Shabbat Parashat Shoftim | 5768
“Pursue Justice Justice”
Harav Yosef Carmel
As an institution that trains dayanim and runs a beit din¸ through both of which we are trying to have a positive impact on society, this week’s parasha’s opening theme is one that is very close to our hearts.
The root of tzedek (justness) arises no less than four times in the short portion that discusses the mitzva to appoint judges (Devarim 16:18-20). The pursuit of justice must be the guiding light of the judicial system of the Jewish nation. In this light, we will try to analyze the meaning of the pasuk, “tzedek tzedek tirdof” (pursue justice justice). Chazal advance several explanations. Reish Lakish (see Sanhedrin 32b), a first generation Amora in Eretz Yisrael, derives from here that one should employ his developed common sense and not rely only on set principles in a case of a din merumeh. This is a case where there is a serious concern that behind the smooth explanations and testimonies, a hoax is going on.
Rav Ashi, from the last generation of Babylonian Amoraim, learned the pasuk differently. The stress on justice obligates the dayan to not rule based on the strict law in a case where it will cause damage to both sides. Rather in such cases, one should employ p’shara (compromise). According to both of these explanations, the double language limits the scope of the strict principles. In other words, sometimes the standard rules of justice should be avoided. Both also understand the pasuk as referring to the judge.
Rabbanan, on the other hand, explain that it is the litigants who are being addressed. They should do everything possible to ensure that the judgment that they receive will be of a high quality. If the most expert dayanim are far away, they should still consider going to the place where the expert judges sit. This is particularly pertinent for the defendant, who is the one who normally determines where the case will be heard. Ibn Ezra also directs the imperative at the litigants. Justice is doubled to signify that one should go after justice whether it is to win or to lose, to go as often as is necessary, or just to strengthen the matter. The Ramban says that the language is doubled specifically so that it can refer both to the dayanim and to the litigants.
During times, which always seem to abound, when maintaining our hold on the Land and our security is a challenge, we should remember the following: “‘In order that you shall live and inherit the Land’- the appointment of judges is worthwhile to give life to Israel, to have them inhabit the Land, and to have them not fall to the sword, as it says, ‘so that you should live’” (Yalkut Shimoni, Shoftim 907).
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