Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 Lesson 43
Torah Portion Shoftim

Deuteronomy 16   (Torah Portion Shoftim)

18 Appoint judges and officials for each of your tribes in every city that the Lord your God gives you. They must judge the people fairly. 19 Don’t delay justice; don’t show favoritism. Don’t take bribes because bribery blinds the vision of the wise and twists the words of the righteous. 20 Righteousness! Pursue righteousness so that you live long and take possession of the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

21 Don’t plant any tree to serve as a sacred pole next to the altar you make for the Lordy our God. 22 Don’t set up any sacred stone either, because the Lord your God hates such things.

Deuteronomy 17   (Torah Portion Shoftim)

Don’t sacrifice to the Lord your God any oxen or sheep that have defects of any kind, because that is detestable to the Lord your God.

If someone, whether male or female, is found in your community—in one of the cities theLord your God is giving you—who does evil in the Lord your God’s eyes, by breaking God’s covenant, by following and serving other gods, and by bowing down to them, to the sun or the moon or any of the heavenly bodies that I haven’t permitted— and you hear news about it, then you must look into this situation very carefully. And if it’s definitely true that this detestable thing was done in Israel, then you must bring out the man or woman who has done this evil thing to the gates of the city. Stone that person until he or she is dead.

Capital punishment must be decided by two or three witnesses. No one may be executed on the basis of only one testimony. In the execution, the hands of the witnesses must be against the guilty person from the start; the hand of all the people will be involved at the end. Remove such evil from your community!

If some legal dispute in your cities is too difficult for you to decide—say, between different kinds of bloodshed, different kinds of legal ruling, or different kinds of injury—then take it to the location the Lord your God selects. Go to the levitical priests and to the head judge in office at that time and look into things there. They will announce to you the correct ruling. 10 You must then act according to the ruling they announced to you from that location, the one the Lord selects. You must follow very carefully everything they instruct you to do. 11 Act precisely according to the instruction they give you and the ruling they announce to you. Don’t deviate even a bit from the word they announce. 12 And whoever acts rashly by not listening to the priest who is in office serving the Lord your God or to the head judge will die. Remove such evil from Israel! 13 All the people will hear about this and be afraid. They won’t act arrogantly anymore.

14 Once you have entered the land the Lord your God is giving you and you have taken possession of it and settled down in it, you might say: “Let’s appoint a king over us, as all our neighboring nations have done.” 15 You can indeed appoint over you a king that theLord your God selects. You can appoint over you a king who is one of your fellow Israelites. You are not allowed to appoint over you a foreigner who is not one of your fellow Israelites. 16 That granted, the king must not acquire too many horses, and he must not return the people to Egypt in order to acquire more horses, because the Lord told you: “You will never go back by that road again.” 17 The king must not take numerous wives so that his heart doesn’t go astray. Nor can the king acquire too much silver and gold.18 Instead, when he sits on his royal throne, he himself must write a copy of this Instruction on a scroll in the presence of the levitical priests. 19 That Instruction must remain with him, and he must read in it every day of his life so that he learns to revere theLord his God by keeping all the words of this Instruction and these regulations, by doing them, 20 by not being overbearing toward his fellow Israelites, and by not deviating even a bit from the commandment. If the king does all that, he will ensure lasting rule in Israel for himself and for his successors.

Deuteronomy 18   (Torah Portion Shoftim)

Neither the levitical priests nor any Levite tribe member will have a designated inheritance in Israel. They can eat the sacrifices offered to the Lord, which are the Lord’s portion, but they won’t share an inheritance with their fellow Israelites. The Lord alone is the Levites’ inheritance—just as God promised them.

Now this is what the priests may keep from the people’s sacrifices of oxen or sheep: They must give the priest the shoulder, the jaws, and the stomach. You must also give the priest the first portions of your grain, wine, and oil, and the first of your sheep’s shearing because the Lord your God selected Levi from all of your tribes to stand and minister in the Lord’s name—both him and his descendants for all time.

