2 Elul, 5780
Welcome to this week’s Parasha (Torah Portion), which is named Shoftim (Judges).
Shabbat Rosh Chodesh:
“Appoint judges [shoftim] and officials [shotrim] for each of your tribes in every town YAHUVEH your ELOHIM is giving you, and they shall judge [shafat] the people fairly [tzedek mishpat / righteous judgment].” (Deuteronomy 16:18)
Last week, in Parasha Re'eh, YAHUVEH set a blessing and a curse before the Israelites. The blessing was a result of obeying YAHUVEH's commandments and the curse a result of forsaking them. In this week’s Torah portion, Moses instructed the nation of Israel in the appointing of judges (called shoftim in Hebrew) and law enforcement officers (called shotrim) to administer justice. These judges and officers would not only teach but also interpret the laws of the Torah. What is the difference between a judge and an officer?
A judge refers to one qualified to deliver judgments according to the laws of the Torah. The officer then enforces these legal judgments, even by force if necessary.
The Hebrew prophet Isaiah promised that there would come a day when judges would be restored as in the days of old: “I shall restore your judges [shoftim] as at first, and your counselors [yaats] as at the beginning.” (Isaiah 1:26) Although Isaiah mentions the judges, the officers do not appear in this prophecy, but rather “counselors.” Why will counselors replace the role of officers?
In the days of redemption, when the Messiah returns to rule and reign in righteousness, there will be no need for “enforcers” of the Torah.
In the Messianic era, all will have such a deep desire to follow and obey YAHUVEH your ELOHIM that only counselors will be needed to explain and clarify (not to enforce) the decisions of the judges.
Even today before that great day of YAHUVEH that is to come those who are truly in Messiah do not need external coercion to keep YAHUVEH’s commandments and judgments.
For when we have been given a new heart and a new spirit, there arises within us a desire to keep YAHUVEH’s laws and commandments, not in a spirit of legalism, but out of a heart of love: “I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.” (Ezekiel 36:27)
For those who believe in YAHUSHUA but do not observe His commandments in the Torah, the question we need to ask is, “Why not?” Either the person is not truly following YAHUSHUA and filled with the RUACH HAKODESH, or they have received and accepted a teaching of false grace which erroneously emphasizes freedom from guilt over freedom from sin.
Certainly, YAHUSHUA did not pay the ultimate price to set us free from bondage to sin so that we can continue sinning without guilt. "Everyone who sins breaks the law; in fact, sin is lawlessness.” (1 John 3:4)
Pursuing Justice for All
“Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the innocent.” (Deuteronomy 16:19) This Parasha warns that judges (or magistrates) are not to show any kind of partiality or favoritism. They are forbidden from accepting a bribe. It is written that YAHUVEH shows no favoritism but accepts anyone from any nation who fears Him and does what is right (Acts 10:34).
Justice has always been a fundamental value in Judaism; therefore, it was to be administered without corruption. Difficult cases could be referred to a higher court, which was called the Sanhedrin in Second Temple times.
"Tzedek, tzedek tirdof — Justice, justice you shall pursue." (Deuteronomy 16:20)
A thorough investigation of crimes was required, and in order to deliver punishment upon a criminal, a minimum of two credible witnesses were required.
As we shall see, this is why the trial of YAHUSHUA HaMashiach was completely unjust and contrary to Jewish law — and yet it was YAHUVEH’s will that He suffer and die on the execution stake.
Who Killed YAHUSHUA?
The question is often asked, “Who killed YAHUSHUA?” Usually, the blame is placed upon the Jews, with accusations of “Christ Killer” fueling the fires of anti-Semitism over the centuries. But is this accusation true? To answer that, we only need to look at the record of YAHUSHUA’s trial. YAHUSHUA did not receive a trial by jury. In Jewish law, the judge would hear and evaluate an accusation from two impartial witnesses.
If two or three witnesses would agree, the judge would issue a conviction; but in YAHUSHUA’s case, the witnesses against Him presented false testimony.
