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Cities of Sanctuary

Parashat Shoftim  Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz 
Cities of Sanctuary 
‘Tzedek, tzedek tirdof’ – ‘justice, justice you shall pursue’ (Deut. 16:20) is the opening sentiment of Parashat Shoftim. The portion is bookended by ‘v’atah teva’er hadam hanaki mikirbecha ki ta’aseh hayashar bei’einai Adonai’ – ‘So you shall abolish the shedding of innocent blood from among you when you will do what is right in the eyes of the Eternal.’ (21:9) The first clause discusses the impartial rule of law: you shall not take bribes or show favouritism to the privileged, ‘lo takir panim v’lo tikach shochad’, words that echo through our liturgy. On the back of this statement, the Torah rousingly calls us to pursue justice, emphasising the word justice twice. 
Rashi, ever the pragmatist, explains that this refers to establishing just and efficient courts of law. The last clause comes from the end of the parashah which describes the weird ritual of the ‘eglah arufah’, the ‘broken-necked calf’—where if an unsolved murde…