Justice and Accountability (Shoftim)

Rabbi Menachem Creditor
3 min readAug 15, 2023

The complex intersections between sacred teachings and world events require careful thinking. But it is important to remember that drawing connections between the weekly Parsha and the world we inhabit is not merely a pedagogical exercise, but a traditional application of timeless spiritual wisdom upon timely reality.

At the heart of the endeavor for this week’s Parashah, Shoftim, is the notion of Justice, especially as it pertains to the political sphere. A contemporary centerpiece of this exploration involves the role of the Israeli Supreme Court, a topic that has not been without its share of controversy. The intricate interplay between justice and power on the national stage serves as an fascinating lens through which to dissect the principles governing our the world our Parashah aims to speaks to.

Shoftim (particularly chapter 17 of Deuteronomy) is concerned with the accountability that must govern global affairs. No matter who they are, the Torah’s message is unequivocal: everyone, even leaders and figures of great influence — even kings! — must be held accountable. This resounding truth finds its roots in this week’s Parsha, and speaks directly to the very recent news regarding a former American president. Here, today, we witness a connection between scriptural teachings and contemporary events in sharp and painful relief.

The Torah’s presentation of the idea of an king is not a mere endorsement but rather a nuanced exploration. While some commentators view the concept of a king as an unnecessary Israelite emulation of other societies, the Torah subtly frames it as an opportunity for introspection. The ensuing parameters, such as the king’s origins within the community and limitations on his wealth, wives, and power, offer a refining of the prevailing norms.

In this context, the Torah’s role as a responsive guide becomes evident. The text continually engages with existing constructs, steering them toward more equitable paths. In this light, the Torah emerges as a progressive force, also exemplified in the Book of Exodus. Parashat Mishpatim, a prime example, outlines laws that may seem familiar to ancient legal codes, yet it distinguishes itself through its emphasis on equality and justice, reshaping societal structures for the better.

Consequently, Parshat Shoftim serves as an exploration of accountability within power dynamics. The Torah’s nuanced treatment of the concept of kingship calls for a paradigm shift, whereby power is accompanied by responsibility and adherence to a just framework. This echoes the contemporary reality in which no one is beyond the reach of accountability, even figures of immense influence.

The parallels extend further, resonating across nations and systems. In the United States, the Constitution stands as the bedrock of authority, yet it is the people who ultimately shape its interpretation. Similarly, in the Torah, power is tempered by the larger community’s reminder that justice reigns supreme. While the Torah may not advocate a democratic structure, it underscores the need for rulers to answer to a higher sense of justice.

Ultimately, Parshat Shoftim points to the profound importance of accountability and justice in our world. May these principles continue to guide us, blessing the United States and the State of Israel with enduring wisdom, and may we all strive to uphold the values of accountability and justice, recognizing that true power lies in a system that keeps us all safe and answerable to higher ideals.