Now if a Levite leaves one of your cities or departs from any location in Israel where he’s been living and, because he wants to, comes to the location the Lord selects and ministers in the Lord his God’s name, just like his relatives—the other Levites serving there in the Lord’s presence— he is allowed to eat equal portions, despite the finances he has from his family.

Once you enter the land that the Lord your God is giving you, don’t try to imitate the detestable things those nations do. 10 There must not be anyone among you who passes his son or daughter through fire; who practices divination, is a sign reader, fortune-teller, sorcerer, 11 or spell caster; who converses with ghosts or spirits or communicates with the dead. 12 All who do these things are detestable to the Lord! It is on account of these detestable practices that the Lord your God is driving these nations out before you.

13 Instead, you must be perfect before the Lord your God. 14 These nations you are displacing listened to sign readers and diviners, but the Lord your God doesn’t permit you to do the same! 15 The Lord your God will raise up a prophet like me from your community, from your fellow Israelites. He’s the one you must listen to. 16 That’s exactly what you requested from the Lord your God at Horeb, on the day of the assembly, when you said, “I can’t listen to the Lord my God’s voice anymore or look at this great fire any longer. I don’t want to die!”

17 The Lord said to me: What they’ve said is right. 18 I’ll raise up a prophet for them from among their fellow Israelites—one just like you. I’ll put my words in his mouth, and he will tell them everything I command him. 19 I myself will hold accountable anyone who doesn’t listen to my words, which that prophet will speak in my name. 20 However, any prophet who arrogantly speaks a word in my name that I haven’t commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods—that prophet must die.

21 Now, you might be wondering, How will we know which word God hasn’t spoken? 22 Here’s the answer: The prophet who speaks in the Lord’s name and the thing doesn’t happen or come about—that’s the word the Lord hasn’t spoken. That prophet spoke arrogantly. Don’t be afraid of him.

Deuteronomy 19   (Torah Portion Shoftim)

Once the Lord your God has eliminated those nations—whose land the Lord your God is giving you—and you displace them, settling into their cities and their houses, you must designate three cities for your use in the land the Lord your God is giving you to possess. Mark out the roads to them and divide the regions of the land the Lord your God is apportioning to you into three parts. These cities are the places to which a person who has killed can escape. Here is the rule concerning a person who killed someone and is permitted to escape to one of these cities and live:

If it is someone who killed his neighbor accidentally, without having hated that person previously; or if someone goes into the forest with a neighbor to chop some wood, and while swinging an ax to cut down the tree, the axhead flies off its handle and hits the neighbor, who subsequently dies—these kinds of killers may escape to one of these cities and live. Otherwise, the blood avenger will chase after the killer out of rage and—especially if the distance to one of these cities is too far—might catch and kill him, even though a death sentence was not in order because the killer didn’t have prior malice toward the other. This is why I am commanding you as follows: Designate three cities for your use.

Now if the Lord your God enlarges your territory, as he swore to your ancestors—and he will give you all the land he swore to give to them as long as you keep all this commandment that I am giving you right now by doing it, by loving the Lord your God, and by always walking in his ways—you can add three more cities for your use along with the first three. 10 Innocent blood must not be spilled in the land the Lord your God is giving to you as an inheritance, or it will be bloodshed that will be required of you.

11 But if someone does hate a neighbor and ambushes him, rising up against him and attacking him so he dies, and then escapes to one of these cities, 12 elders from the killer’s hometown will send word, and the killer will be sent back from there. They will then hand him over to the blood avenger, and he will be executed. 13 Show no mercy to such killers. Remove innocent bloodshed from Israel so that things go well for you.

14 Now in the land the Lord your God is giving you, in your allotted property that you will receive there, you must not tamper with your neighbor’s property line, which has been previously established.

