Deuteronomy 16:18 – 21:9

Shoftim defines the status and function of Judges, the King, the Priests, and
the Prophet in Israelite society. The people are commanded to set up Cities of
Refuge where someone who has killed accidentally can find sanctuary.


THE PORTION SHOFTIM TAKES US ON A JOURNEY through the inner landscape — giving us a vision of four aspects of Self that must be discovered, cultivated and refined. To receive the blessings of Shoftim, we must look within and do an accounting of these aspects of Self. As these aspects are acknowledge and honored, we are blessed with a life of consciously growing ourselves in Holiness and Wholeness.


THE FIRST ASPECT comes to us in the symbol of JUDGE, the Administrator of Justice. It represents the Power of Discernment. As we step onto the spiritual path, we learn that a basic and essential component of consciousness is the ability to discern. There are so many voices within that vie for our attention, all of them claiming to be the TRUTH. Our perceptions of Reality are colored by our conditioning, passing moods, hormonal changes, habits… and by the prejudices of the cultures that have shaped us.

In the pursuit of Justice, our Judge-within takes into account all the pushes and pulls of these forces of bribery. In the pursuit of Justice, she balances the powers of Love, Generosity, and Expansiveness, with the powers of Rigor, Limits, and Boundaries, while keeping the eyes of the heart wide open.

We rely on the Judge-within to discern and make audible the subtle voices of wisdom that might otherwise be drowned out by the din of fear, jealousy or habitual patterns of thought. He points us towards those subtle perceptions so that we can make room for their wisdom to be manifested in our lives. In the panoply of inner conversation, the Judge learns to be suspicious of certain voices, and to give absolute trust to others. A keen discernment of the forces of the inner landscape allows us to see the outside world with a new clarity. When our prejudices have been unmasked and our reactivity tempered by understanding, then we can pursue Justice wholeheartedly. Our hearts can remain open even in the face of difficult choices.

The Torah portion Shoftim tells us, “Justice (within, and), Justice (without) you must pursue,” and then you will receive the blessing of Life and “inherit the Land (the opportunities of incarnation) that God is giving to you.” (Deuteronomy 16:20)


THE SECOND ASPECT comes to us as KING, representing Mastery and our identification with the God-spark. When the aspect of Judge is refined enough to discern the inner voice of mastery (that part of us which is fully identified with the expanse of Soul), then the Judge, using utter discernment, raises up a King. The King rules by merit of his connection and identification with the Source of Wisdom and Compassion. The aspect of Self that is King speaks from that Source-point and can from there, access the widest possible perspective. Shoftim cautions us that the everpresent danger to this aspect of Self is inflation.

The blessing of the King connects us intimately with the Source of all wisdom, power and riches. Yet there is a danger in accumulating those gifts as if they, rather than God, were the goal of our quest. Jeremiah articulates this danger well when he says, “Let not the wise one glory in his wisdom, and let not the powerful one glory in his power. Let not the rich one glory in his riches. But let one that glories, glory in this: That he understands and knows Me.” (Jeremiah 9:22-23)

The aspect of Self that is called King is the part that consciously “knows” God. It is the part of us that is intimate with the Mystery behind Creation. Through that intimacy the King dons the robes of mastery and the crown of sovereignty. In knowing God and in recognizing ourselves as a spark of the Divine, we learn to exult in the majesty of the cosmos and bask in the radiance and nobility that is our inheritance. This aspect of King allows us to embody spiritual authority when necessary.

Priests (Levites)

THE THIRD ASPECT of Self that we are called upon to discover, cultivate, and refine is symbolized by the PRIESTS and LEVITES. This aspect represents our commitment to Spiritual Practice, Ritual, and Artistry. Just as the Judge-within discerns the true and faithful King that shines through us, that King shows us a vision of the Unity and Integrity of all-that-we-perceive. The vision flashes and fades and is given to us in bright glimpses that inspire and encourage the holiness that we are. How do we sustain that flashing vision? How do we unfold the implications of that awesome glimpse of the Unity of All?

The Priests and the Levites within us rise to this challenge and bless us with practices, rituals, and forms that are meant to imprint that vision onto the fabric of our lives. The Priest stands between Life and Death and shows us the Pathways of Holiness and Balance. She is the healer who sends us to face our own disease. The Levites give us the song that will lift our hearts into generosity and give us the courage to see the Truth and act righteously. They show us the dance that will sanctify each step on our journey. The Priests and Levites minister the forms of our religious life. They teach us how to celebrate and how to mourn; how to return when we have fallen away from ourselves.

YET EVEN THESE BEAUTIFUL FORMS inspired by revelation and majesty can become rigid and confining. Pulled into the details of ritual and form, we can sometimes lose track of the “big picture;” and the intention that created the ritual in the first place can get lost in the particulars of practice. We may also find ourselves seduced by the beauty of the song or the cleverness of the text.


