Parshat Shoftim Summary

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Parshat Shoftim is the 5th parsha in Sefer Devarim (also known as Deuteronomy).

This parsha is verses Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9, or a total of 97 verses.

Here is a brief summary for each aliyah.

In Parshat Shoftim there are many statements of laws. This summary will not mention every law, but rather I will focus on what seems to be the major topics.

Aliyah 1: Deuteronomy 16:18 – 17:13, 18 verses

Moses teaches the people, who will soon enter the Land of Israel, that they should establish courts. There is to be a system of courts for the cities and the tribes.

The judges are required to judge with righteousness. This may not be easy, so they must “pursue” it.

Idol worship is not to be tolerated. Reports of idol worship must be investigated. If the reports are true, then those who participated should be executed.

It will not always be easy or clear how to rule in certain cases. If the local court cannot decide, the that court should take the case to a more senior court.

Parshat Shoftim US Supreme Court
A postage stamp showing the US Supreme Court building

Aliyah 2: Deuteronomy 17:14 – 17:20, 7 verses

Once the people are settled in the Land, they may request a king to reign over them.

The king must not have too many horses, too many wives, nor too much wealth.

The king is required to constantly learn God’s Torah so that he does not become arrogant and so that he will fear God.

Aliyah 3: Deuteronomy 18:1 – 18:5, 5 verses

The priests, because they are part of the tribe of Levy, will not be given a tribal area in the land of Israel. Instead, they will be given portions of the animal offerings.

From animal offerings they are to be given the front leg, the jaw, and the “keva.” The word “keva” is translated as “maw” which is either one of the stomachs or the belly of the animal.

The priests are also to be given the “first” of the grain, wine, oil, and wool.

Aliyah 4: Deuteronomy 18:6 – 18:13, 8 verses

The first three verses in this reading mention the Levites. However, the commentators point out that what is clearly meant here are the priests, who are part of the tribe of Levi.

A priest may come to Jerusalem to serve in the Temple whenever he wants to. The priests who are serving in the Temple at any one time will share in the portions that are given to the priests.

Again Moses warns the people about to enter the Land of Israel not to learn the ways of the nations they will displace. Those nations practiced various kinds of idolatry and divination. These are forbidden practices to the Jewish nation.

Aliyah 5: Deuteronomy 18:14 – 19:13, 22 verses

Moses tells the people that God will send them prophets. These prophets will be like Moses.

God will tell a prophet what to say and the Jews are required to obey him. Also, the prophet is required to speak when God commands him and to obey his own prophecy.

A false prophet may not be obeyed and should be executed. The sign of a false prophet is one who predicts events that do not happen.

After the people come into the Land of Israel, they are to divide it into 3 sections. Then they are to designate one city in each section as a city of refuge. (In Parshat Vaetchanan Moses already designated 3 cities of refuge in the territory east of the Jordan River.)

The cities of refuge are places where an accidental murderer can find shelter and be protected from the relatives of the person he killed.

an intentional murderer may flee to a city of refuge. If the elders of the city determine that the person intentionally killed his victim, then they remove him from the city of refuge.

Aliyah 6: Deuteronomy 19:14 – 20:9, 17 verses

It is forbidden to move a boundary marker. This is a form of theft.

One witness is not sufficient to convict a Jew of transgressing Jewish law. Two witnesses are required.

It is not permitted to bring false testimony against a person to frame that person for a sin. The judges are required to investigate claims against suspected false witnesses.

If two men are found to be false witnesses, then the court shall punish them. Their punishment is what the person they framed would have received.

The members of the Jewish army should not be afraid before a battle.

A special priest, called the Priest Anointed for Battle, reminds the soldiers not to be afraid. It is God who goes before His army and will fight against the enemy.

After the priest speaks, then officers of the army tell certain soldiers to leave the fighting troops. These are the ones required to leave the front lines:

  • a man who has built a house but not dedicated it
  • a man who has planted a vineyard less than 4 years ago
  • a man who has betrothed a woman but not yet married her
  • a man who is fearful and timid

Aliyah 7: Deuteronomy 20:10 – 21:9, 20 verses

The Jewish army should make a peace offering before attacking a city. If the city accepts, then the people are spared and become servants.

If the city refuses, then it is permitted to start a siege. When God delivers the city to the Jewish people, then the men are to be destroyed. The girls, women, and everything else in the city become the bounty from the battle.

Moses reminds the Jews who are about to enter the Land, that they are to destroy these nations:

  • Hittite
  • Amorite
  • Canaanite
  • Perizzite
  • Hivvite
  • Jebusite

These nations are to be destroyed so that the Jewish people will not follow their idolatrous actions.

We should not destroy a fruit bearing tree. A non-fruit bearing tree may be cut down and used.

If a dead body is found in the Land of Israel, then elders and judges are called to the scene. They measure the distance to the nearby cities. The city closest to the body become responsible for it.

The elders of the nearby city bring a young cow to a valley that has not been sown with crops. They axe the young cow on the back of the neck.

Then the elders wash their hands. They proclaim that they did not shed the blood of the dead person and were not aware of what had happened. They ask God to atone for the the death.

Haftarah Summary

Isaiah 51:12 – 52:12

This haftarah does not relate directly to the parsha. Rather it is one of the seven haftarahs of consolation that are read after Tisha B’Av. All of these haftarahs are taken from Isaiah.

The prophet reminds the Jewish people that God is the Creator and still runs the universe. The exile can end at any time and the Jewish people will ascend to Jerusalem.

Further Reading

Cities of refuge were also discussed in Parshat Masei.