Be fair and honest witnesses

By Rabbi Debra Robbins
Parashat Shoftim

In this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Shoftim, the text’s well-known, seemingly repetitive injunction, “tzedek tzedek tirdof, justice, justice you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20), demands we consider the dual nature of this essential communal building block. It calls upon us to focus on the pursuit of justice in our personal lives and in our shared society. The Torah portion continues and details the punishment for an eid sheker, a false witness in a court of law, in Deuteronomy 19:18. Psalm 27, which is read daily during this season of the Jewish year, uses this same Hebrew expression, eidei sheker, false witnesses. The Psalmist writes of the spiritual court we all prepare to approach at this season of turning and repentance. The biblical poet calls upon us to speak truth to ourselves, about ourselves: the challenges and the accomplishments, to be fair and honest witnesses of our lives. This poem, from “Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27,” explores Psalm 27:12 (Do not give me over to the breath of my enemies, for false witnesses have risen against me…) and makes the spiritual pursuit of justice personal while the Torah portion for the week addresses the communal work to be done. 

‘Call Forward My Witnesses’

The question is not, 

Who are the false witnesses that rise up against me?

The question is, 

What are they?

What are the obstacles that rise up before me?


Expectations (of others and myself).

Illness (my own and that of others).

Urgency (of others that I make my own). 


These are my false witnesses.

They are the insecurities that mutter in my brain

and hold my heart captive. 

“You aren’t:

smart enough, experienced enough, patient enough, 

quick enough, generous enough, 

loving enough…forgiving enough…”

On and on they testify.

But they don’t speak the truth.

They paralyze my steps, 

obstruct my thoughts, thwart my dreams. 

But they don’t speak the truth.

They tell old narratives.

They push aside the present 

and return me to the past 

to witness what was, or maybe even wasn’t. 

They are not honest 

about the possibility present in the future.

They lurk in the shadows and rise up, 

uninvited, to make their case.

Invisible to the eye, they somehow take up all the space 

and block the way.

They whisper. They shout. 

I forget what I know: they are false witnesses.

I finally remember the truth.

There are witnesses to my courage, balance, strength, 

patience, and love. 

There is evidence of my sacred focus.

I call forward my witnesses of truth, 

and they rise with me, 

as I clear a path to God’s presence.

Rabbi Debra J. Robbins is the author of “Opening Your Heart with Psalm 27: A Spiritual Practice for the Jewish New Year,” where this poem was originally published. The book is available from CCAR Press on a variety of platforms and as an app at the APP Store. Rabbi Robbins serves at Temple Emanu-El in Dallas, is chair of the Dallas Vaad HaMikvah and is a member of the Rabbinic Association of Greater Dallas.

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