15 A solitary witness against someone in any crime, wrongdoing, or in any sort of misdeed that might be done is not sufficient. The decision must stand by two or three witnesses.16 Now if a spiteful witness comes forward against someone, so as to testify against them falsely, 17 the two persons who have a legal suit must stand before the Lord, before the priests, and before the judges that are in office at that time. 18 The judges will look into the situation very carefully. If it turns out that the witness is a liar—that the witness has given false testimony against his fellow Israelite— 19 then you must do to him what he had planned to do to his fellow Israelite. Remove such evil from your community! 20 The rest of the people will hear about this and be afraid. They won’t do that sort of evil thing among you again. 21 Show no mercy on this point: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

Deuteronomy 20   (Torah Portion Shoftim)

When you march out to battle your enemies and you see horses, chariots, and a fighting force larger than yours, don’t be afraid of them, because the Lord your God, the one who brought you up from Egypt, is with you. As you advance toward the war, the priest will come forward and will address the troops. He will say to them: “Listen, Israel: Right now you are advancing to wage war against your enemies. Don’t be discouraged! Don’t be afraid! Don’t panic! Don’t shake in fear on account of them, because the Lordyour God is going with you to fight your enemies for you and to save you.”

The officials will also say to the troops: “Is there anyone here who has just built a new house but hasn’t yet dedicated it? He can leave and go back to his house; otherwise, he might die in the war and someone else would dedicate the house. Or is there anyone here who has planted a vineyard but hasn’t yet put it to good use? He can leave and go back to his house; otherwise, he might die in the battle and someone else would use the vineyard. Or is there anyone here who is engaged but not yet married? He may leave and go back to his house; otherwise, he might die in the battle and someone else would marry his fiancée.”

The officials will continue to address the troops, stating: “Is there anyone here who is afraid and discouraged? He can leave and go back to his house; otherwise, his comrades might lose courage just as he has.” Once the officials have completed their speech to the troops, the army commanders will assume leadership of the forces.

10 When you approach a city to fight against it, you should first extend peaceful terms to it. 11 If the city responds with peaceful terms and surrenders to you, then all the people in the city will serve you as forced laborers. 12 However, if the city does not negotiate peacefully with you but makes war against you, you may attack it. 13 The Lord your God will hand it over to you; you must kill all the city’s males with the sword. 14 However, you can take for yourselves the women, the children, the animals, and all that is in the city—all its plunder. You can then enjoy your enemies’ plunder, which the Lord your God has given you.

15 That’s what you must do to all the cities that are located far away from you—specifically, those cities that don’t belong to these nations here. 16 But in the case of any of the cities of these peoples—the ones the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance—you must not spare any living thing. 17 Instead, you must place these under the ban:Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites, and Jebusites—just as the Lord your God commanded you. 18 Then they can’t teach you to do all the detestable things they did for their gods, with the result that you end up sinning against the Lord your God.

19 Now if you have been attacking a city for some time, fighting against it and trying to conquer it, don’t destroy its trees by cutting them down with axes. You can eat from those trees; don’t cut them down! Do you think a tree of the field is some sort of warrior to be attacked by you in battle? 20 That said, if you know that a tree is not a food-producing tree, you are allowed to destroy it, cutting it down and using it in the siege against the city that is fighting against you until it falls.

Deuteronomy 21   (Torah Portion Shoftim)

If a corpse is found on the ground the Lord your God is giving you to possess, lying in a field, and the identity of the killer is unknown, your elders and judges must come out and measure the distances to the cities nearest the body. Once it is determined which city is closest to the dead body, its elders must take a young cow that hasn’t been used or yet pulled a plow, and those elders will take the cow down to a ravine with a flowing stream—one that has not been plowed or planted—and they will break the cow’s neck right there in the river valley. Then the priests, the descendants of Levi, will step forward because the Lord your God selected them to minister for him and to bless in the Lord’s name, and because every legal dispute and case of assault is decided by them. All the elders of the city closest to the corpse will wash their hands over the cow whose neck was broken in the river valley. They will then solemnly state: “Our hands did not shed this blood. Our eyes did not see it happen. Lord, please forgive your people Israel, whom you saved. Don’t put the guilt of innocent bloodshed on your people Israel.”

Then the bloodguilt will be forgiven them.

But you must remove innocent bloodshed from your community; do only what is right in the Lord’s eyes.

Torah Portion Shoftim      Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 

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