“Shoftim v’shortrim titen lecha”
“And you shall appoint judges and guards for yourselves throughout the Land and they shall judge the Nation with justice.”
We are not simply to appoint judges but rather to appoint judges FOR OURSELVES. The Kli Yakar commentator suggests we are commanded to draw ourselves to introspection and self evaluation. Our sages understand the use of this reflexive text as if it said “before you ensure that there are judges for OTHERS make sure that you judge YOURSELF (Tractate Sanhedrin as per Rbi J. Epstein).
Shabbat Shoftim (August 22) initiates the period of time between Rosh Chodesh Elul (the first of the Hebrew month of Elul, beginning this year at sundown, August 19) and Yom Kippur. During this time, we traditionally try to deal with atonement and teshuvah. Our sages teach that every parashat during this time period deals with the battle between the physical soul (the yatzer hara) and the spiritual soul (the yatzer hatov).
In Shoftim, the battle takes place over bribes – a shochad, and not a literal one but a symbolic one, where our physical soul, our Yatzer Hara, tries to make a deal with our spirit. We are warned to accept no bribe, for if we accept a bribe, planning to judge fairly, it is impossible for our judgment not to be swayed. “v’lo tekach shochad (Rashi).” Hashem is not just talking to judges; He is asking us to reject the bribe and thereby elevate the G-dly soul above the physical. Such seeking of justice shall seal us with life, and the Maharal from Prague suggests that those who pervert justice will certainly die.
And our reward for appointing judges, seeking justice and rejecting bribery? “yayarashata et Ha’eretz asher adoshem notane lach”
“We may live and possess the Land that Hashem gives us…” (Deut 16:20).