It can be said that the Torah is in favor of law and order. In this week's reading, the Torah prescribes a system of judges, courts, and police. The Torah apparently takes it for granted that no society can really function without these institutions of law and protection. The Torah warns us that these institutions must be ones of righteousness, fairness, and even altruism, but they must exist for society to function.
Amongst the ideological foes of Jewish life and values, the idea of anarchy – no government, no police, no courts – ranks as one of the most pernicious and evil of enemies. The nature of people is to be contentious, protective, and zealous of one's own property, personal rights, and privileges. Since, by nature, human beings always encounter other human beings which is the basis for all commerce and social interaction, disputes will certainly arise when one's rights butt up against the perceived rights of others. How are these matters to be settled?
In a lawless society, brute strength and violent behavior would always prevail. But the Torah constantly reminds us that we are to protect and enhance the rights of the poor and defenseless, the widow and the stranger, those that are, somehow disadvantaged by the process of general society. And it becomes the task of the legal system that is established in Jewish society, to protect these individuals. Judges and police, courts and bailiffs are not only necessary for society, but are also the agents of Godly intent.
All human history has shown us that all legal systems established by human beings are inherently flawed and subject to manipulation. We read in the book of Psalms of the complaint that evil can be easily constructed by legal means. Even a cursory study of the prophets of Israel will reveal the extent of their condemnation of the perverse practices and corruption of the court systems and the judges of their generations.
It is hard, if not well-nigh impossible to find people who are completely incorruptible. All of us have human weaknesses that can be exploited by others and manipulated by any form of legal system that we will devise. Our great teacher and leader, Moshe, could not find, even in his generation, judges and tribal leaders that would meet all the requirements that were set for them by Yitro and confirmed by heaven itself. He, so to speak, had to settle for what was available to him in Jewish society at that time.
There is a lesson in this for us - that we should not allow our search for perfection to disqualify people who otherwise could serve as competent and efficient judges and administrators of Torah law. That is what the Talmud meant when it said that Yiftach in his generation was the equal of Samuel in his generation. We can only deal with what exists before us. The Torah cautions us that the only judge that you have is the judge that exists in your generation. Thus, the basis of all legal systems is practicality, and the Torah is the most practical of all disciplines.
Rabbi Berel Wein