Living in the Kingdom
This portion is all about the principles of government in Israel, how to rule yourselves. In Devarim 16 we are told to appoint judges and officers in our gates/towns. The portion also includes the crucial section on ‘a better prophet’ and how/when/if a king is to be appointed. It teaches us about justice and righteousness, the need for witnesses who are unbiased and truly neutral, how evidence needs to be collected and assessed, who may do the judging and its implications for submitting to the rulings handed down. This was a recipe to avoid anarchy in the Land; Torah needs to be interpreted to the people and applied if it is going to bring Life! Without the rule of Law there would never be justice and anarchy would prevail.
The role of the king in Israel, mentioned in the middle of this passage, is enigmatic and some would say controversial. Why put it here? It feels out of place, disrupting the flow. Some say Moshe didn’t see a real reason for having a king, so he placed the section here which was as good as anywhere! I don’t think so. This ‘kingly’ passage actually draws the whole piece together. This portion defines justice and who may administer it. The priests had their part to play, but the King too.
Many have misunderstood the Kingdom of G-d. Yeshua Mashichaynu told us to pray ‘Your Kingdom come’ not take me to your kingdom. We should be active in making room for the Kingdom now, here, firstly in Israel as the actual basic core focus of the Kingdom and its borders, but also reaching the influence of that Kingdom far beyond its borders. The Talmidim in the book of Acts were concerned about when the Kingdom would be restored to Israel. One thing is for sure: the Kingdom of G-d is not in Heaven (alone). Mashiach was far more interested in seeing the Kingdom and the rule of its King established on earth. His comments that the Kingdom is ‘within you’ have sadly been misconstrued. The Kingdom has never resided in the hearts of man. The Torah, the constitution of Heaven, is written there, but His Kingdom resides outside. It is of no use if the Kingdom merely operates in our hearts, it has to impact outside of us too. Yeshua meant that with Him standing there in front of them, the Kingdom was truly in their midst (a much better translation). He was and is King of Israel and therefore rules in the Kingdom. That is why Yeshua says in Matt 6:25-34 (verse 33) seek first the Kingdom and righteousness. He wasn’t saying search your hearts! This passage makes it clear too that Kingship and righteousness belong together just as Yeshua said. But only with Him as King!
In the Kingdom justice and righteousness work together. The priests and those appointed would judge Israel using the Torah as the guide book, the book of Law. We must follow after His justice. Devarim 16:20 is the key verse for us, in Hebrew it says ‘Justice Justice follow after it. The Hebrew is strong, not just follow but ACTIVELY pursue it. Torah justice and righteousness is NOT just going to come to you, that’s a sign of our society, bring it to me, feed me. Torah says SEEK IT OUT. It doesn’t come naturally to us. If we don’t pursue what is right and just and true we shall not find it. If we don’t seek, we won’t find. It’s a very simple equation. G-d rewards those who dig deeper and actively pursue Him, He looks for our response. We live in a laid back society where we have forgotten how to single-mindedly pursue something, and TWICE in this portion G-d says ‘not to the left or the right’ the road is narrow and straight. Things will try and tie us up to take our eyes off what is true, just and right, we have to train our hearts and minds to pursue G-d wholeheartedly.
The Kingdom is based on us living in the rulership of our King Messiah, Yeshua. It will also return to a geographical reality too in the future. In His rule there is justice and righteousness, because He is just and righteous. But we need to pursue wholeheartedly this Kingdom, only those who push in will truly see it.
Parashat Shoftim – Rabbi Binyamin