Shoftim 3

D'var Torah by Rabbi Jay Spero


Establishing G-d's Law

Parshas Shoftim

Contact Rabbi Spero at 862-9546 or


“If a matter of judgement is hidden from you, between blood and blood, between verdict and verdict, between plague and plague, matters of dispute in your cities — you shall rise up and ascend to the place that G-d shall choose. You shall come to the Kohanim (priests), Levites and to the judge who will be in those days, you shall inquire and they will tell you the word of judgement. You shall do according to the word that they tell you, from that place that G-d will choose, and you will be careful to do according to everything that they will teach you… you will not deviate from the word that they will tell you, neither right or left” (Deut.17:8-11). 

What are the implications of this paragraph?

We learn from this the commandment to establish a court of law. Inevitably, questions will arise among the Jewish people. It is therefore incumbent upon us to have a court to settle these questions.

But there is an obvious problem.  The Torah is the word of G-d.  How can mere mortals establish G-d’s law?

Furthermore, in the ancient times there was a Sanhedrin, a ruling body of seventy-one sages. For the most part, the Sanhedrin existed mostly at a time when there was prophecy (prophecy ended with the destruction of the first temple, while the Sanhedrin lasted till a bit after the second temple was destroyed), and even when prophecy ceased, they still had the ability to give ordination, a process which had continued uninterrupted from the time of Moshe. Not long after the destruction of the second temple, this ability to give ordination ceased. Do these verses apply even today, when there is no Sanhedrin?

The Talmud (Tractate Shabbos 23a ) asks, when we make a blessing on the Chanuka candles, why do we say “G-d, Who has commanded us to light the candles,” when the miracle of Chanuka is not written in the Torah, but took place a thousand years later?

Rabbi Aviya answers from the verse, “you shall not deviate from the word they tell you, neither left or right.” The Rabbis of that time instituted the obligation to light candles; it is therefore as if it was commanded by G-d Himself.

G-d gave the Torah to human beings, it is not in the Heavens (Deut 30:12; Shabbos 88b, Bava Metzia 59a). And it is precisely human beings who must apply the Torah to each generation.

And although we no longer have the means to perform ordination, we do have rules regarding what we do when we have questions. And because of our status we may not contradict any final ruling of the Talmud (Megillah 2b; this is in fact true relating changing any law that had been set by a court of greater number or qualification).

The Talmud teaches us (Rosh Hashanah 25a) that the phrase “the judge who will be in those days” refers to the leaders of every generation. The Chinuch writes that the commandment to not deviate from the leaders applies in every generation. And we see in practice that throughout every generation G-d has given us leaders to make these halachic distinctions (obviously only referring to decisions that were made by following the halachic process). And though there may be disagreements, the area of disagreement is small, and the integrity of the Torah is never breached. 

This is the reason that we have been able to keep the vibrancy of the Torah for over three thousand years, and groups who do not follow these dictates inevitably do not last.

Rabbi Jay Spero is the rabbi of the Saranac Synagogue in Buffalo.

Home ] Up ]