Elul: Double Time
This week's parasha focuses on how we, the children of Israel become a community, learn how to treat one another and also how to protect ourselves, by appointing judges and watch-officers at the gates of our settlements. When read in conjunction with the haftarah reading, Isaiah, how appropriate it is that these words fall at the beginning of the month of Elul, a time for introspection and outward acts of teshuva to other people.
The parasha begins:
"You shall appoint judges and watch-officers for your tribes, in all the settlements that YHWH your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that YHWH your God is giving you.
Your Shoftim Navigator
1. What is the purpose of appointing watchers and judges over the community? Who are they guarding? From what or from whom?
2. In the verse, "Justice, justice shall you pursue" why is the word "justice" repeated?
3. How can these words, which are meant for a community, be applied to the individual?
On this fourth Shabbat after Tisha B'Av we read the fourth prophecy out of seven weeks of consolation between Tisha B'Av and Rosh Hashanah. In this week's haftarah portion, Isaiah comforts the children of Israel, who are in the midst of exile and are suffering. Isaiah's message to us is that our troubles will end. Therefore, we must prepare ourselves spiritually to go back to our homeland Zion. Interestingly, in addition to the doubled word "justice, justice" in our parasha, we find four more examples of word-doubling in the Haftarah.
(51:1) I, I am the One who comforts you: what is wrong with you, that you are afraid of mortals, of human beings who become like grass...
(51:12) Rouse yourself, rouse yourself, rise up, Jerusalem, you have drunk from the Eternal's hand the cup of wrath, and drained to the dregs the bowl that made you stagger...
(52:1) Awake, awake! Clothe yourself in strength, O Zion; array yourself in robes of splendor...
(52:11) Depart, depart! Go out from there! Touch nothing impure; go out from her midst...
Your Haftarah Navigator
1. What is the significance of the word repetitions in Isaiah?
2. Are the words themselves significant? Several of these words are imperatives, commands-- why?
3. Are these commands for the individual or the community or both? Why?
4. If these commands are all a part of bringing ourselves out of exile and into our homeland, how do we make the connection between these instructions and the days of Elul?
Shoftim is the first parasha of the Hebrew month of Elul, the days we spend looking inside ourselves and repairing our actions prior to Yom Kippur. Elul is a time for doing acts of teshuva, of turning ourselves around, taking another look at ourselves, and making amends with the people in our life. Elul can be a month of reflection, in which we act as our own judges, taking care of our "gates," i.e., what we let in and out of our lives.
Moses spoke these words to the whole community of the children of Israel. And yet, he spoke them to each individual as well. Perhaps this is why words are doubled in our text this week. To remind us that even as we mend our ways as individuals, we know that Jewish people everywhere are doing the same.
We Jews live a complicated life during Elul. We simultaneously look back at the past year, anticipate the coming year, and focus on the present tense, connecting to the people in our lives who mean something to us. Perhaps this is why words are doubled in our text this week. To remind us once to look ahead and back, and once to remain in the present tense, to focus on watching and judging ourselves seriously. Taking a second chance at mending the holes in our lives.
As Elul begins, may we double our words. May we think twice about our actions. About what comes in and out of our gates. May Elul be a month of intention for us as we go about repairing our world.
"One who says Torah in the name of the person who said it, hastens the redemption of the world." Megillah 15a
Thank you to Michael Jacobs who showed me the doubled words.
Prepared by Rabbi Andrea Lerner, Midwest Director of Hillel's Joseph Meyerhoff Center for Jewish Learning, University of Wisconsin