Yes, I saw the solar eclipse on Monday. I got a pair of ISO certified 12312-2:2015 cardboard-framed glasses at the local library and spent a couple hours lying on the grass, alternating between staring upwards and reading my magazine. The glasses were cool – everything looked absolutely matte black except for the flat yellow-orange sun that was gradually eaten down to a crescent. Since we only had about 79% coverage, it never became as dark as night but looked like a weird type of late afternoon. And the eclipse was immediately followed by Rosh Chodesh Elul (a total solar eclipse must occur with a new moon), during which we can ponder its implications (Doom? Hope? Nothing?) as we approach the High Holy Days, blowing the shofar each weekday.
Parashat Shoftim deals primarily with justice and fairness. First, set up a system of magistrates and judges. Then we read (16:20), “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” This is to enable their society to thrive in the new land, sweeping out evil (which includes idolaters and idolatrous practices) from their midst. “Pursue” seems a rather vigorous way of commanding “be fair.” But justice is not simply handed down from on high. It must be a key component of a system that the whole community actively buys into.
Many examples are then presented of just behavior: We get the formulaic “… life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot” concerning just compensation. At least two witnesses to a crime are needed to establish guilt, and a false witness will receive the punishment anticipated for the accused. The verdict of the magistrate or priest must be accepted. Should (or when) the Israelites have a king, even he will not be above the law. The people are to provide fair support for the priests and Levites, since they serve the people but have no land. Laws concerning manslaughter and the establishment of cities of refuge follow. Markers indicating land boundaries are to be respected.
Even war is to be conducted with some sense of fairness. The military draft includes deferments for a man with a new house, new vines, a fiancée; one who is simply afraid is not executed but just sent home so he won’t infect the others. Cities are given a chance to sue for peace before being attacked, and their food trees are not destroyed in any event. (Yes, if they don’t surrender, the men are all killed, but at least there are some limits.) Finally, if a body is found out in the open and no one knows who the killer is, the elders of the nearest town must formally seek absolution of bloodguilt. Again, this is a communal matter.
Haven’t we read many of these laws before? Yes. The perversion of justice forbidden in 16:18-20 was already condemned in Exodus 23:3 and 6, Leviticus 19:15, and Deuteronomy 1:17. The general “eye for an eye” formula appeared twice previously, as did many of the other laws in Shoftim. The sages teach us that in the Torah, repetition is used not just for emphasis, but to introduce something new. For example, 16:18 includes the new concept of appointing judges and magistrates in every town. Thus, each community is responsible for seeing that justice is served locally. This is the emphasis of the laws presented in Shoftim. Responsibility for maintaining a just society rests with the entire community.
These days, I have my doubts about the ability, or even the will, of our national community to pursue justice and “sweep out evil.” Fewer and fewer behaviors are beyond the pale. Consider this historical moment:
“In the spring of 1954, McCarthy picked a fight with the U.S. Army, charging lax security at a top-secret army facility. …The army hired Boston lawyer Joseph Welch to make its case. At a session on June 9, 1954, McCarthy charged that one of Welch’s attorneys had ties to a Communist organization. … Welch responded with the immortal lines that ultimately ended McCarthy’s career: ‘Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness.’ When McCarthy tried to continue his attack, Welch angrily interrupted, ‘Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?’ Overnight, McCarthy’s immense national popularity evaporated.”
I guess nowadays Welch’s words would be met with a shrug from the audience. Wait, I think they actually were, during the 2016 campaign. Have we, as a nation, really lost our sense of fairness and decency? Something for us to consider during the month of Elul.
An Honest Lawyer
An independent woman started her own business. She was shrewd and diligent, so business kept coming in. Pretty soon she realized she needed an in-house counsel, and so she began interviewing young lawyers.
“As I’m sure you can understand,” she started off with one of the first applicants, “in a business like this, our personal integrity must be beyond question.” She leaned forward. “Mr. Peterson, are you an ‘honest’ lawyer?”
“Honest?” replied the job prospect. “Let me tell you something about honest. Why, I’m so honest that my dad lent me fifteen thousand dollars for my education and I paid back every penny the minute I tried my very first case.”
“Impressive. And what sort of case was that?”
He squirmed in his seat and admitted, “My dad sued me for the money.”
Draft Dodger Rag
Written by Phil Ochs
Oh, I’m just a typical American boy from a typical American town
I believe in God and Senator Dodd and a-keepin’ old Castro down
And when it came my time to serve I knew “better dead than red”
But when I got to my old draft board, buddy, this is what I said:
Sarge, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen
And I always carry a purse
I got eyes like a bat, and my feet are flat, and my asthma’s getting worse
Yes, think of my career, my sweetheart dear, and my poor old invalid aunt
Besides, I ain’t no fool, I’m a-goin’ to school
And I’m working in a DEE-fense plant
I’ve got a dislocated disc and a wracked up back
I’m allergic to flowers and bugs
And when the bombshell hits, I get epileptic fits
And I’m addicted to a thousand drugs
I got the weakness woes, I can’t touch my toes
I can hardly reach my knees
And if the enemy came close to me
I’d probably start to sneeze
I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen…
Ooh, I hate Chou En Lai, and I hope he dies,
One thing you gotta see
That someone’s gotta go over there
And that someone isn’t me
So I wish you well, Sarge, give ’em Hell!
Kill me a thousand or so
And if you ever get a war without blood and gore
I’ll be the first to go
Yes, I’m only eighteen, I got a ruptured spleen…
A New York man was forced to take a day off from work to appear for a minor traffic summons. He grew increasingly restless as he waited hour after endless hour for his case to be heard.
When his name was called late in the afternoon, he stood before the judge, only to hear that court would be adjourned for the next day and he would have to return the next day.
“What for?” he snapped at the judge.
His honor, equally irked by a tedious day and sharp query roared, “Twenty dollars contempt of court. That’s why!”
Then, noticing the man checking his wallet, the judge relented. “That’s all right. You don’t have to pay now.”
The man replied, “I’m just seeing if I have enough for two more words.”
The Judge admonished the witness, “Do you understand that you have sworn to tell the truth?”
“Do you understand what will happen if you are not truthful?”
“Sure,” said the witness. “My side will win.”
The judge said to his dentist: “Pull my tooth, the whole tooth and nothing but the tooth.”
Courtroom Q & A
Q. Are you married?
A. No, I’m divorced.
Q. And what did your husband do before you divorced him?
A. A lot of things I didn’t know about.
Q: You stated that the stairs went down to the basement, is that correct?
Q: And these same stairs, did the also go up?
Q: Doctor, how many autopsies have you performed on dead people?
A: All my autopsies are on dead people.
Justice: A decision in your favor.
Tweets about the Solar Eclipse
(((OnNoSheTwitnt))) 4:15 AM – 20 Aug 2017
If you stay after the credits of the solar eclipse there’s a funny spoiler about next year’s nuclear war.
Megan Amram 9:36 PM – 20 Aug 2017
YO someone just leaked the eclipse, I’m looking at it right now!
Vienna 1:57 PM – 20 Aug 2017
PSA: don’t look directly at the sun during the solar eclipse because it might get nervous and mess up
Despacitjoe 6:17 AM – 20 Aug 2017
PSA: wild animals do not know to look away from the eclipse, Bring all them inside during it. Birds, raccoons, fox..all of ‘em
(14 h later) Especially the giraffes because they are the most high up to the sun/moon