Interfaith Shoftim

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Hello all and welcome to the first ever interfaith parsha study! Yay! This study will either end on Saturday, or continue with a new thread opening for next week. That much remains unclear. But what is clear is that we're doing parshat shoftim! YAY!

Parshah means portion. Parshat hashavua means portion of the week. Parshat shoftim is the portion we're doing now, on judges. The names of these parshiyot are actually taken from one of the first words in the parshah, rather than being summarily topical. This is also true for the names of each of the books in Hebrew.

Dondi made a nice overview of the parsha which I am copying from his post in the "Interfaith parsha project" thread.

dondi said:
Administration of judges
Unworthy sacrifices
Resolving disputes in the presence of judges
Qualifications and establishment of the king
Administration of priests
Characteristics of the Prophet
Cities of Refuge
Law of witnesses
Law of warfare
Laws of marriage

I went over this parsha twice today, and also read a few commentaries. And I just found this whole thing to be really juicy. There's so much good stuff in there. I thought we'd start at 17:14 in the Jewish numbering, which has the Israelites being told they'll end up demanding a king, and God will grant them that.

What's this all about? Why is it assumed that they will say, "I will set over me a king like those guys got!" Is it a prophesy? According to my tradition, if it's a prophesy, it can be avoided. But is it a prophesy? Or is this just easily assumed based on all the whining in the desert? First they want to be back in Mitzrayim and now they want to be like Mitzrayim... And how does God choose the king, without getting intertextual? And why are these the specific stipulations that are put forward regarding a king? Why do they need to know not to have a foreign man as king? Weren't they already told to have someone from among their brothers?

So he can't have lots of horses for himself, but isn't that a loophole? Couldn't he have lots of horses for his men and one for himself?
And why can't he have lots of wives? If he takes them from among the Israelite people, then he won't be attracted through them to other gods, if that's what that phrase means.

But it looks like it's okay for him to have silver and gold, right? Because he's the king. Just not to excess. And it goes on discussing kings. I hope that these questions spark some ideas in other people, or that other people already have ideas. And if you don't like anything about the way I've presented this please PM me.
(Please don't respond to everything I've said. Just pick something and see where it take you, or where you've already gone and just want to add to the conversation.)

dauer said:
aah. I goofed. It's re'eh this week! The Saturday is for the next week.

So does this mean that we should hold off on Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 until next week? Darn, I already put a lot of reading and study into it.

But thats ok. Lets just do Re'eh

03 Sept 2005 - Deuteronomy 11:26-16:17.

Here's a topic listing for the week:

Blessing and cursing
Cleansing of the Promised Land from idols
Establishment of the sacrifices
Laws of idolatry
Dietary laws
Laws of tithes
Laws of Debts
Laws of Slaves
Laws of the Feasts
I will start a new thread for Re'eh and this one can go on the backburner. And I will again borrow your summary. Are you taking it from somewhere else? I'll introduce Re'eh differently so as to give a different idea of how we might approach this. This is good. This week will be practice for next week. We'll all be prepared by next week.

This is the actual parsha. Sorry for the confusion. I have posted an introduction in the first post.
Ok. I guess I'll start here. My take is that people always want visuals. During the wilderness time, God appeared like a pillar of a cloud and a pillar of fire. When the cloud/fire moved, the people moved. Now that they are about to settle in the Promise Land, they no longer are following the cloud/fire. In fact, before they established a king, they still had the Ark. But the Ark of the Covenant was only seen by the High Priest, once a year. When Joshua passed on, the Israelites were governed by judges, there wasn't a central figure to represent Israel, or be a symbol for Israel. They needed someone to rally around. A focal point in the community. So God gave them a king in Saul. Not that the king would replace God, but since God cannot be seen, people need something visual to relate to. But God already knew the peoples hearts way back in Deuteronomy and therefore planned for a king.

