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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shoftim

JUST A QUESTION OF JUSTICE

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Clearly, our Sedra’s theme is Tzedek, Justice. Numerous topics all revolve around seeing that justice is done: Appointing courts & policemen; punishing idolaters & false prophets; defining the power of kings; seeing that Kohanim & Leviim receive their fair share; setting up Cities of Refuge to both punish & protect man-slaughterers; calling out leaders who shirk their responsibility, & outlining proper conduct in wartime.

But while the Torah makes crystal-clear the absolute necessity for us to fight for our land & our safety – indeed, those who are "counted" in the numerous censuses in the Torah are those who are eligible for the army! – there are
categories of soldiers exempted from military service:

- Those that have built a house, but have not yet taken residence;
- Those that have planted a vineyard, but have not yet enjoyed the fruits of their labor;
- Those who have become engaged to a woman, but are not yet married.

Many explain that in these particular situations, the soldier will be so mentally pre-occupied, or so depressed, that he will not be able to properly wage battle, & so may do harm to himself and/or his fellow soldiers. But there is a deeper message here: These exemptions, represented by Wife, Home & Profession, are the essential goals which the Torah stresses a person should pursue in life; in short, what ultimately will define us.

A wife completes a man; until he marries his soul-mate, he is only half a person (some would kiddingly say that when he marries, he is finished!). The home we build – not just the physical structure, but the family we create, the moral standard we set, the place we occupy in the community – describes who we are (thus the Hebrew nickname for an upstanding member of society is a "Bal HaBayit," a "master of his house(hold)." And finally, the profession we choose constitutes our contribution to the universe, how we employ our particular gifts & strengths to help perfect the world & further Hashem’s plan. Indeed, many Jewish names actually are (or were) professions; Goldsmith, Schneider, Singer, etc.

So crucial are these elemental pursuits, that Hashem sets aside the requirement for military service (in a non-obligatory war, we should note; in an obligatory war, when Israel is threatened, everyone serves). But it also sends the message to each & every one of us - soldier or civilian – as to what we should all strive to accomplish in the course of our time on Earth; what G-d expects of us.

This, too, we now can say, is based on the Sedra’s theme of Tzedek, for to do any less would simply not do justice to this precious gift of life which the Almighty has graciously bestowed upon each & every one of us.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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