Introduction to Sefer Shoftim
After Yehoshua’s death the Jewish people entered a new era. There was no longer a ruler over the entire nation. Shmuel Hanavi, the author of Shoftim describes how “each man did what was right in his own eyes” (17:6). It is essential not to get a misguided understanding of this period and realise that these 21 Perakim select the most significant events over the 355 years. The majority of these years consisted of the Jews keeping the Torah as they should and therefore living in tranquillity. There was peace after Osniel for 40 years and after Ehud for 80 years. Although the years of peace are not explored in detail it is crucial to know they existed.
Despite the fact there was no leader of Israel, there was not complete disorder. The Kohen Godol served and there were Neviim- prophets. Each tribe dwelt in their allotted land and had their own legal system with their own Zekeinim (Elders). Nevertheless, Israel sinned as a nation repeatedly and Hashem sent a Shofet to encourage the people to do teshuva, which they did and then the cycle repeats itself. The Shoftim- Judges were either military leaders or Talmidei Chachamim or both. The Redak writes that the people did not sin whilst they remembered the great leaders and miracles they had witnessed. Remember: the nation was mainly righteous and kept the Torah, but every few decades strayed from the correct path.