THEN GOD RAISES UP, from deep within us, the fourth and last aspect of Self, which is called PROPHET. The essential quality of the Prophet is that she is whole-hearted before God. The true Prophet has not been corrupted by ambition, has not become lost in the forms or influenced by the passing fashions of the age. The Prophet’s mission is to be a clear channel for the Divine flow and to identify the ways in which that Divine flow is being obstructed. He cuts through self-deception and shatters the defenses so carefully constructed by the personality. The Prophet cares nothing for nostalgia, sentimental attachment, reputation, appearances, or the norms of society. He shakes things up when we get too comfortably complacent. He calls us back to our true essence when we have wandered too far. The Prophet calls us back to our depths when we become infatuated with those “other” gods of the surface world.


AFTER BLESSING US with the fullness and richness of our inner aspects of Judge, King, Priest and Prophet, Shoftim sets forth a challenge. Each of these aspects emerges consciously as we step forth to deal deliberately with the situations that life presents. But it is the nature of Mind to babble on in a reactive chain of association, habit and contention. The mind has a comment or argument about everything. One thought compels the next and we are caught in an endless cycle. What do we do with the reckless power of our unconscious? How do we break free from the tyranny of Mind?

IN ORDER FOR THE VOICES OF WISDOM to emerge we must interrupt that cycle and enter a place of refuge from the cacophony. From that place of spacious refuge a new voice can emerge, a new course can be set, a new song can be heard.

To describe this unconscious thought that captures our awareness and leads to a reactive and compulsive chain of babble, we use the language of Torah, and name it a “murderer,” because its chokehold on the mind kills all possibility for true wisdom to emerge. This murderer is one who kills accidentally, without evil intention. Thus we designate the random thoughts that flit through the untrained mind without clear or deliberate focus. One thought compels the next, just as the avenger of the one murdered is forced to set in motion a cycle of violence that is endless.

The only hope we have for interrupting this cycle and giving our Mind the spaciousness that is required for wisdom to emerge, is in our establishing places of refuge within us.

We are commanded to set aside Cities of Refuge so that there may be an escape from the tyranny of the Mind. So important are the Cities of Refuge to the inner landscape that the Torah repeats this commandment three times. The establishment of these Cities of Refuge, in each corner of the inner landscape, ensures that wherever the mind wanders, and however far the sense of being lost in the labyrinth of Mind, we can find a way back to Center.


There are two practices for this week of Shoftim.

Building a Fire-Tower in the Forest of the Mind

THE FIRST PRACTICE FOR THIS WEEK OF SHOFTIM is to notice carefully the workings of the Mind. Set a timer and spend five minutes each day just watching thoughts. Notice how one thought connects to and compels the next.

LEARNING TO NOTICE THE PROCESSES OF THE MIND is like building a fire-tower in the forest. The process of thinking is like wandering through that thick forest, where your only view is of the trees immediately before you. When you build the tower, it is possible to gain a clear view of the whole forest, with all its interesting trees and animals and pathways. You may still be thinking yourself through the wooded landscape, but part of your attention watches from the tower.

THE NEXT STEP after noticing the machinations and patterns of your thoughts is to practice interrupting those patterns. When, during meditation, I notice that I have been captured by a rogue pattern of thought, or by a tape-loop that is compulsively repeating the same thoughts, the watcher-in-me knows that it is time to revisit the City of Refuge.

I GENTLY AND SILENTLY SAY THE WORD “ATAH,” which means “You.” I have programmed this word to release me from the content of Mind and send me to the City of Refuge where I can rest in pure Being.

CHOOSE A SACRED WORD that can be used as a reminder to let go of the content of thought. The more you use this word the more powerful it becomes in the process of un-sticking you from the stickiness of thought. At some point you won’t even have to say the word to yourself. The awakening of the watcher and the mere impulse to say the word will effectively release you from the thought and send you to the place of Refuge, the place of simply Being. This practice will build upon itself in time. As you better know the workings of your own mind, your periods of being lost in thought get shorter; you catch yourself sooner and returning to the place of Refuge inside becomes a compelling and nurturing experience.

Giving Voice to the Four Aspects of Self

ANOTHER PRACTICE FOR THIS WEEK OF SHOFTIM is to identify and give voice to the aspects of Self that the text describes: Judge, King, Priest, and Prophet.

WHICH OF THESE ASPECTS OF SELF IS ASKING FOR YOUR HONOR and attention? When an aspect of Self is not fully honored by simply being acknowledged and given its rightful place in your awareness… its shadow may emerge. The Judge may become over-critical; the King may become inflated; the Priest may become rigid and overly attached to the forms; and the Prophet’s righteousness may become “self-righteous.”

WHICH OF THESE SHADOWS have you observed in your own personality?

WRITE ABOUT THESE ASPECTS OF SELF in your journal or share about them with a spirit-buddy.

Torah Journeys: The Inner Path to the Promised Land
©2006 Shefa Gold. All rights reserved.