This week, we are honored to have a guest contributor, Michael Hein. His thoughts carry a crucial and central message at this juncture of history, and the strength of their argument speaks for itself:
This week's parsha - Shoftim - gets me into more trouble, er, I mean is one of the most emotionally and philosophically moving of all parshiot. Commentary on it is endless. At its end are the particulars of the Egla Arufa.
Midrashically, it is said that the particulars of the ceremony (taking place exactly on the border of two towns, the breaking of the neck of the calf so that blood spills onto the ground, etc.) represents (one among many interpretations) the idea that in our communities, the level of decency and law-abiding-ness was lax enough to allow a murderer to exist and commit his crime; that the spiritual air of the place(s) was not “clear” enough to fill the lungs of such a person to dissuade him from his heinous act; that the society charged with rearing him, and giving him his middos (or if a traveler – hosting him) failed to inculcate by example an appreciation of and respect for Torah and Mitzvos, for the sanctity of life, or, at it's barest minimum, for following the rule of Law. And for that deficiency, teshuva is in order.
But why the forced declaration of the leadership of the involved towns? Why must expiation be made for the residents, almost all of whom, could not possibly have anything to do with the physical act of the actual murder?
The answer, of course, lies in another phrase - Kol Yisroel Arevim Zeh ba Zeh (Every member of Israel is responsible for each other). It is a weighty philosophic concept - truly an Ol Malchus Shemayim - or, it is just lip service.
Parshas Shoftim assures us that if we truly believe in the ambient morality of the klal (community), of the spiritual purity of the air we breathe, of the accountability each has to the other in society; then the upward delegation of the responsibility for monitoring the lawfulness of society to interested (or advantaged) community members (more specifically the abdication of one's responsibility to such members); the free reign given to men in positions of great power and realm without accountability and oversight; surely condemns all of us to the eventual necessity of having to stand at the border of "two towns", in a ditch, with a bloody knife literally in the hands of those very unexamined leaders, as pennance, bewailing the occurrence of terrible crimes, (billions in theft, money laundering, assault, battery, bribery, extortion, domestic abuse, arson, pederasty, etc.), the crowd seemingly "not understanding where such guilt could possibly come from"; aware of our defilement, pleading for catharsis, yet not being willing to open our eyes to the very source of our contamination staring at us in the mirror.