Haftorah and Torah Summaries for Shoftim – August 14, 2010

Torah Summary – Shoftim, 2010 —  Dev. 16:18 – 21:9 – p. 1088

The compassionate administration of justice is of primary concern in this week’s Torah portion.  “Tzedek, tzedek tirdof” – justice, justice shall you pursue – in the first aliyah, is a core Jewish value.  It tells us that  judges must act with honesty in their personal lives as well as with integrity in dispensing justice.  Today we interpret these words as a call to social action — a call to act for the sake of bringing hope and sustenance into the lives of all who inhabit our world.

Throughout the Torah, and again today, we are told not to fall into the stupor of idolatry — in ancient times, this meant not indulging in cruel or meaningless cultic behavior — the worst of which was throwing children into the flaming mouth of the angry god, molech.  Today, idolatry still includes not sacrificing our children to the demands of our work or to the tyranny of an overly- materialistic life-style.  It also means not sacrificing our own lives to various addictions that rob us of our free will.

The Torah acknowledges that true prophets and prophecy bring wisdom and insight into the world, whereas, magic and astrology are not so endowed.

Mention of the Levites reminds us that even today, when there is no Beit Ha’Mikdash, no Temple, we are to treat those who work for us in a dignified and respectful manner.

Towards the end of our Parashah, the Torah speaks in a profoundly sensitive way about the personal sacrifices that must not be made during war.   In the sixth aliyah, watch for the category of people the Torah exempts from serving in a war.  In what ways do these exemptions help us define priorities in our own lives?

The seventh aliyah suggests that a community is ultimately responsible for what occurs within it.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Aviva Berg

Haftarah Summary – Shoftim, 2010 – Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12 – p. 1108

This week’s prophetic reading is the fourth of seven Haftorot of consolation – all of which are written by Isaiah.   God comforts Israel with language resonant with the words of Eichah (The Book of Lamentations), that we recited on Tisha B’Av.

In Eicha, Israel’s punishment was doubled for it’s wrongdoings.  In our reading today, god comforts us with the poetic emphasis of repetition — “Anochi, anochi, hu menachemchem”  — “I, I am the one who comforts you.”  “Hitor’ri, hitor’ri, kumi yerushalaim” — “Awaken, awaken yourself, rise up, Jerusalem.”  And again, “Uri, uri,” – “wake up, wake up Tzion.”  And finally, “Suri, suri” – turn away, turn away” from lives that keep us in spiritual exile.

The message we receive this week is that our lives can be deeply affected through divine healing and comfort if we can awaken ourselves to this possibility.  When we sing Lekhah Dodi every Friday night, we invoke these hopeful verses that bill will chant today.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Aviva Berg

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