[Picture: we FIRST ought ourselves to forgive others -- when they sincerely own up to their misconduct -- before expecting others and God to do so as well for us when we confess ours... Free Image - CC0 Creative Commons - Designed and Uploaded by Alexas_Fotos to Pixabay]
Rabbi Dr. Yossi Feintuch was born in Afula and holds a Ph.D. in American history from Emory University in Atlanta. He taught American history at Ben-Gurion University.
Author of the book US Policy on Jerusalem (JCCO).
He now serves as rabbi at the Jewish Center in central Oregon. (JCCO).
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A Talmudic story (Baba Batra 60:1) about Rabbi Yanai reflects the didactic essence of this weekly Torah portion Shoftim’s opening verse: “Judges and overseers you shall set for yourself within all your gates…’’ (Deuteronomy 16:18). Accordingly, Rabbi Yanai was presiding over a case where one man’s tree branched out from his private property into the public domain. Before invoking the proper decision that would require that person to trim those tree limbs that impeded public traffic on that road, Rabbi Yanai postponed the otherwise easy ruling to the following day. He could not help but remind himself that he too had such a tree.
Before he would demand that the man cut down the overreaching branches of his tree, Rabbi Yanai had his own overgrown tree trimmed that night. Indeed, when he meted out his decision the man protested that Rabbi Yanai had himself such a tree and his decision manifested a double standard. But Rabbi Yanai told the man to go and see for himself the status of his own tree and do likewise. Rabbi Yanai complied fully with the laconic summation by the Talmudic sage Resh Lakish of the tenet that imbues the Torah and the verse quoted above – ‘’before you demand anything from others [i.e., the truth], demand it of yourself’’…
Exodus 27:20 that commences the Portion Tetsaveh where God addresses Moses by the following words: ‘’As for you, you shall command the Israelites…’’ may very well mean to first command yourself before commanding others. And since Leviticus 4:22 presumes that a chieftain (a leader) is bound to fail in upholding any of God’s rules, the Torah requires of the High Priest to confess his own sins on Yom Kippur, alongside the sins of his households’ members, before confessing the sins of the whole nation of Israel (Leviticus 16:11).
It is against this background that we may understand the opening verse of Shoftim (as quoted above) to mean something additional besides its literal meaning -- a call for the appointment of judges and policemen upon arriving in the Promised Land, as a part of an effective government. Indeed, that very verse – ‘’Judges and officers you shall appoint for you [and] in your gates as God is giving you’’ -- may very well mean that before enforcing law and order in the land these judges and police officers should administer law and order first to you, Moses, in the most personal terms. And hence, if there is to be truly one law for all, then it must apply equally to both ''the native and the sojourner who sojourns in your midst’’ (Exodus 12: 49; see also almost identical formulations of this principle in Leviticus 24: 22 and in Numbers 16:15). Thus, ''Justice, justice you must pursue'' (Deuteronomy 16:20) buttresses the idea that for justice to prevail in the land it must equally be abided by the top level of leaders as well. Similarly, children's religious education and practice could only be sustained in the house when exemplified by parents as in ''Take these words that I command you now to heart. Teach them intently to your children and talk of them...'' (D 6:6-7) -- the parent must first teach God's Word to himself before imparting it to the children.
Levi Eshkol, Israel’s third Prime Minister reflected the idea that justice starts at home before it might permeate society at large in saying: “If Israel is to become a light unto the nations it behooves her to first become a light unto herself”...
[Picture: Levi Eshkol, Israel’s third Prime Minister. Photo: Moshe Frieden, GPO]
With the forthcoming onset of the Ten Days of Repentance (the High Holy Days) one major lesson that the opening verses of Shoftim (16:18, 20) may point out to is that as we expect others and God to forgive us for our own wrongdoing that we evidently committed – “For there is not one good person on earth who does what is best and doesn’t err’’ (Ecclesiastes 7:20), we FIRST ought ourselves to forgive others -- when they sincerely own up to their misconduct -- before expecting others and God to do so as well for us when we confess ours.