Parshat Shofetim is the 5th in the Book of Deuteronomy spanning chapters 16:18-21:10. It concerns establishing a legal system and judicial infrastructure once Bnei Yisrael entered the Land of Canaan. Part of Moshe’s 2nd discourse to Bnei Yisrael on how to create a viable and just society, it was delivered as they stood on the eastern banks of the Jordan River.
Among the major topics in the parasha are; judging righteously, prosecuting idolaters, appointing a king, looking after the Kohen & Levi, avoiding pagan practices, identifying true from false prophets, setting up cities of refuge for the accidental murderer, the punishment for false testimony, military draft and proper behaviour during war and sieges, and the unsolved murder (Eglah Arufah).
Comment: The Book of Deuteronomy is made-up of 34 chapters. Parshat Shofetim spanning the half-way point, is part of Moshe’s second speech encouraging Bnei Yisrael to be stout-hearted when inheriting the land of Canaan, and to remain faithful to the Almighty once they’d settled-in.
In verse 11:26 of last week’s parasha, Moshe promised ‘a Blessing and a Curse’ to those who adhered to or veered away from G-d’s statutes and commandments. Later in verse 27:11 after 16 chapters of laws (extending across 4 parashot), Moshe returned to that imagery, making Bnei Yisrael accept a public oath on the tops of Mt Gerizim & Mt Ebal.
The thread tying all of these seemingly disparate laws together is the Revelation at Sinai. Looked at closely, much of Deuteronomy is an elaboration of the 10 Commandments in varying forms and iterations. For example, the law establishing Cities of Refuge is an offshoot of the commandment Do Not Murder. The laws about Witnesses derives from the commandment Do Not Bear False Testimony.
For a closer look at the law of Refuted Witnesses or Aidim Zomemim and its relevance today, please see an article that appears in this week’s Jewish News.