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    Whodunit? – Shof’tim

    When you open a thriller you are tempted to turn straight to the last page to find out who committed the crime.

    Fortunately most people know that they’ll get there in the end and if they know in advance that the culprit was the postman or the housekeeper or the butler the book will lose its excitement and fun.

    So please do the same thing with the incident in today’s Torah reading about a dead body that was found by the roadside when no-one knew who had carried out the murder.

    Was it the victim’s wife, who had had enough of her husband? Exciting, but we don’t know the identity of the victim and we can’t automatically blame one of his family.

    Was it his neighbour? Highly doubtful, for a similar reason.

    Does it help to know that the body was found in between the two nearest villages? Not much, because it could have been someone from either place, a highway robber, even a bored passer-by.

    The first thought in the Torah seems to be that the elders of the nearer town were guilty – but they complain to God, “Our hands did not shed this blood!” (Deut. 21:7-8).

    Of course the reader‘s brain cells get working overtime by this wording. “The elders”, we say; “Who could possibly have suspected the elders – upright, respectable members of society?”

    Yet this is the line which the Torah seems to take – blame the local elders! Why ever would anyone point a finger in that direction?

    The explanation is that the victim might have been looking for friendship and neither town gave him a welcome; he might have wanted food but no-one noticed his hunger. He might have needed a bed for the night and the locals all said, “We’re OK thanks; we have houses and beds, so why should we worry about him?”

    The fact is that whatever goes wrong in our community, we all bear a share of the responsibility.

    The thrillers ask, “Whodunit?” The sad fact is that I dunit, you dunit, we all dunit – the elders too.

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