Office of the Chief Rabbi

D’var Torah: Parashat Shoftim

In this week’s D’var Torah for Shoftim, the Chief Rabbi explains the importance of sharing good and positive news.

Signposts were erected to save lives. We learn this from Parashat Shoftim, where the Torah presents us with the details of the ‘Arei Miklat’ – Cities of Refuge. Three to the east of the River Jordan and three to the west.

The Torah tells us “Tachin Lecha Haderech – Prepare the way for yourselves.” Which means, according to Rashi, to put up signposts at every intersection showing the way to the City of Refuge.

In the event that somebody was guilty of manslaughter and there was a danger that members of the family of the person who had died, would wish to carry out acts of revenge, then the perpetrator could run to a ‘City of Refuge’.

What I find fascinating is that there is no instruction anywhere in our tradition that signposts were to be put up to Jerusalem. After all, just about everyone went to Jerusalem at least once, probably many times, in their lives – perhaps for the Pilgrim Festivals or to offer various sacrifices. Everybody needed to know how to get to Jerusalem but there were no signposts. Yet for the rare occasion on which a few people might need to go to a City of Refuge, signposts were to be put up at every intersection?

I think the reason is obvious. A person who is running for their life wouldn’t wish to admit to anybody else that they needed to go to the City of Refuge. They needed the signposts.

When it came to Jerusalem however, according to our tradition it was important for people to share the news. To ask for directions and to engage in conversation. People would say, “Why do you need to go Jerusalem?” They would have a chat and one would explain, “I am going for a Pilgrim Festival” or perhaps “Something incredible has happened in my life and I am going to offer a Sacrifice of Thanksgiving” and so on.

You see, it was considered so important for people to hear good news and to be inspired by what others are saying.

This presents us with an important message for our times. Unfortunately, events which are newsworthy are usually, by definition, ‘the exception to the rule’. That means that we often hear all about the negative features of our society. It is so important for people to hear about the positive side.

In the spirit of what happened in ancient times with regard to Jerusalem, we should be spreading positive messages. We should be sharing details of the incredible aspects of life. Parents should be raising their children with stories, with anecdotes, with teachings about everything that is great and glorious. As a result, people will grow up to appreciate how wonderful Hashem’s world actually is.

Let’s get that good news out. There may not have been signposts to Jerusalem but that didn’t stop people talking about it.

Shabbat Shalom


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