Parsha Nugget Shoftim – Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9

In our society, our bodies belong to ourselves.  Indeed many people believe they may do anything to themselves they want as long as it doesn't hurt other people.  It sounds logical.  After all, my body and me are one and the same.  Yet if you examine G-d’s perspective on this issue, in Parshas Shoftim, you'll reach a different conclusion:

“By the mouth of two witnesses or three witnesses will he be put to death; he will not be put to death by the mouth of one witness” (Deuteronomy/Devarim 17:6)

What Your Body Has in Common with Fort Knox

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This week’s parsha reviews the commandment to establish courts and how to handle certain crucial types of cases. Next, it covers how to appoint a King, the gifts for the Priests, and how to tell if someone is really a prophet.  Then it explains how to set up cities of refuge, how the Israelites will conduct war, and what to do about an unsolved murder.

The Torah has many teachings about how to use your body.  For example, you should be careful about the food you eat.  Though they seem incomprehensible at times, the dietary laws, such as not eating blood or milk and meat together, take care of your body and soul.  Dressing modestly and not behaving promiscuously also protect your body and soul.  You may not brand, tattoo, or disfigure your body.  These show G-d cares about how you use your body.

But what gives Him the right? After all, it's your body!

Well, G-d created the world and everything in it.  So He gets to make the rules about how people use His creation.  Not satisfied?  Fair enough.  Let's delve more deeply.

G-d put His creation in human hands to manage as pretty much as we please.  For example, the money you earn for honest work is yours.  You must give tithes and devote a meaningful portion of it to making nice Sabbath and holiday celebrations for our families.  But, you decide what to do with the majority of your money.  Such is the case with all of your material possessions.

Well, if your material possessions belong to you, all the more so your body, right?  Wrong.

Your Body, the Vessel of Your Spiritual Essence, is Divine Property. Forever.

G-d lends your body to you to use during your lifetime.  Upon death you must return it to the Creator, reasonable wear and tear excepted.  The Torah is your owner’s manual, giving you detailed maintenance instructions and defining what constitutes reasonable wear and tear.

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How do we know G-d distinguishes between our material possessions and our bodies?  In the above verse we see that two or three witnesses are required for someone to receive the death penalty.   Maimonides says that this prevents a person from testifying against himself, especially since this may be a cunning way of committing suicide.  A person who claims to have murdered someone, against whom there are no witnesses, cannot be convicted of murder.

By contrast, a confession to a monetary transgression is considered the most certain proof possible in a dealing with such a case.  The Talmud states that such an “admission by a litigant is like the testimony of a hundred witnesses.”

These two standards demonstrate that G-d values the human body most highly of all of His creations.  That He will not permit its destruction by self-testimony verifies that you do not own your body.  It remains G-d’s property.  It may be destroyed only by a special legal process, one very rarely applied.  This explains why so many of the Torah’s teachings focus on how you may use your body.

As diligently as the guards at Fort Knox, you are entrusted with protecting your body’s sanctity as a fitting receptacle for the spark of the Divine within you.

How do you maintain your body as a vessel of holiness?

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Every year beginning on Simchas Torah, the cycle of reading the Torah, the first five books of the Bible, ends and begins again. Each Sabbath a portion known as a sedra or parsha is read. Its name comes from the first significant word or two with which this weekly reading begins.

Do you have a question about the Old Testament? Ask it here and I will answer it in a future Parsha Nugget!

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