Parshat Shoftim

Moses is trying to communicate that there is something special and different about the revelation the Israelites received at Sinai. Something that goes beyond simply living in a land as a free people, but a vision of how to live a good life. It involves justice, including justice for the oppressed, the weakest of a society. There must also be compassion and humility in one’s attitude and behavior towards others. And all of this must be done with an open heart, one not closed and hardened like Pharaoh’s heart.

Canaanite religion is tied deeply to the seasonal cycles of the land. Baal, the cloud-rider, is a victorious god, having defeated Yam (the sea-god) for dominance. 

Epic of Keret

To the earth Baal rained

To the field rained ‘Aliy [the Mighty]

Sweet to the earth was Baal’s rain

To the field was rain of ‘Aliy.

Baal builds a beautiful palace in the mountains of northern Syria., at Mount Sapan. The other gods become jealous and conspire to kill. Lead by Mot, who represents winter, Baal is captured and then fed to the birds. His sister-consort Anath prays to El, the creator god, who dreams of Baal’s resurrection. 

Dream of El in the Cycles of Baal

In a dream of Beneficient El Benigh,

A vision of the Creator of Creatures,

The skies rained oil,

The wadies flowed honey.

So I knew that Mighty Baal lives,

The Prince, Lord of Earth, exists.

Through prayer, mourning, and sacrifice, Baal’s resurrection can be assisted. The cycle continues endlessly.

What is the contrast that Moses makes?

Devarim 16:20

Justice, justice shall you pursue.

Micah 6:7-8

Would the LORD be pleased with thousands of rams. With myriads of streams of oil? Shall I give my first-born for my transgression. The fruit of my body for my sins? “He has told you, O man, what is good. And what the LORD requires of you: Only to do justice. And to love goodness. And to walk modestly with your God. 

Rabbi Bradley Artson

[unique to spiritual texts is the Hebrew Bible’s] passion for justice for the poor, the weak, and the despised. … Moses insists that justice is an eternal religious obligation, at the very core of what it means to be a Jew. 

Devarim 18:13

You must be wholehearted (tamim) with the LORD your God.


walk before him wholeheartedly, put your hope in Him and do not attempt to investigate the future, but whatever it may be that comes upon you accept it wholeheartedly, and then you shall be with Him and become his portion.

[on Bereshit 25:27, where Jacob is referred to as an ish tam]: ish tam: One who is not ingenious in deceiving people is called tam — plain, simple.

Kitzur Baal Haturim (Jacob ben Asher, Toledo, Spain, 1300)

Wholehearted: The letter ‘Tav’ is large, indicating that if you go whole heartedly, it is as if you have fulfilled from Aleph to Tav.

Psalm 131

O LORD, my heart is not proud nor my look haughty; I do not aspire to great things or to what is beyond me; But I have taught myself to be contented like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child am I in my mind.