Shoftim: A Summary of the Parashah

Moses reviews for the Israelites their system of justice, the rules of kingship, their relationship to idolatrous nations, and the rules of doing battle.

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“When you dwell in the promised land, you shall separate out three cities and they shall serve as a refuge for murderers. These cities are only for the murderer who kills his neighbor unintentionally and without hate. For in the heat of the moment, this murderer could be killed even though the initial crime was an accident. This will prevent innocent blood from being shed in the promised land.

“Do not move your boundary marker of your neighbor from those set by inheritance.

“The testimony of one witness shall not stand against a person with regard to any crime or offense or sin that may have been committed. Only through a testimony of two or three witnesses may a case be established. If a pair of witnesses misuse their power and are false witnesses, then you shall cause to happen what was planned for the sinner. In this way you clear away the evil from your midst. Your eye must not have pity: life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

“When you go forth in battle against a stronger enemy, do not be afraid, for God who brought you out of Egypt, is with you. The officers shall speak to the people, saying, ‘If there is a man that has a new home, a new wife or a new vineyard, let him return home.’ Let him who is afraid and fainthearted go home too, so as not to inspire cowardliness in other soldiers.

“When you approach a city to wage war, you must first offer peace. If the answer is peace, then the entire population shall serve you. If peace is rejected, then you shall battle against them, and God will deliver them to you. Then you shall kill all the males, but the women and children and animals and all the booty shall be your spoils. However, of the cities that God is giving you as an inheritance, you shall not allow a soul to remain alive so that they will not teach you abominations practiced for their gods.

Do not destroy the food trees in the cities captured. Eat of them but do not cut them down. You may cut down non-food trees.

If a slain person is found fallen in the field, you must find the city closest to the slain man, and the elders of that city shall sacrifice a young calf and blessings by the priests shall be made over it. The elders shall then say prayers for atonement. You must put away the innocent blood from your midst by doing that which is right in the eyes of God.

Questions For Discussion

1) Why is it so important to have two or three witnesses on a crime rather than just one?

2) What is justice? Why is justice so important to God and to humanity? Is this a just world?

3) Have you have felt a victim to injustice? How did you react? Have you ever been the recipient of justice? How did that feel?

4) This passage speaks of kings and prophets appointed by God and those who are not appointed by God. Do you think God still appoints Kings and Prophets? Why or why not?

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Nancy Reuben Greenfield

Nancy Reuben Greenfield has written three adaptations of the Torah, including an
interactive family version at, and an engaging
Jewish immigrant novel, The Golden Medina, available on itunes and Amazon.