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Parshat Shoftim - Questions for Self Study

Part I: Questions for the 'Shabbos Table'
Part II: Questions for Preparation (for weekly shiur)
Part III: Parshanut

Part I: Questions for the 'Shabbos Table'
1. Note from 17:8-9 that it appears that the Kohanim and Leviim serve as judges as well as officiants in the Bet Ha'Mikdash. Can you explain the logic behind this?
The tribe of Levi did not receive its own "nachala" (inheritance), instead, the received cities scattered throughout the country, and a steady income based on ten percent of everyone else's gross income (i.e. "maaser rishon"). In your opinion, what does the Torah expect the Leviim to do with their spare time? [How often did any individual Levite (or Kohen) work in the Bet Ha'Mikdash? See Devarim 18:1-8 as well as I Divrei Ha'yamim chapters 23 thru 26!]
In regard to the responsibilities of Shevet Levi, see also Devarim 33:10 and II Divrei Ha'yamim 35:3.

2. Parshat Shoftim opens with a command to appoint judges 'in all your gates' ["sha'arecha"].
Does the Torah mean 'gates' literally?
If so, why do the gates of the city have to do with judges? If not, why does the Torah used the word 'gates'?
Where else in Tanach do we find 'gates' in connection to actions which require a legal court?
[See e.g. Breishit 23:10,18 & 34:24; Devarim 21:19; 22:24; 22:15; Rut 4:1-11; and II Shmuel 15:2.]
Review Breishit 19:1 in regard to Lot sitting at the gate of the city. Note Rashi's commentary on this! Can you explain why?
See also Shmot 32:26 in regard to chet ha'egel.

3. Can the word "sha'ar" also have a more general meaning?
Relate (for example) to Devarim 14:21,28,29 15:22; & 16:14. Which meaning of the word "sha'ar" fits more closely to its use in 16:18 (the examples in question #1 or in question #3)?
[Likewise, note the word "sha'ar" in Zecharya 8:16!]

4. Relate your answers to the above questions to the manner in which ancient cities were built, i.e. to the function of the gate in those walled cities.
Where did most of the people live (inside the walled city or outside of it)? Who did live within the city wall?
What daily activities usually took place near the city gate? Why?
What area in the city was usually used for the market place?
Who would the people in the market area go to should a dispute arise?

5. If you have any books at home on archeology in Israel, look at the pictures of the city gates from the first Temple period uncovered in either Chatzor, Megido, Lachish, Yerushalayim, etc.
Can you find an suitable area within the gate where the "shoftim" could judge the people?
Relate you answer to the above questions.

Part II: Questions for Preparation (for weekly shiur)
1. Scan from chapter 12 thru chapter 21 (i.e. Parshiot Re'ay & Shoftim) and attempt to follow the thematic flow of the parshiot, organizing them into several general groups.
[If you need help - note the group of parshiot which deal with "ha'makom asher yivchar Hashem [last week's shiur], the parshiot which deal with the shmita cycle and chagim cycle, the parshiot which deal with various types of leadership, and the parshiot which deal with going to war. (Just gave away most of the answer, but it is still worthwhile to figure this out on your own!)]

2. Attempt now to relate this thematic flow to the purpose of these mitzvot in the chukim & mishpatim section.
[Relate to the fact that Bnei Yisrael are now preparing to conquer the land and establish a nation.]

3. Identify the different examples of national leadership that are discussed in the first several parshiot of Parshat Shoftim.
Can you define the responsibilities (and need) for each type of leadership?

4. Does the parsha which discusses the 'king' (17:14-20) define what a king can do, or can't do, or both?
Does it explain everything that a king can or should do?
If so, what is that definition?
If not, what else do you think a king is supposed to do?
In your opinion, why then does the Torah focus on one specific commandment, i.e. 17:18-20?

5. In your opinion, what should the ideal relationship between the different types of leaders be?

6. In your opinion, is it necessary for Am Yisrael to have a 'king'? From your understanding of 17:14-20 and its context, does it seem obligatory that Bnei Yisrael appoint a king, or does this mitzvah only apply should Bnei Yisrael voluntarily choose to appoint a king? [See parshanut section below.]

Part III: Parshanut
1. See question 6 above. Based on the context of "parshat ha'melech" (17:14-20) in the chukim & mishpatim section of the main speech of Sefer Devarim, would you say that appointing a king is obligatory ["chova"] or an option ["reshut"]?
[Relate to the word "v'amarta..." in 17:14. Relate also to the opening word "ki" of this parsha. Does it mean 'when' or 'if'? I.e. does it relate to the beginning of the sentence or to the middle of the sentence? See also Devarim 4:25, 6:20, 7:17, 15:7, 19:1, 26:1.]

2. In your opinion, what does the phrase "k'chol ha'goyim" ['like all the nations'/ see 17:14] modify, the type of king or the type of kingdom?
How would this affect your answer to the first question?

3. See Rasag [in Torat Chayim], who comments on 17:15 - "mutar" - it is permitted, but not obligatory. See also Ibn Ezra.
What do you think leads Rasag to this conclusion?
[If you have the time, see the controversy on this issue in Sanhedrin 20b.]

4. See Ramban on 17:14. Note that first he quotes Chazal's opinion [that to appoint a king is a "chova"], and then seems to offer his own opinion [possibly that it is only a "reshut"(?) - read carefully].
Now, note Ramban's explanation of "v'amarta" in his presentation of Chazal's opinion. What problem in "pshat" 'forces' this interpretation? [Is this necessary only if we explain that appointing a king is "chova"?]
What is problematic with the phrase "k'chol ha'goyim"? How does Ramban solve this problem?

5. Read the final section of the Ramban on 17:15 carefully (beginning with "v'al derech ha'pshat amru..."). Note how radical his interpretation of "asher yivchar Hashem" is! Note also how it affects his understanding of "ha'makom asher yivchar Hashem" in chapter 12!!.
In your opinion, does Ramban's understanding of pshat affect this understanding of "nevuah" or visa-versa?!
[Could you relate this approach of Ramban to our understanding of God's "hashgacha" (providence) over historical events in our own era, even though there is "navi" today? (An interesting topic, but for a shiur on "hashkafa", not parshanut.)]

6. See Seforno on 17:14. Relate his pirush to Rasag & Ibn Ezra.
Is his explanation that appointing a king is a "reshut" based primarily on the "pshat" of the psukim, or based primarily on his understanding of the institution of a Kingdom?
Why does Seforno mention the difference between "melech" and "shofet"? According to Seforno, is the "shofet" a more ideal type of leadership? Why does his bring down Bamdibar 27:17?

7. See the Netziv in Ha'amek Davar on Devarim 17:14-20.
How does he solve the problem in pshat of "k'chol ha'goyim"? How does he solve the problem of "reshut" or "chova"?

8. See Rambam Hilchot Melachim 1:1. Note the Rambam holds that appointing a king is "chova". What do you think leads the Rambam to this conclusion.
Note how the final two chapters of Hilchot Melachim discuss "melech ha'Moshiach". Relate this to Rambam's interpretation of the mitzvah to appoint a king as a "chova".