Symbols are visual. In most religions, symbols are a way to express that which is eternal. Icons, paintings, amulets, crosses, Stars of David, crescent moons, etc. help us identify with what we believe. Even in the secular world, flags are symbols that represent nations. It brings a focal point to our worship. Not that we should worship symbols, but they remind us physically what is eternal or ideal. In Christianity, many identify with the cross. But really the focal point is Christ, who believed to be the King of Kings.

But the symbol is only as good as the thing it represents. So the characteristics of the king set forth by God represents the characteristics approved by God for the nation to follow. A sort of job description.
I don't quite understand what you mean that the characteristics of the king set forth by God represent the characteristics for the nation to follow. Do you mean that each characteristic stands for one (or more) of the key, fundamental principles for how the Israelites should be behaving? Could you elaborate?

I'm a little confused .... ok very confused .... I don't know what sections of Deuteronomy you are using this week .... it appears to be 11:26 to 16???? And I'm a little unsure about how you suggest people proceed in the dialogue .... I'm going to try a small section and please let me know if I am in the flow or have gone off some small stream by myself ........

symbols can be many things, to me they are used in metaphors or parables as signs to deeper meanings .... part of Deuteronomy 11:29 deals with a blessing on Mount Gerizim and a curse on Mount Ebal (the copy of the Five Books of Moses that I am using is one with translations and commentaries by Robert Alter) Altar draws a parallel to "foundation ceremonies when entering new territories .... these ceremonies include inscribing divine insructions on steles, building commerative stone pillars, and offer sacrifices .... all of these elements appear in the ceremony involving the two mountains elaborated in chapt 27. Gerizim is on the favored right hand and Ebal on the suspect left, and Gerizim is covered with vegetation whereas Ebal is desolate. This is the forking alternatives of prosperity and disaster, depending on Israel's faithfulness to God's laws."

since I tend to view most things in symbols I see the reference to the two mountains as the twin pillars or the twins Jacob and Esau, the battles that either take place or the opposite alternatives (prosperity and disaster) are descriptions of an inner path to freedom .... the left hemisphere of the brain (Mount Ebal) is the side that most of use daily (and only a small portion), the right hemisphere (Mount Gerizim) is the side of spirit, the place of paradise .... we must move to the right (casting our net to the right) to fish for wisdom ....

I see many other symbols in these sections of Deueronomy but I just wanted to start with one small reference .... the whole issue of idols and not worshipping idols to my mind means that if we look outside of ourselves we will never find god, we must move internally to do this and when we meet him face to face it is within us and not an outer object ....

so for some feedback .... do these type of views fit in with this type of discussion or not .... I do think that the path of the mystics gives much more insight into the meaning of texts, but that is just my view .... let me know so that I know if I should spend time here on this thread or not .... if so, great .... if not, that is alright too because I only wish to participate if you feel it will be meaningful to the discussion .... he hawai'i au, pohaikawahine
dauer said:
I don't quite understand what you mean that the characteristics of the king set forth by God represent the characteristics for the nation to follow. Do you mean that each characteristic stands for one (or more) of the key, fundamental principles for how the Israelites should be behaving? Could you elaborate?


I was refering to the job description for the king. The characteristics that God expects for a king, i.e. not a foreigner, not many horses, not many wifes, not too rich, as these things would be distractions in the performance of his duties. He needs to be a person of the Book, writing every law so he gets it down, and stay on the narrow path. These are general traits that God wants to rule over the people.
pohaikawahine, great observations about symbols. The analogy of the two mountains being twins of opposite polarity is interesting particularly in connection with the right/left brain. You seem to suggest that we should strive toward the right side (Mt Gerizim) which represents our spiritual side rather that the left side (Mt Ebal) which represents the material or what we sense in the material. In Deut. chapter 11:27, God presents blessing and curse, allowing the choice between obeying Him or turning away from Him, each having consequencesthat are more in depth in Deut chapter 28.

