Thought of the Week: Shoftim - 5779
GOVERNMENT VERSUS INDIVIDUAL RIGHTS
James Wilson was one of the Founding Fathers of the United States, and one of the six original justices appointed by George Washington to the Supreme Court of the United States. In 1790, he delivered lectures on law, in which he argued that the function of government was to protect and enlarge an individual’s existing natural rights, not to subvert or restrain them.
The question of the role of government versus individual rights, for us who turn to the Torah for ethics and moral guidance, must be based on the principle that every person was created in the image of God. Thus, although our tradition does not focus on "rights," it does place emphasis on the significance and sanctity of every individual.
In Pareshat Shoftim, the Torah repeats the commandment to set up cities of refuge for a person that takes another person’s life, when done unintentionally. Rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch notes that after addressing the importance of government institutions, judges, kings, priests and the prophets, the Torah states the laws of the cities of refuge, and the requirement of society not to overlook the loss of a single soul, to stress the sanctity of every individual’s life.
Although a system governing a community, with a legislature, executive and judiciary, is necessary, one should never forget that it is all for the sake of the individual who was created in the image of Hashem.