Shoftim: Restoring P(ol)eaceful Justice that Protects Everybody

BS”D  Rabbi Ronnie Cahana August 21, 2020

Song: Justice in the Prism System by Dvir
Art: Evaluate the Gruesome by Briah

It is deeply troubling that we are living in a society so perverse in justice where the slogan we’re calling out from the streets is Black Lives Matter. Does anyone accept the implication of answering in the negative? How have we come to this point? Black is the universal colour of all. The Torah was given to the world with this Black fire on Mount Sinai, says Rashi in Beshalach from the Talmud (Yerushalmi Shelamim 6:1). We must live in a world where we proclaim instead, “Black Lives are Sacred”. And declare, “Black Lives are Holy” being created in G-d’s Image. 

The issue is really about police misuse of force and abuse of power. They are getting away with wantonly murdering one segment of the population while protecting another. This is the farthest from the ideals of what enforcers of a just law should be.  Our Torah portion speaks exactly on the need for holy police work and a level of law enforcers who operate on a spiritual level. All peoples need esteemed purpose.

I know from whence I speak. For millennia, we Jews have borne an equipoise faithfully,  steadied because we are Mt Sinai Created, not Pharaoh’s slaves.  Not Auto-de-Fe’s, not Auschwitz’s, not Haman, nor Hamas’. Jews elevate our self-perception to how G-d sees us. And when G-d reminds us that we were slaves it’s for the purpose of elevation: Anokhi Hashem Elokeikha Asher hotzeitikha me’eretz mitzrayim mibeit avadim (Exodus 20:2). When we bring our highest selves in front of the Torah we reinforce G-d’s call to us: “אשר בחר בנו מכל העמים ונתן לנו את תורתו”. Jewery does not falter. We are necessary for a Universal Idyll.

צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף

18)You shall appoint Righteous Judges and Enforcing Police for your tribes, in all the settlements that the LORD your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with Justice.

20)Justice, Justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.                                              (Deut 16:18,20)

Justice in the Prism of your Eyes

The Parshah opens with Shoftim. This word confronts us right away. Who, if any of us, have the right to judge? Enforcing judgement is even more dangerous when injustice plays a horrific role in society. Judging wrongly and reinforcing it is a cruel imposition of more pain and confusion, rather than clarity, where worlds lead away from peace. Judgements create definition and finality, but that is not how we relate to G-d. It is seldom that G-d ever closes judgement on anybody here, and regardless of how perverse one’s moral integrity is, there is always an opening to return. The sole exception to this rule was Pharaoh, and even he did not endure the 10 plagues without 10 distinct warnings and opportunities to do Teshuva.

The word Shoter, police, could be construed as a failure of society. Tight-knit communities, like Kibbutzim, where everyone subscribes to the same values and goals, do not need policing. Neither do family units. Police are employed in a society of diverse aspirations. Until the tower of Babel, there was oneness in humanity. But the Torah admits that Shoftim create a kind of controversy, that leave one party wanting and another party satisfied. So holiness will be restored when Judges judge and Police police  in a G-dly manner ( tzadikim) i.e. with compassion, Rachamim, for all. Both forces need to be guided by G-dliness and in unison in order for the system to reach its highest potential. Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof. Tzedek-Righteous Judges judging, Tzedek- Righteous police enforcing.

What is holy police work? It is to uphold in everyone’s mind the inner fire of Creation. It is when the common weal is equal to the individual betterment as well, whether it’s a striving to elevate the sanctity of self through the sanctity of the outer society. If all of us live from the soul of our lives – rather than the instinctive needs of the body of our lives, that isolate and compete for scarce resources – then the sacred will be realized for all. