The New Shul

Parshat Shoftim

This week’s parashah, Shoftim, describes a ritual that was practiced in ancient Israel in the event of an unsolved murder. The elders of the town nearest the place where the body was found would go out to a stream (a place of cleansing) and offer a sacrifice. Then they would make a formal declaration: “Our hands did not shed this blood [of the murder victim] nor did our eyes see it,” and they would ask God not to hold them responsible for the crime.

The sages of the Talmud were puzzled by this. Why did the elders of the town need to disclaim responsibility for a crime that no one would have accused them of committing in the first place?

The sages explained that, when the elders declared, “Our hands did not shed this blood,” what they were really saying was that they had not, even passively, contributed to the victim’s death. They had not ignored pleas by the victim for shelter or support. They had not declined to “get involved.”

The Talmud’s point is that, in the face of evil, we are liable not only for what we do, but for what we fail to do. As Edmund Burke said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good [people] to do nothing.” In times of urgency, passivity is not a moral option.

Tomorrow is the first day of the month of Elul, the month of introspection and teshuvah. Elul is a time to reflect not only on what we have done wrong in the past year, but also on what we have not done right, on our failures to stand up for our principles when we might have made a difference. May this month be a time of growth and renewal for all of us, as we make our way to the new year.

  • The New Shul is closed for now due to the Covid-19 crisis. In the mean time, all are welcome to participate in our on-line classes and  events, including Kabbalat Shabbat on Friday afternoons, Havdalah on Saturday nights, daily text study in lieu of kaddish, and weekday classes on the parashah of the week and topics from the Talmud. Please contact us for further information and the Zoom link.
  • On Thursday September 3 at 9 am, our community will celebrate the bar mitzvah of Benjamin Karp. The minyan will be strictly limited in number due to the pandemic, but all are welcome to participate by Zoom. Contact us for the link.
  • For a schedule of our programs and events on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, please see our website.