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Beit Midrash Torah Portion and Tanach Shoftim

Justice – for Me and for You

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The theme of this week’s sedra, of course, is Justice. The need for courts & judges to be just & fair – not to take bribes, not to favor either the rich or the poor, to insist on the enforcement of their judgment, & more. The people, too, must act justly. They cannot offer a bribe, they must give honest, reliable testimony, & they must step forward if they detect that other witnesses are lying. Even the most privileged individuals, including the king, the Navi & the Kohen are not above the law.

Then there is the nation itself. In times of war, in societal decisions (such as marking boundaries) & in setting up refuge cities where manslaughters can be safe, the whole country has a high moral standard to uphold. The operative code word that encompasses all these many laws is "Tzedek, tzedek tirdof – justice, justice shall you pursue."

The commentators, of course, focus on the doubling of the word tzedek. Rashi says this means one should go to the most competent court (or rabbi!) rather than choose a decisor who they already know will agree with them.

Another explanation is that justice must be pursued with justice, because in the eyes of halacha, the end does not justify the means. In other words, "getting there" is no less important than the destination itself; one cannot perform a mitzvah or chesed by means of a sin.

This past week, there was yet another demonstration by handicapped individuals in Israel, who are seeking greater benefits from the government. This time, they decided to block the national rail line. As a result, train service came to a halt for several hours. It was Sunday, when hundreds of soldiers were returning after Shabbat to their bases. It was a particularly ill-advised action, as the army had declared a high alert due to tension in the North.

Previous demonstrations have blocked highways & the entrance to major cities, preventing patients from getting to hospitals, & even ruining several weddings because brides & grooms were stuck for hours in stalled traffic. Not only are these actions against the law; they are also a crime against society, demonstrating a complete lack of concern for others, from those who themselves claim that not enough concern is being shown to them!

Justice cannot be a "zero-sum" arrangement, whereby my gain invariably requires your loss. This, then, may be another reason why "tzedek" is repeated; Tzedek for me, but also tzedek for the other person in equal measure.

Only when justice is across the board – favoring no one over another - can a just society be maintained. Tziyon tipade ba’mishpat – Israel will be redeemed only through justice, said Navi Yeshayahu, for then everyone will benefit - at no one else’s expense.
Rabbi Stewart Weiss
Was ordained at the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, Illinois, and led congregations in Chicago and Dallas prior to making Aliyah in 1992. He directs the Jewish Outreach Center in Ra'anana, helping to facilitate the spiritual absorption of new olim.
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