Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9
Judges and Justice
Appoint yourselves judges and police for your tribes in all your settlements that HaShem your Lord is giving you, and make sure that they administer honest judgement for the people. Do not bend justice and do not give special consideration to anyone.
Do not take bribes, since bribery makes the wise blind and perverts the words of the righteous. Pursue perfect honesty, so that you will live and occupy the land that HaShem your Lord is giving you.
Sacred Trees and Pillars
Do not plant for yourself an Asherah or any other tree near the altar that you will make yourselves for HaShem. Do not erect a sacred pillar, since this is something that HaShem hates.
Do not sacrifice to HaShem any ox, sheep or goat that has a serious blemish, since to do so before HaShem is considered wrong.
Penalties for Idolatry
This is what you must do when you discover a man or woman doing evil in the eyes of HaShem in one of the settlements that HaShem is giving you. That person will have violated HaShem’s covenant by going and worshiping or bowing down to the sun, moon or other heavenly bodies, whose worship I prohibited. When it is told to you, you must listen and carefully interrogate the witnesses. If the accusation is established to be true, and this revolting practice has been done in Israel, you shall take that man or woman who did the wicked act out to your gates. You shall then pelt the man or woman to death with stones. The accused shall be put to death only through the testimony of two or three witnesses. He shall not be put to death through the testimony of one witness. The hand of the witness shall be against him first to put him to death, and only then shall the hand of all the other people be set against him. You shall thus rid yourselves of evil.
The Supreme Court
If you are unable to reach a decision in a case involving capital punishment, litigation, leprous marks, or any other case where there is a dispute in your territorial courts, then you must set out and go up to the place that HaShem shall choose. You must approach the Levitical priests and other members of the supreme court that exists at the time. When you make inquiry, they will declare to you a legal decision. Since this decision comes from the place that HaShem shall choose, you must do as they tell you, carefully following their every decision. Besides this, in general, you must keep the Torah as they interpret it for you, and follow the laws that they legislate for you. Do not stray to the right or left from the word that they declare to you. If there is any man who rebels and refuses to listen to the priest or other judge who is in charge of serving HaShem there as leader of the supreme court, then that man must be put to death, thus ridding yourselves of evil in Israel. When all the people hear about it, they will fear and will not rebel again.
When you come to the land that HaShem is giving you, so that you have occupied it and settled it, you will eventually say, “We would like to appoint a king, just like all the nations around us.” You must then appoint the king whom HaShem shall choose. You must appoint a king from among your brethren; you may not appoint a foreigner who is not one of your brethren. The king, however, must not accumulate many horses, so as not to bring the people back to Egypt to get more horses. HaShem has told you that you must never again return on that path. He also must not have many wives, so that they not make his heart go astray. He shall likewise not accumulate very much silver and gold. When the king is established on his royal throne, he must write a copy of this Torah as a scroll edited by the Levitical priests. This scroll must always be with him, and he shall read from it all the days of his life. He will then learn to be in awe of HaShem his Lord, and carefully keep every word of this Torah and these rules. He will then also not begin to feel superior to his brethren, and he will not stray from the mandate to the right or the left. He and his descendants will thus have a long reign in the midst of Israel.
The Levitical Priests
The Levitical priests and the entire tribe of Levi shall not have a territorial portion with the rest of Israel, and they shall therefore eat HaShem’s fire offerings and their hereditary gifts. Since HaShem shall be their heritage, as He promised them, they shall not have any territorial heritage among their brethren.
The Priestly Portion
This shall be the law of what the priests receive from the people: When any ox sheep or goat is slaughtered as food, you must give the priest the foreleg, the jaw and the maw. You must also give him the first portion of your grain, wine and oil, and the first of your shearing. This is because HaShem your Lord has chosen him and his descendants out of all your tribes to stand and serve in HaShem’s name for all time.
The Levitical priest, no matter where he lives among all the Israelites, can come to the place that HaShem shall choose on a festival, or whenever else he wishes to bring his own sacrifice. He can then serve before HaShem his Lord just the same as any of his fellow Levitical priests whose turn it is to serve before HaShem. On the festivals, he shall receive the same portion that they do to eat. The only exception is that which is theirs by ancestral right.