In you statement concerning looking inward to find God is correct, imo. I believe that God is found in our hearts. What I was implying about symbols is that it give reminders of the spiritual aspects and attribute of God. For example, Christians observe the Lord's Supper using the bread and wine as symbols of his body and blood. It is a reminder of what Christ did on the Cross and in reflection we partake of his death, knowing He died for us. It gives a tangible way to relate to His suffering for us. We internalize what is external, but we don't worship the thing that is external.

BTW, pohaikawahine, your comments are welcome. I hope for you to realize that we are on Deut. 16:18-21:9. I know there has been much confusion of what parashat, but hopefully we can get past this by next week. Sorry about that.
Poh, what we are doing at least for the next few weeks is having a discussion guided in some way by a leader. I have taken on the first week. The leader will choose a section of the parsha and then everyone can discuss it. If you have questions or suggestions for how this process could better work, that would best fit in the "Interfaith Parsha Project" thread which I will hopefully rename to something more appropriate when I learn how. All views to the text are welcome as I make clear in the rules, it's okay to go beyond the plain meaning. You may see me doing that as well. Your contribution is exactly the type of variety that we need to get things cooking, along with all of the other variety.



There is a mashal, a parable, that the Dubno Maggid told to explain an issue in this text. It says that the king should write and keep the Torah so his heart doesn't rise above his brothers. But he's a king. He's got more than all the other people, and rules over them. How can he not be above them? And if he's not above them, how can he rule?

Oh, a maggid is a storyteller or preacher, which was a particular type of role for a rabbi at one time. Dubno is the place Jacob Kranz became known. So he tells a story, or I tell his story as I remember it, about two merchants who are just coming back from their wholesaler. I'm going to call them Mendel and Dov.

"Dov, isn't this great?" says Mendel. "We got these beautiful fabrics at a good price, and Yosef the wholesaler let us take it all on credit."

"We are walkin on easy street. Kazaow!" Just as Dov was finishing his exclamation of joy, the two of them were leading their carts by an inn, and in the parking lot was another cart, loaded the most amazing, beautiful, awesome fabrics they had seen. The two of them looked back at their now meager carts and decided to see who owned that mighty fine pile of fabric. They peaked inside, and it became obvious what had happened.

"Another round of brandy! *hiccup* That old fool Yosef. Heh. He let us buy everything on credit. We'll be so far by the time he comes calling, nobody will have ever heard of Vitebsk!"

"What do we do?" asked Mendel.
"Well we have to send a messenger to Yosef to let him know he's going to lose money soon." Said Dov.
"Right. You go do that. I'm going to go look after the carts."

In the meantime, outside, some children were playing in the parking lot. Two girls and a boy, they came over to the cart with the most and most beautiful fabrics. "Ooh," said Shayna. "I like this one. It would make such a pretty Purim costume."
"I like this one." Said Chana. "It would make the finest dress for Shabbos." The boy was sizing up all of the carts. He pointed a thumb at his chest.

"I can tell you all about all three of these people. See this one here, he has some money. But this one here has two and a half times as much as him. And this one here, he has the most of all, he's got 5 times as much as the poorest, or maybe more because the quality is so nice."

Mendel had been inching over to the carts and he had listened to the child's whole presentation. "Hey, kid, you think you've got it all figured out?" The boy smiled wide.

"Yeah I do. This one's got some money, and this guy's got a little more, but this guy here has got the most." Mendel looked at him stone-faced.

"You don't understand. You think that because you see all of these fabrics, that this person has a lot of money, and here you see fewer, so you think this person has less. But what about what you don't see? This one who has fewer has less to give back, and this one who has more has much more to give back. It's not about how much you own, but how much you owe."

And the nimshal, the explanation of the mashal, according to Kranz, the Maggid of Dubno, is that it appears that the king has a lot, and that his position is more elevated, but in truth this is just appearances. In reality he only owes more to God for all that he has in this life.

