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Rabbi Sydni's Shabbat Sermons

פרשת שפטים, תש״פ

Parshat Shoftim, 5780

by Rabbi Sydni

Saturday, August 22nd, 2020

Place for Yourself Judges and Officials - The President and His Retinue

The Democratic National Convention just finished its four evenings of presentation, and the Republican National Convention will begin its public proceedings on Monday. For those who watched the last four evenings, we heard from a lot more people than just the candidate himself, and I would imagine that Monday’s proceedings will be quite similar in that vein. Yes, we will hear from our current President at the Republican National Convention on Monday, but we will also hear from his closest allies. For the next three months, we will tune into debates and speeches delivered by both candidates. However, before we get too sucked into the individual personalities running in this year’s Presidential election, let us zoom out and take a good look at their supporters. Many of the voices we are hearing at these conventions will be on our President’s team - whether on his cabinet or otherwise in his support system. When we elect the President, we elect his retinue, as well.

Shoftim v’shotrim titein l’kha b’khol sh’arekha… - place for yourself judges and officials in each of your regions (Deuteronomy 16:18). Our parashah addresses itself to those with the responsibility of appointing positions of power, and it defines what kinds of qualities those judges and officials should possess. Lo tateh mishpat - do not lean to one side of judgment, lo takir panim - do not play favorites, v’lo tikah shohad - do not take a bribe. Tzedek, tzedek tirdof - Justice, justice, shall you pursue! (16:19-20) Later on in the parashah, as we learn about the trials of war, the leaders of the community are commanded to tell the people Israel not to fear or be alarmed (20:4); they are protected by God. Throughout Parashat Shoftim, we are instructed to make sure that our leaders are fair and equitable in their judgment, that they do not see money or favors as motivation, that their actions are guided by justice, and that they are able to comfort and energize their people. While our parashah also directs its commandments towards kings and prophets, we currently live in a nation in which shoftim v’shotrim, judges and officials, are our movers and shakers.

When we cast our ballots in November, we must remember that voting for the President of the United States is not just voting for one person - we are voting for a national network. Over the next three months, as we do our research, we must pay attention to those who speak for each candidate, for those faces we may see by his side for years to come. Yes, we must ask if our President can live up to that righteousness and ability to inspire, but we must also ask if his appointees can do the same.

And of course, we cannot forget our own power to appoint officials in this upcoming election. This year, in Shreveport, we have the ability to vote for a Senator, several judges, a new school board member, and a whole lot more. Let us do research together and let each other know what we find out. If you know one of these local candidates, tell us how to learn more. We want to have people running our community whom we can trust, who can be righteous-minded enough to push us all to act better. While outright politics may not belong on the bimah, our Torah is built on notions of civic responsibility.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof, l’ma’an tihyeh v’yarashta et ha-aretz asher Adonai eloheikha notein lakh. The reasoning given for “justice, justice shall you pursue” is simply in order that you will live and inherit this land that God has given to you. Although we no longer live in that same land, we vote in this country so that we and our neighbors can live. So that this country can sustain its strength long enough for our children and children’s children to stay safe, healthy, and positive. This year, let us appoint that team of judges and officials who will make us even prouder to dwell in this nation, in this state, in this community. Shabbat Shalom.