Rabbi Feingold's D'var Torah

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A list of blessings and curses greets us in the middle of Ki Tavo.  They are to be pronounced after the Israelites settle the Land of Israel, which they will soon settle.  Among the curses, we find:  “Cursed be the one who subverts the rights of the “ger.”  The word “ger” is often translated as “stranger,” but a better translation is “sojourner” or “newcomer” or “one who dwells with you.”  The root of this word means “dwell.”  The people whose rights we are commanded to uphold are those such as immigrants and temporary workers in our midst.  The 800,000 “Dreamers,” young immigrants who received temporary legal status (through DACA) in the United States, are in this category.  This week the Administration announced that DACA is to be ended.  Will Congress act to protect those affected?  As Jews, it is imperative that we make our voices heard so that the “Dreamers” rights are not overturned.

Generally the Torah provides great comfort and deep insight, but occasionally we come upon a passage that really challenges us.  In Ki Teitzei, we find the law of the “wayward and defiant son,” who does not listen to his parents and is also a glutton and a drunkard. The son is taken to the elders of the town and stoned to death in public.  (Deut 21: 18-21) The Talmudic sages assure us that capital punishment was never actually carried out in ancient Israel or after (Sanhedrin 71a).   Still, we gasp at the content of this passage!  All parents can relate to the child who does not listen, and anyone who has struggled with an eating disorder or substance abuse surely can empathize with the child and/or parents in this parasha.  Thank goodness, our culture has evolved to a point where we treat such issues more humanely and sensitively.  

This week’s Torah portion is called “Shoftim.”  The word “shoftim” means “judges,” and this is the very first word of the parasha.  Moses is instructed to appoint judges and magistrates to settle matters between the people, giving over his own role and that of the elders he previously appointed, to a professional class of judges for the new era of settlement in the Land of Israel.  During the past year, I have considered the role of judges in our society more than ever as our son, Jonathan, has served as a judicial clerk in two federal courts.  How wise is our system of courts and judges and the legal system that undergirds them.  How complicated are the subjects they must consider.  How careful and precise is the work they undertake.  As early as Deuteronomy, our ancestors understood that the work of administering justice ought to be handled by professionals who have the skill and knowledge to judge the people with “mishpat tzedek,” “righteous judgment.”  (Deut. 16:18)

May FOOD OF THE MONTH: canned or dried beans

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