Instead of doing the regular journal that Morah Eta usually assigns, she let my brother and I post our Dvar Torah from our Bnai-Mitzvah. I hope you like it.
Shabbat Shalom! If you didn’t know me already, I’m Elior. Although I might not look like my brother, Itamar, I’m the older brother by two minutes. As I’m sure many of you know, because it has been all over the media lately, there has been a big scandal in sports called “deflategate” involving quarterback Tom Brady and some of the staff on the New England Patriots. There have been allegations investigated by the NFL saying that Tom Brady and some other staff on the Patriots knowingly used under-inflated footballs so they could have an unfair advantage on the field. The NFL concluded that these allegations were true and suspended Tom Brady for four games without pay in the upcoming season, fined the team for $1,000,000, and the patriots lost their first pick in the 2016 draft.
Even though, I tend to like basketball more than football, the “deflategate” incident teaches an important lesson that rules are important in every sport, because without rules, the game would be senseless. In fact, it wouldn’t be a game at all. Without rules in a game, winning is meaningless because you’ll never know if you could’ve done it without cheating. The same goes for rules in a society.
This week’s parsha, Shoftim, (which means judges in Hebrew) is all about justice. God tells Israel to appoint judges and magistrates who can help guide and protect them. One of his most important sets of instructions is this: צדק צדק תרדפ or Justice Justice shall you pursue. This could mean many things. Beyond the literal meaning, why does the Torah emphasize the word justice twice? One explanation of the rabbis is that justice justice means to pursue justice in a just way. It would be a mockery of justice if the way that you administer it is unfair and corrupt. This could easily be related to the problems of today with police brutality. Some police are not just in the way that they pursue justice, but there are other problems in the justice system besides police brutality.
Did you know that African Americans are six times more likely to be incarcerated than whites? According to the U.S. Sentencing Commission, prison sentences given to African Americans are 20% longer than sentences given to whites for the same crime. Public defenders are often overworked and underpaid which means that those who are well off can get better legal representation than those that don’t have as much money. The National Legal Aid and Defender Association pointed out that national standards limit felony cases to 150 a year for each attorney, yet public defenders sometimes have as many as 500-800 cases a year. A New York Times investigation found that some public defenders even have a caseload of 1600 cases per year. How anybody could provide a quality defense with that much of a workload is beyond me?
The theme that authorities must pursue justice in a just way means that they also have a limit on what they can do. This is found in the laws of kingship. God tells Israel that if they really want to be like other nations, they can appoint a king for themselves, but there are a few requirements. The king had to be from Israel and also had to not have excess amount of gold, wives, or horses. In addition to all this, he had to write his own Torah scroll to remind him that he was not above the law or the God who gave those laws. While we don’t live under the rule of kings today, this lesson that the authority is not above the law is true for all those in positions of power, including teachers. 😉
Of course, following the rules doesn’t just apply to leaders and judges, but a judicial system can’t be fair unless we are willing to follow the rules of the system. In order for a testimony to be valid in the judicial system of Israel, two witnesses had to give the same exact testimony. If anybody found out that the two witnesses had gotten together beforehand and perjured, the witnesses would be given the same punishment that the defendant would have otherwise received.
The reason for all these rules coming into play for Israel suddenly is because this was Moses’s last speech to Israel before they entered the promised land so he was trying to give structure to their lives. These lessons taught to the Israelites thousands of years ago are still relevant today. They teach us basic morals like being kind, telling the truth, and never being above the law.
I’ve learned many of these lessons myself throughout my lifetime. Ok, I’ll admit it. There have been a few times where I have been less than well behaved. In each instance, I experienced justice first hand, but I would also never complain if I had deserved it because it gave me an opportunity to redeem myself. I always try to be honest because I know that people will trust me more if I tell the truth. It’s because these justice systems are in place that I’m able to learn the lessons I did. I hope we can all take the teachings of this parsha and implement them into our daily lives by making this world a more just place.
I’d like to say a few thank you’s to the people that led me through this challenging, but rewarding process. Thank you to Hazzan for helping me learn my prayers and my Torah readings. Thank you to Rabbi Tilman for helping me right my speech and also helping me learn more about the parsha in general. I’d also like to say thank you to my dad for helping me run through everything in the service and also giving me constructive feedback on my speech.
I’d like to give a very important thank you to Scott Zimmerman who helped start me on this process and he taught my Haftorah. Sadly, he can’t be here with us today, but I know that his spirit is looking down on me with happiness. Thank you to both of my brothers for always making my life interesting in some way. Thank you to Savta for all your love and support. Also, thank you to all my friends and family from out of town for coming to celebrate this special day with Itamar and I. Thank you to all my teachers for helping me “learn” and for helping my mind grow. Finally, I’d like to give a very big thank you to my mom. Without her, this day would not be possible and I’m grateful for all he patience and love she has shown me throughout the years. You’ll find our Torah reading beginning on page 1094 verse 6 in the Red Etz Chaim Chumash.