Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Parashat Shoftim - 5773

My friends,

This Shabbat we read a continuation from last week of laws that would create a just, kind and fair society. It begins with the Mitzvah of establishing a judicial system, instructions to the judges to being impartial, and the prohibition of taking a bribe. The famous sentence of "Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof" - Justice, Justice, you shall pursue.

There are many explanations why the word Tzedek is repeated:

  1. To dig deeply into the situation and seek the truth before rendering a sentence.
  2. The pursuit of justice does not justify the use of illegal means.
  3. When it is not clear who is right, a compromise is also a form of justice.

The Talmud illustrates this situation with a case of two ships who need to pass through a canal. If both try to go at the same time, they will damage one another. Since they both arrived at the same time, how do we decide who goes first? Tzedek, tzedek challenges us to think of other implications. Preference should be given to the ship that would suffer most if it has to wait. If both have the same circumstances, the Talmud suggests one would compensate the other. The word "Tirdof" - you shall pursue - emphasizes the concept of not letting the Tzedek slip away - search for a way that is fair to all. Sometimes only a compromise is the Tzedek thing to do.

This Parasha is filled with many laws on how to build a good society. Murder is the worst offence, and if a body is found in the field and we cannot find the murderer, the town closest to the body participates in a ritual that makes the town's leaders guilty of having a murder committed in their midst. They must ask forgiveness from G-d, and say, "Our hands did not shed this blood." When did this ritual stop? The Talmud says when there were too many murders. People became desensitized to murders. The leaders, therefore cannot act as is they are shocked by such a crime. Their job is to fix the society so that such crimes do not take place, and that when it happens, the entire community feels at fault.

May we see the day when crimes are reduced and when we are all in shock when a murder is committed.

"Tzedek, Tzedek Tirdof" - Justice, Justice you shall pursue.

Shabbat Shalom,