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The Name of the Parsha

At the beginning of our Parsha there is a command to, “appoint judges (shoftim) and police-officers (shotrim) for yourself.”

The Midrash stresses the need for both of these roles: “Without the policeman, there is no judge. For if the court finds a person guilty, once he leaves (the courtroom) the judge is powerless unless the policeman takes control” (Tanchuma, Shoftim, 2).

Why then is the Parsha simply called “judges,” without any reference to the police, if, “without the policeman, there is no judge”?

In his prophecy of the Messianic Era, Isaiah mentions judges, but not police: “I will restore your judges as they were at first, and your advisers as they were in the beginning” (Isaiah l:26). This is because the Messianic Era will witness the disappearance of evil and selfishness (see Zechariah 13:2), so there will be no need for policemen who force people to be righteous. However, there will remain a requirement for judges who will pass laws, study Torah, and provide practical direction to the Jewish people in matters of Torah and its commandments.

Thus in truth, policemen are secondary assistants to the judges. Only in a case where the judge is incapable of enforcing justice, must one resort to policemen, who work with the “stick and the whip,” forcing the guilty party to accept the judge’s decision.

Therefore, our Parsha is simple entitled “Judges,” as the appointment of policemen is not a separate commandment, but a subcategory within the command to appoint judges. Policemen are not an intrinsic legal necessity, and in a time when people are respectful, such as the Messianic Era, they will be rendered redundant.

However, since all aspects of Torah are eternal, there will be a role for police even after the Redemption, only then it will be a positive one – to announce and make public the affairs of the judges and to assist the people in fulfilling the directives of the courts.

(Based on Sichas Shabbos Parshas Shoftim 5751)



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