Shabbat Shoftim 5774

Tzedek tzedek tirdof–justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). In this week’s portion, Shoftim, we encounter one of the Torah’s most famous ethical imperatives. But ethical imperatives are not always easy to translate into concrete actions that everyone can agree fulfill the mission statement. For example, we might be fully confident that we are beneficiaries of the most just nation in the world, while residents of Ferguson, MO, might think otherwise. 

What can our tradition teach us about practical applications of the imperative to pursue justice? The midrash halakhah on the book of Deuteronomy, Sifrei, presents two teachings in response to our verse. As we read this midrash, we’ll recognize these same teachings as principles of American law. 

“From where do we know that once a person is acquitted, we may not reverse the ruling to convict? Because Scripture says, ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’ And once he is convicted, we indeed reverse the ruling to acquit? Because Scripture says, ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.'” (Sifrei Devarim 144).

Why do you believe the midrash chose to define “the pursuit of justice” in these terms? What are the sages trying to tell us about the true meaning of justice? We’ll discuss this together on Shabbat morning.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,


Rabbi David Wise