Tag Archives: Half-Shekel

Judges, Courts, and Wars (P#171-193)

Read the full text here. 

A real half-shekel coin from the Second Temple era unearthed in Jerusalem.

Summary: Mitzvah #171 is to donate a yearly half-shekel to the Temple. Then we have the mitzvah of listening to legitimate prophets (172), appointing a king (173), listening to the Sanhedrin (174), and for the Sanhedrin to operate by majority rule (175). While the Sanhedrin was the “supreme court” in Jerusalem, every Jewish community is required to appoint local judges and officers (176), and every judge must treat litigants equally (177). Then come three more mitzvot regarding courts: to go and testify if one is a valid witness (178), to cross-examine witnesses thoroughly so that justice can be served properly (179), and to punish false witnesses (180). The next mitzvah is the eglah arufa, followed by establishing the six “cities of refuge”.  Related to the latter is establishing cities for the Levites to dwell in (183). Mitzvah #184 is to construct safety rails on rooftops so that none should fall and get injured. The next set is all about exterminating idolatry: destroying false idols (185), destroying heretical cities that have fallen to idolatry (186), to destroy the sinful Canaanites nations (187), as well as Amalek, the arch-enemy of Israel (188). There is a separate mitzvah to remember all the evil that Amalek has done to Israel (189). The last of the set involves various commands related to war. First is to follow the appropriate rules associated with a war that is voluntary (190), ie. a war required for political reasons and not a holy war commanded by God. Then comes the mitzvah to anoint and appoint a kohen to lead the Jewish army into battle and inspire them to fight valiantly (the kohen himself does not battle, since kohanim cannot be defiled by death). Mitzvot #192 and 193 ensure cleanliness in the military camp by designating a place to serve as a latrine and for each soldier to have a shovel to bury their waste.

Insight: Currently, in the absence of a Sanhedrin, a number of the mitzvot above are unable to be fulfilled. Then there is a mitzvah that has already been fulfilled for good and can never be fulfilled again: destroying the seven Canaanite nations. Most of this work was done by Joshua and the Israelites upon their entry into the Holy Land following the Exodus and the forty-year period in the Wilderness. The Canaanite nations persisted for some time afterwards, but have since disappeared entirely from the face of the Earth. It is important to note that the Canaanites were not innocent victims. They had become grotesquely sinful, and God specifically waited until their sin was great enough to justify their destruction (see Genesis 15:16). The nation of Amalek, too, no longer exists. However, the spirit of Amalek continues to infect the world, and rears its ugly head at various times and places in history.