Divination and Prophecy
When you come to the land that HaShem your Lord is giving you, do not learn to do the revolting practices of those nations. Among you, there shall not be found anyone who passes his son or daughter through fire, who practices stick divination, who divines auspicious times, who divines by omens, who practices witchcraft, who uses incantations, who consults mediums and oracles, or who attempts to communicate with the dead.
Anyone involved in these practices is repulsive to HaShem, and it was because of repulsive practices such as these that HaShem your Lord is driving out these nations before you. You must therefore remain totally faithful to HaShem. The nations that you are driving out listen to astrologers and stick diviners, but what HaShem has given you is totally different. In your midst, HaShem will set up for you a prophet like me from among your brethren, and it is to him that you must listen. This is a result of the request that you made of HaShem your Lord at Horeb on the Day of Assembly, when you said, “We cannot listen to the voice of HaShem any more! We cannot look at this great fire any more! We do not want to die!” HaShem then said to me, “They have spoken well. I will set up a prophet for them from among their brethren, just as you are. I will place My word in his mouth, and he will declare to them all that I command him. If any person does not listen to the word that he declares in My name, I will punish that person. Also, if a prophet presumptuously makes a declaration in My name when I have not commanded him to do so, or if he speaks in the name of other gods, then that prophet shall die.” You may ask yourselves, “How shall we recognize that a declaration was not spoken by HaShem?”
If the prophet predicts something in HaShem’s name, and the prediction does not materialize or come true, then the message was not spoken by HaShem. That prophet has spoken deceitfully, and you must not fear him.
When HaShem your Lord excises the nations in the land that HaShem your Lord is giving you, so that you can occupy it and live in their cities and houses, you must separate three cities in the land which HaShem your Lord is giving you to occupy. Establish yourself a road, and divide the land area that HaShem your Lord is allotting you into three parts. The cities in each of these parts shall be places where a murderer can find refuge. The murderer who seeks refuge in these cities shall be allowed to live if he accidentally killed his neighbor, without prior hatred. Thus for example, one may join his friend in the forest to cut wood, and as his hand swings the axe to cut the wood, the head slips off the handle, striking the friend and killing him. In such a case, the accidental killer shall find refuge in one of these cities and live. If the journey were too far, however, the blood avenger would be able to pursue the killer in hot anger and catch up to him. He could then kill him, even though the killer did not previously hate his victim, and therefore could not lawfully be put to death. It is for this reason that I am commanding you to separate three cities. HaShem will eventually expand your borders, as He swore to your fathers, and He will give you all the territory that He promised them. He will do so because you will carefully keep the entire mandate that I am prescribing for you today, loving HaShem your Lord, and constantly walking in all His paths. When your borders are thus expanded you will have to add an additional three cities to the above-mentioned three. Thus, innocent blood will not be spilled in the land which HaShem your Lord is giving you as a heritage. But if you do not do this, then you yourselves will be guilty of murder.
This is what you must do if a person hates his neighbor, and lays a trap for him, doing something to wound him mortally. If the victim then dies and the killer seeks refuge in one of these cities, the elders of his city shall send messengers and take him from there. They shall then place the murderer in the hand of the blood avenger, and he shall die. Do not have pity on the killer. If you rid Israel of those who have shed innocent blood, things will go well for you.
Do not move your neighbor’s boundary marker, which was set in place by the first settlers who were allotted hereditary property in the land that HaShem your Lord is giving you to occupy.
One witness must not testify against a person to inflict any punishment or penalty for a crime that he may have committed. A case must be established through the testimony of at least two or three witnesses. This is what you must do if a corrupt witness acts to testify falsely against a person. Two men who have testimony to refute the false witnesses shall stand before HaShem, before the priests and judges who are involved in that case. The judges shall carefully interrogate the refuting witnesses, and if the first two witnesses are found to have testified falsely against their brother, you must do the same to them as they plotted to do to their brother, thus removing evil from your midst. When the other people hear about this, they will have fear and never again do such an evil thing in your midst. Do not have pity in such a case, since you must take a life for a life, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot.
