Wisdom of War, Peace, Law and Justice in the Synagogue


Chabad SOLA is the synagogue where I attend services; a place where the treasure of wisdom can be found. I often come home with a story going around in my head, springing either from the Biblical writing or Rabbi Zajac’s weekly Parsha or his Saturday morning sermon.

On Saturday morning, this week, the only difference from usual is that I felt the need to share some of what I heard.

This week Jews read the book of Deuteronomy, and the subject of this is Judges (Parasaht Shoftim). So the stories are about judges and law enforcers, law and justice.

judgement hammer
Judge’s gavel

Law Enforcers: The Rabbi’s Sermon Story

A lawyer walks his dog but the dog is not in a leash. As they pass by a butcher shop, the dog makes his way into the shop, grabs a piece of steak and eats it. The dog’s owner walks into the shop looking for his dog and is confronted by the shop owner who seems to be very upset. The shop owner approaches the dog owner, the lawyer, and says, “I need to consult you, what is the law pertaining to a dog, not on a leash, that entered a meat shop, grabs a steak and eats it?”

The dog owner replies: “The owner has to pay for it.”

The butcher: “Good, then you owe me $18.50.”

The dog owner takes out the required cash and pays the butcher for the steak his dog grabbed and ate.

A week later the butcher received a bill for legal consultation…

Book of Deuteronomy, Chapter 17:18

[18] You shall assign judges and law enforcers in all your gates, which, G-d, the Lord, gives you, to your tribes; and they will judge the people by righteous justice.

What does it mean righteous justice? Is Tzedek-Justice, is also tzdakah, meaning charity?

Judge for yourself (from the Rabbi’s sermon):

An old woman was caught stealing bread from a neighborhood shop. She was brought in front of a judge and in her defense, she claimed that she stole the bread for her two hungry grandchildren, otherwise, they would have starved to death. Their mother, her daughter, abandoned them, and being poor, she was unable to buy the bread. The judge was facing a dilemma, justice or forgiveness under the circumstances.

The shop keeper claimed that his shop is in a poor neighborhood and he wanted justice under the law, because, if not, then others will think it is all right to steal and expect no punishment, rather, they might steal with impunity. Yet, there is this poor woman who has difficult circumstances and mercy entered the equation of justice.

What transpired in the court room was a combination of justice and charity. According to the law, such a crime is punishable with ten dollars fine, and the judge fined the woman ten dollars. In the court room was sitting the mayor of the town. He got up and in front of everyone he took ten dollars out of his pocket and gave it to the woman to pay her fine. He then faced the people attending the trial and said: I fine each and everyone in this room fifty cents for allowing an old and poor woman to get to the point of having to steal to feed her grandchildren. Everyone paid his/her share and the shopkeeper donated fifty cents, for his share. They raised enough money for several loaves of bread.

The moral of this story is fairly clear: unity and help the poor, one of the laws of Judaism.

And then in the same breath of judgment, in between the lines of Deuteronomy, subject/affair: Judges reading, we read about preparations for a war, how God instructed His children to defend themselves, with no political correctness, and inebriating laws, good instructions for the government of Israel to adopt fast:

[20] 1 If you go out to war against your enemies, and see a horse and chariot, a people (which appears to be) more numerous that you – you should not be afraid of them! For God is with you, your God Who brought you out of the land of Egypt:

2 Then, when you (have left your land and) are close to the battle, the (especially anointed) priest should approach and speak to the people:

3 he should say to them, “Hear, O Israel! Today you are coming close to the battle against your enemies. Do not let your hearts become faint, do be afraid, do not panic and do not be terrified of them:

4 For God, your God, is going with you, to fight your enemies for you (and) to save you.”

10 If you approach a city to wage war against it, you should (first) make a peaceful proposal to it.

11 What will happen is: if it responds to you peacefully, and it opens (its gates) up to you, then all the people found in it should give you a (monetary) tribute, and serve you:

12 But if it does not make peace with you, it will (eventually) wage war against you. So you should besiege it,

13 and God, your God, will (eventually) deliver it into your hands. You should strike down all its males by the sword,

14 but you may take for yourself the women, the children, the livestock, and everything that is in the city, all its spoils. You should eat the spoils of your enemies, which God, your God, has given you.

15 That is what you should do to all the cities that are very far from you, which are not among the cities of these (local) nations.

16 But from these (local) people’s cities, which God, your God, is giving you as an inheritance, you may not allow any soul to live.

17 Rather, you should utterly destroy them – the Chitites, the Amorites, the Cana’anites, and the Perizites, the Chivites, and the Jebusites – as God, your God, has commanded you,

18 so that they will not teach you to copy all their abominable acts that they have performed for their gods, causing you to sin against God, your God.

Here is one other instructive lesson to learn: Judaism is one continuous life-lesson, full of wisdom and advice that is worthwhile taking heed of.

During the 2006 second Lebanon War, Nurit Greenger, referenced then as the “Accidental Reporter” felt compelled to become an activist. Being an ‘out-of-the-box thinker, Nurit is a passionately committed advocate for Jews, Israel, the United States, and the Free World in general. From Southern California, Nurit serves as a “one-woman Hasbarah army” for Israel who believes that if you stand for nothing, you will fall for anything.