“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for testimony against YAHUSHUA to put Him to death, but they could find none. For many were giving false testimony against Him, but the testimonies did not agree.” (Mark 14:55–56)
Because the testimony of the witnesses did not agree, the judges could not convict him. Thus, the Sanhedrin had no other choice but to ask YAHUSHUA directly if He claimed to be the Messiah, the SON OF GOD — a charge to which He confessed, thereby positioning Himself as being guilty of blasphemy, which carried the death penalty.
“Again the high priest questioned Him, ‘Are You the Messiah, the SON of the Blessed ONE?’
“‘I am,’ said YAHUSHUA, ‘and all of you will see the SON of Man seated at the right hand of the Power and coming with the clouds of heaven.’
“Then the high priest tore his robes and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? You have heard the blasphemy! What is your decision?’ “And they all condemned Him to be deserving of death.” (Mark 14:61–64)
This interrogation essentially reveals that neither the Jewish Sanhedrin nor the Roman authorities could have killed YAHUSHUA without His cooperation.
Even some of the Roman soldiers came to believe that YAHUSHUA truly was the SON OF GOD. “When the centurion and those with him, who were guarding YAHUSHUA, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they were terrified and said, ‘This man really was GOD’s SON!’” (Matthew 27:54)
So to answer the question of who killed YAHUSHUA, we only need to look at His trial to see that He willingly gave the authorities the “confession” they needed to condemn Him to death.
YAHUSHUA, however, said that He lay down His life of His own accord — to save us from our sins as the promised Messiah. He said by His own words, “The reason My FATHER loves Me is that I lay down My life — only to take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from My FATHER.” (John 10:17–18)
Keeping the Nation Holy
“You are to be holy to Me because I, YAHUVEH, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be My own.” (Leviticus 20:26) One purpose YAHUVEH chose a people for Himself was so He could show the world what holiness looks like.
Parasha Shoftim, therefore, forbids the following: Idolatry In the 17th chapter of Deuteronomy, YAHUVEH prohibits idolatry. Anyone found guilty of this crime would be stoned to death according to the laws of the Torah, upon the testimony of two or three witnesses. “On the testimony of two or three witnesses a person is to be put to death, but no one is to be put to death on the testimony of only one witness.” (Deuteronomy 17:6)
Why were such harsh penalties in place for worshiping false gods? Although in our day, there exists a great emphasis on human rights and free choice, YAHUVEH's law is concerned with preserving purity and Godliness. By purging evil from the nation, holiness was protected. “The hands of the witnesses must be the first in putting that person to death, and then the hands of all the people. You must purge the evil from among you.” (Deuteronomy 17:7)
"Go to the Levitical priests and to the judge who is in office at that time. Inquire of them and they will give you the verdict." (Deuteronomy 17:9)
All forms of occult practices also carried the death penalty. These included many spiritual practices that are commonplace today and for the most part widely accepted: sorcery, divination, fortune telling, astrology, wizardry, and listening to psychics, mediums or those who act as a channel for spirits of the dead. YAHUVEH acknowledges that pagans participate in the occult, but these practices are part of what leads to the downfall of nations and they are forbidden for any of YAH’s people.
Receiving guidance from one’s astrological chart, reading palms or tea leaves, attending séances, or even using Ouiji boards are not permitted for people of YAHUVEH; nevertheless, many today either in ignorance or defiance of the law read books about wizards and dabble in the occult. This is a dangerous spiritual path. “The nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, YAHUVEH your ELOHIM has not permitted you to do so.” (Deuteronomy 18:14)
False Prophets Lying and deception is another form of evil that taints holiness. Israel is warned to beware of false prophets. Only those whose words come true are to be trusted as true prophets of ELOHIM. “If what a prophet proclaims in the name of YAHUVEH does not take place or come true, that is a message YAHUVEH has not spoken. That prophet has spoken presumptuously, so do not be alarmed.” (Deuteronomy 18:22)