Preparing for War
When you go to battle against your enemies, and see horses, war chariots and an army larger than yours, do not be afraid of them, since HaShem, who brought you out of Egypt, is with you. When you approach the place of battle, the priest shall step forward and speak to the people. He shall say to them, “Listen, Israel, today you are about to wage war against your enemies. Do not be faint-hearted, do not be afraid, do not panic, and do not break ranks before them. HaShem your Lord is the One who is going with you. He will fight for you against your enemies, and He will deliver you.”
The lower officers shall then speak to the people, and say, “Is there any man among you who has built a new house, and has not begun to live in it? Let him go home, so that he will not die in war and have another man live in it. Is there any man among you who has planted a vineyard and has not redeemed its first crop? Let him go home so that he not die in war and have another man redeem its crop. Is there any man among you who has betrothed a woman and not married her? Let him go home, so that he not die in war and have another man marry her.” The lower officers shall then continue speaking to the people and say, “Is there any man among you who is afraid or faint-hearted? Let him go home rather than have his cowardliness demoralize his brethren.” When the lower offices have finished speaking to the people, then they shall appoint senior officers to lead the people.
When you approach a city to wage war against it, you must propose a peaceful settlement. If the city responds peacefully and opens its gates to you, all the people inside shall become your subjects and serve you. If they reject your peace offer and declare war, you shall lay siege to the city. When HaShem gives it over into your hand, you shall then strike down its adult males by the sword. However, the women, children, animals, and all the goods in the city, you shall take as your spoils. You shall thus consume the spoils that HaShem your Lord gives you from your enemies. That is what you must do to the cities that are very far from you, and which do not belong to the nations that are here. However, when dealing with the cities of these nations, which HaShem your Lord is giving you as hereditary territory, you shall not allow any people to remain alive.
Where the Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizites, Hivites, and Yebusites are involved, you must wipe them out completely, as HaShem your Lord commanded you. This is so that they will not teach you all the revolting practices with which they worship their gods, causing you to sin to HaShem.
Conducting a Siege
When you lay siege to a city and wage war against it a long time to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding an axe against any food producing tree. Do not cut down a tree in the field, unless it is being used by the men who confront you in the siege. However, if you know that a tree does not produce food, then until you have subjugated the city, you may destroy the tree or cut off what you need to build siege machinery against the city waging war with you.
The Unsolved Murder
This is what you must do when a corpse is found fallen in the field in the land that HaShem your Lord is giving you to occupy, and it is not known who the murderer is. Your elders and judges must go out and measure the distance to the cities around the corpse. The elders of the city closest to the corpse must then bring a female calf, which has never been worked, and which has never drawn a load with a yoke.
The elders of the city shall bring the calf to a swiftly flowing stream, the land around which must never be worked or sown. There at the stream, they shall decapitate the calf. The priests from the tribe of Levi shall then come forth. It is these priests whom HaShem has chosen to serve Him and to pronounce blessings in HaShem’s name, and who are entrusted to decide in cases of litigation and leprous signs.
All the elders of the city closest to the corpse shall wash their hands over the decapitated calf at the stream. The elders shall speak up and say, “Our hands have not spilled this blood, and our eyes have not witnessed it.” The priests shall then say, “Forgive Your people, whom You, HaShem, have liberated. Do not allow the guilt for innocent blood to remain with your people Israel.”
The blood shall thus be atoned for. You shall thus rid yourself of the guilt of innocent blood in your midst, since you will have done that which is morally right in HaShem’s eyes.
This is the fourth of seven “Prophecies of Comfort” that are read between the 9th of Av and Rosh Hashanah
The Haftara begins with “I am He who comforts you …” HaShem assures Israel that they will soon be redeemed and back in the land of Israel.
- Forty-Eighth of 54 Sedras in the Torah
- Written on 192 lines in the Sefer Torah
- 97 P’sukim (verses)
- 1,523 words
- 5,590 letters
Next week’s Parashat: Ki Titze