The Dubno Maggid probably could, in my opinion, be best fit into the Musar school, a school that focused mainly on ethical teachings and discipline for self-development, but is an unusual figure because of the fact that, belonging to that school, he always told meshalim, parables.

mahalo (thank you) all for your comments .... and I want to say "oh my god" because the sections we have started on contain one of the symbols that I have worked so hard on but have not been able to see a clear inner meaning .... "and your eye shall not spare -- a life for a life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, a foot for a foot"..... intuitively I know it means something other than revenge, but I can't quite get it .... I have looked for more than a year on this one and now it comes back to stare me right in the eyes ....

The closest I came was from "The Parables of Kahlil Gibran" (interpretation of the writings by Annie Salem Otto) who says "much of man's cruelty is self-inflicted, in many instances, through his misinterpretations of the written word, especially the words of Scripture" In Bigran's parable "The Blessed City" he describes a city where everyone lived according to the Scriptures. A man, in his youth, had heard about a Blessed City,and in later life wanted desperately to see it. It was a distant city; therefore provisions for the long journey were acquired. He traveled for forty days*; on the forty-first day he entered the city. (*I highlighted this because it is also a symbol)

"And lo! the whole company of the inhabitants had each but a single eye and but one hand. He was amazed at what he saw. They, too, were astonished to see that he had two hands and two eyes. He approached them and inquired if this was indeed the Blessed City where each man lived according to the Scriptures. And they answered that it was. Then he asked them what had befallen them, and where were their right eyes and their right hands. Touched by his questions, they said they would show him. They took him to the temple which was in the center of the city.

And in the temple I saw a heap of hands and eyes. All withered. Then I said, "Alas, what conqueror had committed this cruelty upon you?" And there went a murmur amongst them. And one of their elders stood forth and said, "This doing is of ourselves. God had made us conquerors over the evil that was in us." And he led me to a high altar, and all the people followed. And he showed me above the altar an inscription graven, and I read:

If thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of they members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if they right hand offend thee, cut it off and cast it from thee; for it is profitable for thee that one of they members should perish, and that they whole body should be cast into hell.

Then I understood. And I turned about to all the people and cried, "Hath no man or woman among you two eyes or two hands?" And they answered me saying, "No, not one. There is none whole save such as are yet too young to read the Scripture and to understand its commandment." And when we had come out of the temple, I straightway left that Blessed City; for I was not too you, and I could read the scripture."

Annie Otto interprets this to mean that it is the action of what the eye sees and the action of the hand, what it does, that these admonitions are directed. If we see or become aware of something in everyday life which obstructs us in our actions and our knowledge of actions, then we should leave it or cast it away from us for it is better to throw off one thing, no matter if it is as dear to us as an eye or hand, rather than to keep it and have it destroy or corrupt our whole body. Likewise, if we perform an action of which we are ashamed, it is better to "cut it off" or forget it completely rather than let the memory of it disrupt and corrupt our whole body, our entire life. Actions once performed are dead actions, and obstacles which cannot be surmounted should be left alone. From this concept is derived the spiritual lesson of Gibran's parable.

I like this interpretation because it begins to take the edge off the usual way of viewing "and eye for an eye", but there is still a meaning that eludes me ....
thank you again for this whole thread, in the process I believe I will learn much .... he hawai'i au, pohaikawahine
The King
14 When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you and have taken possession of it and settled in it, and you say, "Let us set a king over us like all the nations around us," 15 be sure to appoint over you the king the LORD your God chooses. He must be from among your own brothers. Do not place a foreigner over you, one who is not a brother Israelite. 16 The king, moreover, must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them, for the LORD has told you, "You are not to go back that way again." 17 He must not take many wives, or his heart will be led astray. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold.

