally, I have invented a machine which can actually increase a person’s IQ to match a specified IQ within this range.”

The four recruiters quickly called some of the unqualified recruits, and asked them to come down to the office to try a new method of qualifying.

The first unqualified recruit to show up belonged to the Marine recruiter. The Recruiter told the scientist, “I’d like him to be qualified for Infantry.” The Scientist replied, “Okay, let’s see, that’s an ideal IQ of 111.2” The Scientist made an adjustment to the Machine, and hooked it up to the recruit’s temples. The starting meter showed an IQ of 87. The Scientist pushed a red button on top of the machine, and POOF! The needle shot up to 111.2. They all watched in anticipation as the recruit retook the qualification test. The results were perfect for Infantry!

The next recruit to show up belonged to the Army Recruiter. “I’d like him to be qualified for Airborne.” The Scientist set his machine at 115.3. The beginning needle showed 65, but as soon as the Scientist pressed the red button, it jumped up to 115.3. The resultant test showed him to be perfect for Airborne. 

The next recruit to show up belonged to the Navy Recruiter. “I’d like him to be qualified for Submarines.” The Scientist set his machine at 117.6. The beginning needle showed 69, but as soon as the Scientist pressed the red button, it jumped up to 117.6. The resultant test showed him to be perfect for Sub Duty.

Finally, the Air Force recruit showed up. When the Scientist hooked up the machine, he frowned. The recruit’s IQ showed 190. The Scientist said, “This recruit’s problem is that he’s too intelligent for the Service. In order to make him fit in, I’ll have to decrease his IQ, and I’ve never tried that before.” “Please try it,” begged the AF Recruiter.

“We’ll make him a crew chief,” said the Scientist. I’ll set the machine to lower his IQ to 125.1.” But, when the Scientist hit the button, the needle immediately traveled down to 25!

The Scientist ripped the hook-ups off the recruit’s head, and screamed, “Oh my God! How do you feel?”

The Recruit Replied, “I feel fine! My flaps are up, gear is down, and I’m ready for final on three!”


REAR, n. In American military matters, that exposed part of the army that is nearest to Congress.

— Ambrose BierceThe Devil’s Dictionary

“Military justice is to justice what military music is to music.”

— Groucho Marx

“It will be a great day when our schools have all the money they need, and our air force has to have a bake-sale to buy a bomber.”

— Robert Fulghum

“My fellow Americans. I’ve signed legislation that will outlaw Russia forever. We begin bombing in five minutes.”

— President Reagan, before a scheduled radio broadcast, unaware that the microphone was already on

“Before a war, military science seems a real science, like astronomy; but after a war, it seems more like astrology.”

— Rebecca West


Death Penalty Joke

When I was in high school I was shocked when my uncle passed away so suddenly in his prime. I was telling my friend John, how hard it was that it happened so suddenly, when he tells me, “oh, my uncle knew exactly what day and what time he was going to die!!!” I ask, “wow, that’s so cool how did that happen?” He smirks and replies,” the judge told him!!!”

Jury Foreman Joke

I was recently chosen as foreman for the jury I was on. We ended up acquitting the defendant. When we came back into the courtroom the judge yelled at us, “How were you able to acquit?” “Insanity,” I replied. “All 12 of you?” he retorted.

On Fairness

Life is never fair, and perhaps it is a good thing for most of us that it is not.” Oscar Wilde quotes (Irish PoetNovelistDramatist and Critic18541900)

I know the world isn’t fair, but why isn’t it ever unfair in my favor?
 Bill Watterson quotes (American Author of the comic strip Calvin & Hobbes, b.1958)

The secret of life is honesty and fair dealing. If you can fake that, you’ve got it made.
 Groucho Marx quotes (American ComedianActor and Singer18901977)

“Life is not fair; get used to it.”
 Bill Gates quotes (American Entrepreneur and Founder of Microsoft Co., b.1955)

 “Wouldn’t it be much worse if life were fair and all the terrible things that happen to us, come because actually deserve them? So now I take comfort in the general hostility and unfairness of the Universe
Marcus Cole quotes (Marcus Cole was the Ranger liaison to Babylon 5. Jason Carter played the role.)


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