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Shabbat Parashat Mishpatim 5772

Parashat Hashavuah: Judging Shofet

Harav Yosef Carmel

Parashat Mishpatim (statutes) is a good time to look into the beracha in Shemoneh Esrei about righteous judges: “Return our shoftim (judges) … and our yoatzim (advisors) as originally …” The language is based on the prophecy of Yeshaya (1:26), which tells of the time when justice will return to Yerushalayim, which is a stage in its ultimate redemption (ibid. 27).

Thus, the beracha seems focused on the return to authentic and honest Jewish jurisprudence, which had existed from the time of Moshe Rabbeinu even before Yitro came with his judicial recommendations (see Shemot 15:25). However, the beracha continues: “and rule over us, You, Hashem … King who loves charity and justice.” What is the connection between just human judges and Divine rule over the world?

The word shofet can have three implications. It can be a reference to Hashem, the Judge of the whole land. It can refer to a judge in court. Finally, it can refer to a leader, as we find in Sefer Shoftim, where the “judges” were, first and foremost, military and/or political leaders.

The word yoetz also has more than one meaning. In the beracha and pasuk in Yeshaya, it is parallel and thus similar to a judge. It can be a leader, parallel to a king (see Micha 4:9). It might also be a reference to Hashem, based on the phrase in Yeshaya (9:5), “peleh yoetz, kel gibor.” The word Elokim once again has the same three meanings, as the Rambam already points out in the Moreh Nevuchim.

The idea behind these “coincidences” is as follows. The task of the sovereign in the Jewish state is to represent the Kingdom of the Heaven and to act based on the Jewish principles of justice, and charity. One of those functions is to set up a Jewish judicial system that is based on these values. The judges must also see themselves as emissaries of this crucial goal. If they act improperly in the fulfillment of their task, the chillul Hashem is immeasurable. The dayanim must always ask themselves if they are living up to the model of justice and charity that Avraham taught the generations after him (see Bereishit 18:18-19).

As we often do, we pray that the dayanim who serve on our courts (Eretz Hemdah-Gazit) will live up to the lofty standards envisioned for dayanim. In this way, we would be adding one more step toward the fulfillment of the beracha asking for renewed justice and a Kingdom of Hashem felt and enjoyed by all.

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