Shoftim: Responsible Leadership

True love breeds responsibility.

Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen,

 Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
Rabbi Yehuda HaKohen
INN:YH

Shoftim deals primarily with the statutes pertaining to Israel's leadership. Because leadership is not a position of personal honor, but rather a burden of responsibility for the welfare of the Jewish people, the Torah sets down specific guidelines to steer Israeli leaders towards attaining their full potential as shepherds of the Hebrew nation.

If a corpse will be found - on the land that HaShem, your G-d, gives you to possess it - fallen in the field, it was not known who smote him, then your elders and judges shall go out and measure toward the cities that are around the corpse. It shall be that the city nearest the corpse, the elders of that city shall take a heifer, with which no work has been done, which has not pulled with a yoke. The elders of that city shall bring the heifer down to a
Sforno adds that such defensive measures include ensuring that no known murderer is permitted to roam the area.
harsh valley, which cannot be worked and cannot be sown, and they shall axe the back of its neck in the valley. The kohanim, the offspring of Levi, shall approach, for them has HaShem, your G-d, chosen to minister to Him and to bless with the Name of HaShem, and according to their word shall be every grievance and every plague. All the elders of the city closest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the heifer that was axed in the valley. They shall speak up and say, "Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes did not see. Atone for Your nation Israel that You have redeemed O HaShem. Do not place innocent blood in the midst of Your nation Israel!" Then the blood shall be atoned for them. But you shall remove the innocent blood from your midst when you do what is upright in the eyes of HaShem. (Devarim 21:1-9)

The above narrative appears peculiar at first glance. It is difficult to imagine why anyone would suspect a pious city elder of responsibility for a mysterious local murder. But Rashi explains that the elders must publicly absolve themselves from guilt in order to clarify that they were not negligent in providing the necessary security that would prevent the spilling of Hebrew blood. Sforno adds that such defensive measures include ensuring that no known murderer is permitted to roam the area. A leader of Israel must never be negligent when dealing with the security of the Jewish people.

A great lesson is taught here - a lesson in responsibility, Ahavat Yisrael (love of Israel) and the duty that an individual (especially a leader) bears for the entire Jewish nation. It is clearly not enough for a person to refrain from committing murder. He must also do everything in his power to prevent blood from being shed. And in order to save the innocent from danger, it is often necessary to eradicate that danger - to wholeheartedly wage war against anyone and everyone who might threaten the Hebrew nation before that potential threat can mature into actual bloodshed. The Torah teaches this to be a major responsibility of both local and national leadership.

The Maharal of Prague offers a profound insight on this point. He teaches that these verses imply that the murder could have been avoided had the victim been escorted by someone from the city. While there is clearly no commandment to accompany a traveler all the way to his destination, the Maharal explains that when a host takes the trouble to escort a stranger on his journey, he demonstrates solidarity with a fellow Jew and with the entire Jewish nation. This is achieved by the mere act of going out of one's way for another, even if not specifically commanded. When one demonstrates such Ahavat Yisrael, HaShem provides extra protection and the chance of a tragedy occurring is greatly diminished.

True love breeds responsibility. One cannot exist independent of the other. Israeli leadership demands both of these attributes in order to succeed in guiding and protecting the Hebrew nation through current challenges.

The Second Temple was destroyed due to baseless hatred. With G-d's help, the Third Temple will arise on the shoulders of a limitless love - a love that will breed humility and responsibility, ultimately shining its light to the entire world and engulfing humanity in the blessing of HaShem.



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