As we approach Parashat Shof’tim, we find ourselves in the middle. Of the 10 Shabbat Torah portions in Deuteronomy, Shof’tim is number five. According to the quinate structure of Deuteronomy outlined in The Torah: A Modern Commentary, revised edition (p. 1,411), Parashat Shof’tim is included in the third section — the middle section.
The dramas of political power and legal authority are mesmerizing. From the creation of the first civil society to today, there is no shortage of debate about how an ideal society should function. Parashat Shof'tim outlines a mulit-tiered system for the Israelites' political system that includes judges, kings, priests, and prophets.
In Parashat Shof'tim the people are told that they are free to set a king over themselves. But does the Torah command us to set over ourselves a king? And is a monarchy the best and most just form of government?
Our parashah this week raises a very interesting question about prophets and prophecy. It also raises an important issue about how to relate to other forms of monotheism. In Deuteronomy 18 God speaks to Moses about the people of Israel with these words: "I will raise up for them from among their own people a prophet like yourself, in whose mouth I will put My words and who will speak to them all that I command; and anybody who fails to heed the words [the prophet] speaks in My name, I Myself will call to account" (Deuteronomy 18:18-19).