Growing up in Michigan I remember (fondly?) people saying, “There are two seasons: winter and road construction.” And the only reason they didn’t overlap was because almost all construction on the roads had to be stopped during the freezing winters, which then made summer travel incredibly frustrating. Perhaps these early experiences in my formative years made me the somewhat grumpy driver I am today. Just to be clear, I’m not an angry driver, I simply get frustrated when the roads are closed for construction, when someone isn’t following the rules of the road, or when something else causes a trip in the car to take much longer than it should for whatever reason.
What matters in these moments is not that I have feelings of frustration, but what I do with those feelings. Frustration is an acceptable and natural emotion, as long as I’m able to recognize that road construction serves an important purpose. I might have some internal road rage dying to get out, but I also know the importance of keeping our streets safe for everyone. We learn a similar lesson from the Torah portion this week.
Parshat Shoftim is a section of Torah that completely focuses on the legal system, on justice, and on context. This text includes the commandment to establish judges and officers, as well as a listing of punishments for certain transgressions against mitzvot. We also learn about the laws surrounding false witnesses and murder.
In chapter 19, verse 10 we read: “Thus the blood of the innocent will not be shed, bringing bloodguilt upon you in the land that the Lord your God is allotting you.” The Talmud derives from this verse that society is responsible for public safety, such as keeping the roads in good repair. In other words, despite the annoyance that comes with road closures and having to go slowly through construction zones, the obligation is upon each individual to create a safer community and while doing so, to respect those around them who do the work.
As you know, I’m a planner, so when things take longer because we’re creating a safer road, there are two voices battling in my head: one that says “Yay, safety!” and one that screams “NO, I HAVE PLANS!” This week’s Torah portion reminds us that we are to find the balance between the frustrations of changes in plans (or detours, if you will) and the purpose in creating a community that works for everyone.