You shall appoint shoftim [judges] and shotrim for your tribes, in all the settlements that the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.
The term shotrim is used in Exodus for the Hebrew overseers or foremen of the slave population. Since the word derives from a root meaning to “write down” or “record” (compare the Aramaic shtar, “document”), its meaning here might be an amanuensis, secretary, or administrator working alongside the judge.
Shotrim is variously translated as officials (JPS), bailiffs (Rashi), overseers (Alter) and policemen (Wolbe) in Torah translations. Google Translate offers the following translations for modern Hebrew: policeman, cop, officer, constable, official, copper, redcap, minion of the law, and trooper.
What might be the respective roles of the shoftim and shotrim?
How is the “documenting” or “recording” of a trial important to the outcome of justice?
Rabbi Wolbe uses this verse to provide a definition and genealogy of mussar — which is rare for Mussar teachers who usually steer away from abstract and theoretical teachings.
Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe
Rashi explains that shoftim are those who set guidelines, and shotrim are the people assigned to ensure that the populace follows those guidelines. The process of construction is also twofold. An architect designs a building, and the contractor then executes the practical application of these construction plans. Music follows this same pattern, with a composer writing a song and an orchestra bringing the song to life.
The mitzvos and laws of the Torah are the blueprint that establishes guidelines, while mussar is the practical application that shows us how to follow these guidelines. Throughout the generations we were given different mussar “instructions.” The prophets laid the foundations, the Tanna’im authored Pirkei Avot, the Amora’im designated the portions of Talmudic aggadah to deal with topic, and what was left was clarified [by later teachers].
Halachah revolves around the mitzvos themselves, while mussar revolves around the person who heeds the mitzvos. Different situations and locations necessitate different obligations … a person who learns mussar will acclimate to the situation and act accordingly.
Rambam writes, “An adam hashaleim [a whole-person] — a person achieving spiritual perfection — must constantly review his traits, weigh his actions, and examine his character each and every day.”
How might one follow Maimonides advice?
Alan Morinis, Through a Mussar Lens: Uncovering the Truth about Ourselves
Mussar students keep a journal. The basis practice is to keep a journal that is picked up every evening to record anything that happened that day that in anyway concerned the middah [soul-trait] that the student was focusing on cultivating that day.
[Journaling] is a very effective practice for creating self-awareness. … what we write reveals to the conscious mind what it is that lurks in the unconscious that directs us to think, act, and speak in the habitual ways we do. …
You could conclude … that [journaling] fosters mindfulness, and this would be correct. But there is a huge difference between the mindfulness that is taught just for the sake of being more aware and the mindfulness that the Mussar practices foster. The primary difference is that mindfulness in Mussar practice is situated within an ethical framework of Torah values that defines goals and aspirational targets for the practitioner. … Developing clear and sharp awareness divorced from a system of ethical guideposts and spiritual ideals can be as harmful as placing a gun in the hands of a psychopath.
One kind of Mussar practice is daily journaling based on a cycle of middot — why might journaling help achieve wholeness?
How is mussar practice, according to Alan Morinis, different from mindfulness?
Thinking back to the Torah verse, why do you need a judge and a policeman?