Shoftim

  1. The Kohen is used to settle matters of Law (mishpat) – between blood & blood, judgment & judgment (Deen) and lesion & lesion? The first two describe major areas of law as we’d categorize them today: criminal and civil law. The third describes the third category of law – moral. In Jewish Law, in all these categories, we have to recognize that once we exhaust our human judges, we can go to the kohanim and leviim to receive ultimately from Hashem. The Kohanim and Leviim have a leadership role in addition to their role as servants of Kedusha.
  2. What makes a King need special restrictions? I would say it is that Kings are there primarily to lead, not to serve Hashem. They lack the Kedusha of Hashem and they don’t do any real productive work. Furthermore, where you have to involve a Kohen, Kings tend to involve themselves. This is a dangerous mix that can lead to all sorts of pleasure-seeking and status-seeking behavior. A king must remember that his real job is to encourage Kedusha and creation in others. The first restriction speaks to this. The king should not be foreign and should be your brother. A King must always understand that he is part of the nation (not a foreigner) and wants to see it build and part of the family (a brother) and wants to see it safe and protected. With these principles in his core, a King can put aside status and pleasure and focus on leadership.
  3. The Kohanim get very odd gifts from every slaughter. There are many explanations for these gifts, but the highlight for me is the lack of edibility of these parts. If you look up cuts of meat these parts are not included in the map. They are basically worthless. I think they distinguish the different roles of the Kohen from each other and from the role of the King. The Leviim/Kohanim earn an inheritance from Hashem for their role serving him, but they get useless cuts of meat for leading us. Contrast this to the ‘leadership tax’ of a King.
  4. The Leviim exchange portions – except for the transactions of the avot? To me, these transactions seem to be describing a pension. They are things that go to the fathers. This is another regal difference. Kings serve until death, but Leviim can only serve at the peak of their abilities. The infirmities of old age don’t connect with the timelessness of Kedusha. The Leviim have a purer Kedusha role, but that seems to limit their pay.
  5. Here we have the third kind of authority: prophets. They are the purest connection from Hashem to the people. Their power is not birth or taxes, but G-d’s name. They receive nothing and have no power but as pass-throughs for the voice of Hashem. The reward of prophecy is itself: connection to Hashem and the purest form of leadership – leadership through ideas.
    1. What is the reward of the Mitzvah of keeping the mitzvah of the cities of refuge? More cities! I think this contrasts nicely with the risks of a King. A king has horses or women or money and they want more. But if the people want to prevent the spilling of innocent blood that too can create a virtuous cycle. A well-led people – from Leviim/Kohanim to Kings to Prophets will have mitzvot tht multiply themselves.
  6. Isn’t it odd to have a stock speech for war? Isn’t each causes belli (reason for war) different? We bring the timelessness of Hashem into war in some way to protect us from its danger. What better reflects timelessness than a stock speech? No matter the particular circumstances, our relationship to war and Hashem should be stable like a stock speech.
    1. On the exemptions: if we’ve taken the initiative and begun to leave our mark, it is important to complete that. Our first task is to be actors and creators within time – not just timeless trusters.
  7. Just as the vineyard planter isn’t sent to war, we respect the plantings of other people. Food trees are not trees of worship. They are the physical accomplishments of others – their vineyards. The loss of a tree is the loss of the continued production of a prior generation’s efforts – even if it is the generation of an enemy.
    1. In a way this final section goes full circle. The Kohanim decide between blood and blood, din and din and plague and plague. Here, they deal with unanswered blood – circumstances, not people in litigation, call them to duty to protect Kedusha. In a way we’re reminded that this is their primary job.

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