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Shoftim: Learning to Take Responsibility

“And they shall make this declaration: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see it done.’”[1]

וְעָנוּ וְאָמְרוּ יָדֵינוּ לֹא שָׁפְכוּ [שפכה] אֶת הַדָּם הַזֶּה וְעֵינֵינוּ לֹא רָאוּ


In Parashat Shoftim, we learn the laws of the heifer whose neck is broken as part of the penitence for an unsolved murder. If someone is found murdered and the murderer is unknown, the elders of the city take the responsibility upon themselves, “And they shall make this declaration: ‘Our hands did not shed this blood and our eyes did not see it done.’”[2] We did not shed this individual’s blood ourselves, but we are nonetheless responsible. The first responsibility of rectified leadership is to ensure security for its populace. If a murder takes place, the leaders must take responsibility and judge themselves harshly.

The Hebrew form of this verse is quite complex. Though it says, “Our hands did not shed this blood,” the way the word “did not shed” (שפכה) is written—with a hei at the end instead of the more common vav (שָׁפְכוּ)—reveals a hidden meaning. Instead of exonerating both their hands, they are saying that only one of, “our hand,” in the singular, “did not shed this blood,” insinuating that their other hand is responsible for the bloodshed. While on the one hand, they did not spill the blood, on the other hand, they did. This is a very deep psychological realization. Though the elders did not consciously or willingly spill the victim’s blood, subconsciously, they apparently allowed it to happen.

This same principle applies to every one of us. We are all entrusted with improving our own conduct and psychological well-being. From the elders, we learn that when something negative happens in and around our sphere of influence, apparently, we had something to do with it. It is up to us to discover that part of our subconscious that is guilty and cleanse it by confessing and taking responsibility.

[1]. Deuteronomy 21:7.

[2] Deuteronomy 21:7.

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