The Rabbis of the Talmud (Bava Batra 15b) teach that the Book of Shoftim (Judges), the second book of the Prophets, was written by the Prophet Samuel. The book tells the story of 390 years of Israelite history. These years were often difficult. The book ends with the statement that, “In these days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their eyes.” (Shoftim 21:24-25). This verse, which appears multiple times in the Book of Shoftim, sums up this difficult era. During this time, the Children of Israel often turned away from God’s Torah and fell prey to the sins of idolatry, murder and sexual immorality. Therefore, God often allowed their enemies to oppress them, even in the Land of Israel. In the Book of Shoftim, we read of the Israelites suffering at the hands of the Midianites, Amonites and Philistines. All too often, the Children of Israel were not a free people in their own Land.
However, not everything in this book is tragic. After every descent into sin and defeat, we learn of the judges of the People of Israel who led the Israelites to military victories and fostered spiritual re-awakening. In the era prior to kings, the judges provided leadership to all who were willing to listen. These judges, drawn from many different tribes of Israel, included some of the most heroic figures in Jewish history. For example, we learn of Othniel, who was both a Torah scholar and a warrior. We learn of Deborah, the prophetess and judge, who sang to God after Israel’s miraculous victory. We learn of Samson, the symbol of great physical strength and of willingness to sacrifice everything for the People of Israel. Throughout this book, we see that the judges provided both worldly and spiritual leadership. When the Children of Israel listened to their guidance, the nation prospered. Thus, in the Book of Shoftim we see a continual cycle, where sins, punishment and suffering are followed by repentance, military victory and spiritual growth. Throughout it all, we see that success in the Land of Israel depends on following the God of Israel.
The Books of the Prophets were written to teach lessons that would be needed to guide future generations. In his commentary to the Book of Shoftim (upon which much of the following commentary is based), Rabbi Shlomo Aviner writes, “In the future there would be difficult and complicated situations faced by the People of Israel. Due to the prophecy of the Judges, the Nation would be able to learn and strengthen itself.”
Rabbi Aviner teaches that our generation is one that faces complicated challenges. As such, we must look to the Book of Shoftim for inspiration and for lessons in how to increase the spiritual and physical strength needed to cope with these challenges.