Commentary for Shoftim

25 Aug

This week’s parshah contains the famous phrase “tzedek tzedek tirdof”- “justice justice shall you pursue (Deut. 16:20).” Repetition is often used in biblical Hebrew to show emphasis, such as in Ex. 19:12’s “Kol hanoge’a bahar mot yumot”– “all who touch the mountain die they shall die,” with the repeated phrase usually being translated as “shall surely” for modern readers instead of clunkier phrases like “die they shall die.” What makes our verse different is that it is not the verb being repeated, but the noun.

 

It’s no secret that the Torah is very big on justice. We are told numerous times not to cheat others in business, to treat workers fairly, and not to make biased judgments in favor of the rich or of the poor. Even non-Jews are required to set up a justice system to prevent crimes like theft and murder (Sanhedrin 56b), one of the few mitzvot that non-Jews are required to follow.

 

The Torah also knows us. It knows we are flawed, and one of our flaws is a tendency towards zealotry. This often comes out when we are demanding justice, and our desire to see justice done can turn into a demand to see punishment done, without taking the time to thoroughly ensure that what we are demanding is really justice. For these times, the Torah reminds us that the emphasis should not be on the pursuit of justice, but on making sure that the justice we pursue truly is justice.

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