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Beit Midrash Series Parashat Hashavua

The Return of Which Shoftim?

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This Shabbat, Shabbat Chazon, we will once again read the opening prophecy of Sefer Yeshayahu. After several p’sukim that decry the horrible spiritual deterioration, which Yeshaya saw, the prophecy ends off on an optimistic note, which he foresaw. "I will return your shoftim as it was in the beginning and your counselors (yo’atzim) as it was originally. Afterward you will be called the city of justice, the trustworthy city. Zion will be redeemed with justice and those who return with righteousness" (Yeshaya 1:26-27).
Let us examine these p'sukim carefully and try to learn a lesson for all generations, including our own. Who are the shoftim whose return we are awaiting? At first glance, it seems that these are judges, whom the Torah refers to as shoftim (see Devarim 16:18) and rabbinic sources refer to as dayanim. If so, this is also parallel to the matter of Zion being "redeemed with justice." In other words, Zion will be liberated when it has a judicial system that justly implements the laws of the Torah. However, this understanding requires us to evaluate the symmetry in the first pasuk, where the shofet is parallel to the yo’etz.
What is a yo’etz? Literally, the word means one who gives advice, which often refers to one whose noteworthy attribute is his wisdom. However, we find that it is not referring necessarily to someone who has no power other than to provide ideas for others to act on. Micha (4:9) asks: "Is their no king amongst you? Has your yo’etz been lost?" Here we see that the yo’etz is parallel to the king. Upon further thought, we interestingly notice that the root of king (maloch) is also the root of lehimalech (to ask others for advice).
Let us now return to our pasuk. If the yo’etz is the king or some other similar leader, then so is the shofet. This should not be shocking, as in Sefer Shoftim, we have little to no evidence of the shofet serving as a judge in court and much evidence of his being a general and a political leader. Thus we are talking about the restoration of the executive branch. (We would point out that one of the jobs of the executive is to protect the judicial system and its judges.) We can thus learn from these p’sukim that the ultimate redemption depends on a just usage of executive powers. This must be the hallmark of an independent Jewish state, which is the vision of the prophets. Within this context, the second pasuk, dealing with justice and tzedaka (which can mean righteousness and/or charity), is crucial. There must be law and order in any successful government. However, Yeshaya teaches us that the government must also be dedicated to fairness and to charity. Social sensitivity toward the needs of the weakest in society must go hand-in-hand with law. Without this, a system of justice is a somewhat hollow value.
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