My parasha or Torah portion for today is called “Shoftim”, from the Book of Deuteronomy, the fifth and final book in the Torah. “Shoftim” in Hebrew means “magistrates”. Shoftim is also part of the final speech that Moses gives the children of Israel before his death and their imminent entry into the Promised Land. The focus is on the leadership of the Jewish people, with discussions regarding judges, the concept of the kings, prophets, and the kohanim or priests. I will only focus on 2 points contained in Moses speech.
Moses instructs the Israelites to appoint a king after they enter the Promised Land. It is interesting to note that this is the only time there is a reference to a king in the Torah. The king that is appointed cannot be a foreigner and had to come from among the people. Moses also gave guidelines that kings would have to abide by. These included not having too many horses, wives, and not to amass excess wealth for himself. This would guard against the king‘s heart losing focus on leading the Israelites, remaining humble and following G-d’s law. In our modern world, we see many examples, some quite close, of leaders taking advantage of their positions and forgetting that their primary role is to serve the people they lead. I missed the reference to a fire pool being part of the guidelines.
As individuals, we also need to be mindful of how we lead ourselves and how we choose to treat people around us. I myself have witnessed and experienced first-hand what it is like to be bullied. Somebody hurts you, sometimes just because they can, and they use their power to hurt others. Leadership of self requires us to make choices that end the cycle of one human being hurting another and instead act with compassion first. You see, I have had epilepsy since I was 4. Often people who may not understand my condition, may regard it as a weakness that can be used against me. I take pills twice a day and I wear a medic alert bracelet that speaks for me if I am not able to. Managing my condition requires a daily discipline . As a teenager, sometimes it is not easy and I grapple with the challenge to lead myself responsibly and to remain positive in the face of adversity.
Shoftim also has an environmental message, especially in times of war. Trees that are food bearing are to be left unharmed and only non- food trees could be cut down. This also tells us that the world belongs to G-d and that we should not allow ourselves to destroy the earth even in times of war. The simple truth is that we are tenants on earth. Once again, leadership of ourselves demands that we respect this one earth that we have been entrusted with. This can start by simply planting a tree, preferably one that can provide food and one that is indigenous. With Arbour Week in the first week of September, I would like to encourage everyone here to plant a tree. Maybe it can be to symbolise something important to you or in memory of someone special. Regardless of the reason, by planting a tree we will be acting with responsibility towards our planet and be mindful of the planet we leave behind for future generations.