We'll start with the sedra, but we'll go beyond (or before) it as well.
Sho-f'tim seems to be about authority. Several of our feature writers focused on the connection between the sedra and the beginning of Elul.
Let's take a look. The sedra begins with the command to appoint judges and officers to be responsible for the carrying out of justice. The various levels of Batei Din and Sanhedrins (small ones of 23 judges and the Great Sanhedrin of 71) have an awesome task and are given a tremendous amount of authority over the people. But what (or rather Who) is the source of that authority? The obvious answer is G-d.
He is the Dayan Emet - the True Judge. And He is capable of running the whole show - but He gave over to people the responsibility and power of administering Justice.
Obviously, it must be within specific guidelines. And perversion of justice is a very serious offence. And that's the point. The True Source of Authority is G-d, and when He gives it over to humans (and that includes Jews as well as all nations of the world - DINIM is one of the 7 Noahide mitzvot), He requires accountability.
G-d gave us the Torah. But in the Torah, He authorized Chazal, the Sages throughout the generations, to legislate Torah-like laws. In Sho- f'tim, we find the two mitzvot - one positive and one prohibition - which gives authority to "the Rabbis". But Who is the true source of this authority? G-d is.
The sedra then details the concept of kingship. A king of Israel has very powerful authority over the people. But again. Who is the true source of that authority? G-d is.
When a king follows the ways of G-d and keeps to all the mitzvot of the Torah - including, of course, the ones that are specifically his, then the king reflects the authority of G-d.
And if a king is corrupt, and idolatrous, and defies G-d (and worde), then he does not represent G-d and His authority. The true source of authority is G-d. (The more we say it, the more it seems obvious, but maybe it still needs to be said.
The sedra continues with prophecy and the prophets. Prophecy exists because the people were afraid to hear G-d's voice and committed themselves to listen to Moshe Rabeinu and subsequent prophets of G-d. A prophet has a tremendous amount of authority. He can even command the people - one a one shot deal, not in perpetuity - to violate the Torah. And every Jew is duty bound by the Torah to listen to true prophets. And forbidden by the Torah to listen to a false prophet. And we are given guidelines to distinguish between them. (Not that we were always successful in doing so.)
But the power of a prophet and his authority are not his own. They come from G-d. A prophet must always introduce his words with KO AMAR HASHEM, thus says G-d. A Navi does not speak on his own. The true source of authority is G-d.
And what about parents and teachers? They too have a certain amount of authority over their children and students.
Some sadly abuse their authority. Many, fortunately use it wisely and properly.
But the true source of their authority is... you guessed it - G-d. He is the One who commands us on KIBUD and YIR'A of one's father and mother. And of one's teachers. Perhaps an Elul challenge is for us to learn all of the above well. To know the true source of authority.
To listen to a complete podcast dealing with this week's Torah parsha, download Phil Chernofsky's Torah Tidbits Audio by clicking here.
Torah Tidbits Audio offers an uplifting discussion of the weekly Torah parsha and Jewish holidays with a smattering of modern hasidic music. Phil's special persona shines through with his personal anecdotes, love of baseball and old-time radio, and a commitment to Israel and Aliyah. It airs every Thursday from 8:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. Israel time. For mp3 archives click here.