Shabbat Shofetim 5782
Tzedek tzedek tirdof–“Justice, justice, shall you pursue.” Few verses are as familiar and frequently quoted as this one from this week’s Torah reading, Shofetim. Maybe it’s the doubling of the word tzedek that makes it even more memorable than other verses that invoke the word and the theme of justice.
So why is tzedek there in duplicate? My favorite explanation comes from the Talmud: “Ehad ledin, ve-ehad lifsharah.” It means that one instance of the word refers to judgment, while the other alludes to compromise.
But how can a judge be guided by anything other than the pursuit of pure tzedek, justice? Doesn’t compromise actually, you know, compromise justice?
The Talmud then gives examples: “Two boats meet on the river going in opposite directions. If they both try to pass, both will sink. If they take turns, both will pass.” And so, too, says the Talmud, with two camel drivers who are trying to navigate the narrow passageway of the notorious Beit Horon hill. The Talmud then gives guidance as to which boat/camel is entitled to go first. This compromise isn’t pure justice; it facilitates a win/win even though someone technically “loses” by having to give ground.
In Israel, one of the biggest causes of death is car accidents. In an attempt to curtail these deadly episodes, the Ministry of Transportation initiated a public relations campaign targeting drivers. It said, in Hebrew, “Don’t be right. Be smart.” Absolute tzedek, justice, is sometimes called for, but at other times, adherence to it can be deadly. It’s then that the moment calls for pesharah, compromise. And that, too, says the Torah, is justice.
Here is some music that amplifies the theme of justice:
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 7:07 PM
Torah Reading: Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9
Haftarah: Isaiah 51:12-52:12