Volume 31 Issue 27 02 Sep 2022 6 Elul 5782

Choose your own interpretation

Jemma Lopis – Hebrew & Jewish Studies Teacher

Choose your own interpretation – פרשת שופטים

Who am I to analyse the parashah on your behalf? What gives me the authority to suppose that my insights are any more insightful than your own? Do I have more life experience than you that I can interpret and understand the psychology, hierarchy, patriarchy and sociology of God and the people in this parasha?

Each able Israelite/Jew has the obligation to analyse the parashah for themselves. I have no more authority nor insight than you. I likely do not have more life experience, ability to interpret or understand than you. In which case, you may wish to consider: What does this mean to me? What can I learn about ancient Israelite society and its relationship with God? What threads can I see present in Jewish civilisation today?

That said, I will share a few of my personal reflections on a couple of phrases:

In the Year 9 Jewish Studies elective Mystery of Jewish Survival, we have been learning about unique, distinguishing features of the ancient Israelites in relation to the creation and appointment of kings over the people. Unlike other ancient peoples to whom their kings may have also been considered their gods, the God of the Israelites is considered the only real King who is at pains to explain to the Prophet Samuel that it is God, not Samuel, who should be offended that the people need a human king in addition to the King of Kings (God).

When God agrees with Samuel that the Israelites may have a king but, as a protective parent may do, sets out a range of guidelines for what a king must and must not do, and must not possess. These guidelines support moderation rather than excess, intended to support the King’s ability to engage in clear thinking and wise decision making, rather than him being negatively affected by excessive and unhealthy habits. Vitally, the King is accountable not only to God, but to the Prophets whose role it is to ensure that the King enacts justice.

 “״…ושפטו את העם משפט-צדק
“… and they should judge the nation with laws of justice” 
 (Deuteronomy, Chapter 16: Verse 18)

״צדק צדק תרדף״
“Justice, justice you will pursue”
 (Deuteronomy, Chapter 16: Verse 20)

In these verses, we are exposed to the uniquely – arguably excessively – high value placed on that of justice. There is no moderation when it comes to the pursuit of justice.

Can we see this ancient valuing and relentless pursuit of justice as a quality that has supported and guided the spiritual, mental, religious and physical survival of the Jewish people throughout their history? Do we still value the unyielding, uncompromising pursuit of justice without the moderation required of the Kings in other areas?

Albert Einstein is quoted at least twice on the matters of justice and social justice:

“In matters of truth and justice, there is no difference between large and small problems, for issues concerning the treatment of people are all the same”; and that, “Striving for social justice is the most valuable thing to do in life”.

At Emanuel School we see the active commitment to the pursuit of justice and social justice as essential and integral values that we share with our students, imbued with the same passion and determination instilled upon ancient Israelite Kings by ancient Jewish Prophets and by God. May moments of justice prevail in the world around us.

Shabbat Shalom