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Some are Guilty, All are Responsible

Sermon Parashat Shoftim Rabbi Esther Hugenholtz
Some are Guilty, All are Responsible
How many of you is a fan of the ‘whodunit’ crime-solving genre? Just think about your favorite novel series or TV show. We’re going to look at this very odd passage from the Torah - because the strange passages can teach us so much. Toward the end of parashat Shoftim, we find a very curious set of verses in Deut. 21:1-9 dealing with the eglat arufah, the ‘broken-necked cow’. Like in every good murder mystery, the mystery of the eglat arufah relies on three key elements: means, motive and opportunity.
In this case, the Torah provides us with an unsolvable crime. What’s going on here? At this point in the Torah’s narrative, the land is settled by Israelite towns and villages and we have an operational judiciary system (which is the theme of the entire parashah!) Between those settlements of this nascent nation, an anonymous dead body is found. We don’t know who killed him or her. We don’t know why. We k…