The Torah portion this week is Shoftim, Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9.[i] While there are quite a few nuggets in this reading, I would like to make note of only one.
You are not to twist justice—you must not show partiality or take a bribe,
for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and distorts the words of the righteous.
Justice, justice you must pursue, so that you may live and
possess the land that Adonai your God is giving you.
Often, when reading the Torah is it easy to get caught up in all the various rituals and sacrifices relating to maintaining a proper relationship with the LORD. However, these two verses, which by the way precede another warning against succumbing to idolatry, make a special emphasis on the LORD’s desire for the exercise of righteous justice for all. In fact, in verse 20 the repeated “justice, justice” could easily be read, “justice and only justice.” As important as our relationship is with Adonai, equally or maybe even more important is our relationship with one another. This is why Yeshua taught,
“Therefore if you are presenting your offering upon the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you (or by inference if you have something against him), leave your offering there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and present your offering.” (Matthew 5.23-24)
In the very next chapter Yeshua taught his disciples a pattern for prayer saying, “Forgive us what we have done wrong, as we too have forgiven those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6.12).[ii] This teaching follows the traditional understanding that during the Days of Awe, it is necessary to make sure that all issues are taken care of between one another so that there is no obstacle for the LORD’s forgiveness on Yom Kippur.
This is the fourth of the “Haftarot of Consolation” that follow the remembrances of Tisha b’Av and culminate the Shabbat before Rosh Hashanah. This week’s reading is from Isaiah 51.12 through 52.12. It is worthy to note once again that the chapter and verses of Scripture are not in the original texts but are a much later addition. A cursory online search shows a common agreement that the current chapter and verse designations in the Christian translations of the Bible originated with Stephen Langton, Arch bishop of Canterbury around 1227 C.E. and first used in the Wycliffe English Bible in 1382 C.E. The Tanakh has some, though not many deviations from this pattern, possibly due to the work of Rabbi Nathan in 1448 C.E. Why this history lesson you might ask? Simply put, we often read the scriptures in a stop and go pattern, accepting the publisher’s breaks and headings. While these are useful tools in locating and remembering sections of scripture, they were not part of the original “inspired” work of the Ruach set down by men of old. The unbroken flow of Isaiah’s encouragement this week begins with the repeated emphasis that the LORD is acknowledging that it is He that comforts Israel therefore why should Israel be afraid of man.
“I, I am the One who comforts you. Who are you that you should fear man…”
This proclamation sounds remarkably similar to that of Rav Shaul’s words of comfort to the believers in Rome when he wrote
“If God is for us, who can be against us?”
The exterior circumstances should not be our main focus, no matter how difficult or whether they be problems of our own making or the simple reality of living in world groaning for the realization of tikkun olam. Our main focus should be on He who provides the comfort, as the “author and finisher of our faith” (Hebrews 12.2).
Later in the Haftarah Israel, as well as we ourselves, are encouraged, possibly even commanded, to awaken ourselves to this necessity, that of focusing on the LORD and not the circumstances. First the LORD says,
Awake, awake! Stand up, Jerusalem!
From Adonai’s hand you have drunk the cup of His fury,
the chalice of reeling that you have drained to the dregs.
Yes, it was Israel’s fault that the discipline had come, and she was chastised like an errant child. By not choosing life (Deuteronomy 30.19), Israel received the promised consequence. But the consequence was not the final state of things. Discipline is performed not to bring death and destruction, but to bring change, growth, and redemption. Isaiah’s encouragement continues,
Awake, awake! Clothe yourself in your strength, Zion!
Clothe yourself in beautiful garments, Jerusalem, the holy city,
for the uncircumcised and the unclean will never invade you again.
Possibly summarized from this Haftarah are the words from Lecha Dodi, one of the traditional songs sang weekly to welcome the entrance of the Shabbat,
Wake up, wake up,
Your light has come, rise and shine.
Awaken, awaken; sing a melody,
The glory of G‑d to be revealed upon thee.[iii]
Could there be any greater “consolation” than being encouraged to enter into the rest provided by our LORD?
[i] Unless otherwise noted, all Scriptures are from the Tree of Life (TLV) Translation of the Bible. Copyright © 2015 by The Messianic Jewish Family Bible Society.
[ii] Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) Copyright © 1998 by David H. Stern. All rights reserved.