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Justice, Justice: Why Double?

Parshat Shoftim

First, an aside: we went to a bar-mitzvah yesterday of a boy that I’ve known since he was a baby. He gave a wonderful speech, and as part of the speech he said (from memory, not his exact words): “Don’t people have a natural ability to detect what is the right thing to do? In my experience, they don’t, and so we need the Torah to teach us.” This was in reference to finding a dead body in a field; what does one do? How to be a responsible person does not come naturally.

Deuteronomy 16:20—

צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף

“Justice, Justice, you shall pursue”
Whenever the Torah repeats, there is a reason. Why the doubling of “Justice, Justice, you shall pursue”?
(One could also translate ‘tzedek’ as righteousness instead of justice).

The most obvious answer is “emphasis”. This is one of the three answers given by Ibn Ezra. “Hizuk” is the word for emphasis, for those who want to improve their Hebrew skills. Another explanation he gives is whether for profit or for loss, one choose the right path. A third approach is pursue righteousness not just once but all the days of one’s life.

Rashi’s explanation is: “Go after a high quality court”. I wonder what the courts were like in Rashi’s day; could one actually pick one’s own judges?

Rabbi Abraham Twerski in Twerski on Chumash (a great parsha book, if anyone wants a recommendation for one) writes:

Rabbi Simchah Bunim of P’shi’che says that the repetition of the word “righteousness” means that one should pursue righteousness with righteousness. We may not use unjust methods even in the interest of a just cause. The end does not justify the means.

In commerce, good and bad are determined by outcome. Profit is good, loss is bad. If someone undertakes a project in a helter-skelter manner and ends up with a windfall profit, he is a good businessman. If someone does a careful market analysis, uses every bit of caution in setting up his business and goes bankrupt, he is a bad businessman.

It is unfortunate that our preoccupation with commerce has resulted in our personal lives being influenced by commercial standards. We often evaluate ethical good and bad by results rather than by process.

I liked that. May we continue to learn the right thing to do and make those choices.

Ilana-Davita says

I like the boy's remark at the beginning of your post. Simply worded but so true!
Sadly enough Twerski's remark is also very relevant. Thanks for your insights. I'll try to post my own soon.

phyllis says

this is what we talked about on shabbat morning at our torah study group. we said "pursue justice justly" seemed like a good translation...we also talked about ends and means. great post!

Leora says

Ilana-Davita and Phyllis, fun to have others who are studying about the same topic! Next week's parsha has the wayward son.


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