18 When he takes the throne of his kingdom, he is to write for himself on a scroll a copy of this law, taken from that of the priests, who are Levites. 19 It is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the LORD his God and follow carefully all the words of this law and these decrees 20 and not consider himself better than his brothers and turn from the law to the right or to the left. Then he and his descendants will reign a long time over his kingdom in Israel. (Deut 17:14-20)

Just checking, is the the part you have selected to talk about dauer?

lunamoth said:
Just checking, is the the part you have selected to talk about dauer?


Yes, lunamoth, this is the part of the parashat shoftim we are dealing with at the moment.
Yes, sorry. I should copy it next time. That is exactly what we are discussing, and when conversation seems exhausted I'll pick something else in the parsha.

Great! I think I am getting the hang of it. I was a bit thrown off by the triennial divisions of the readings. I take it we are looking at the whole thing, not just that for this year.
The triennial readings are I believe something that was implemented in certain places from faily early on, but then fell into disuse, and now are used often by the liberal denominations as a way to shorten the Torah reading, but are not used everywhere. I don't believe it is practiced by any groups to only study what the triennial text is. But as we are using the weekly readings only as an existing structure to get us through the Torah, I don't think it should be much of a concern.

I am going to introduce a new section of the text to look at:

Chapter 19
1 When the Lord your God has cut down the nations whose land the Lord your God is assigning to you, and you have dispossessed them and settled in their towns and homes, 2 you shall set aside three cities in the land that the Lord your God is giving you to possess. 3 You shall survey the distances, and divide into three parts the territory of the country that the Lord your God has allotted to you, so that any manslayer may have a place to flee to. 4 — Now this is the case of the manslayer who may flee there and live: one who has killed another unwittingly, without having been his enemy in the past. 5 For instance, a man goes with his neighbor into a grove to cut wood; as his hand swings the ax to cut down a tree, the ax-head flies off the handle and strikes the other so that he dies. That man shall flee to one of these cities and live. — 6 Otherwise, when the distance is great, the blood-avenger, pursuing the manslayer in hot anger, may overtake him and kill him; yet he did not incur the death penalty, since he had never been the other's enemy. 7 That is why I command you: set aside three cities.

8 And when the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as He swore to your fathers, and gives you all the land that He promised to give your fathers — 9 if you faithfully observe all this Instruction that I enjoin upon you this day, to love the Lord your God and to walk in His ways at all times — then you shall add three more towns to those three. 10 Thus blood of the innocent will not be shed, bringing bloodguilt upon you in the land that the Lord your God is allotting to you.

11 If, however, a person who is the enemy of another lies in wait for him and sets upon him and strikes him a fatal blow and then flees to one of these towns, 12 the elders of his town shall have him brought back from there and shall hand him over to the blood-avenger to be put to death; 13 you must show him no pity. Thus you will purge Israel of the blood of the innocent, and it will go well with you.
I wonder what life in a city of sanctuary is like. Everyone you meet has accidently killed someone. Every face you see is a constant reminder of what you did. No one speaks to anyone about what brought them there. A sense of shame shrouds the town. Business and daily affairs are done solemnly. I can't see much partying going on there.
I remember reading a tradition that these cities were managed by the levi'im. I don't remember where it comes from. Maybe gemara. Not sure. But I remember a drash, a homiletic, relating to the idea that these places were kept up by the levi'im, who are the holy guardians of the mishkan, the tabernacle, the place of the presence of God in the wilderness. So as a person goes to one of these cities of refuge, in their own wilderness, they are constantly surrounded by the bearers of the presence of the mishkan. I think there may have also been a drash connected to that on the word midbar but I'm not sure.

Also, according to the gemara, when there were not cities of refuge the individual would run into the Beit HaMikdash and grab the horns on the altar, and there is something they would say. I forget what it is. And they would seek refuge there instead for a length of time that would allow all of the conflict to boil over.

I find this particular set of laws fascinating. There was a cultural role, that of the "blood redeemer", and here that role is not being done away with. Human nature is respected. Something new is simply introduced.

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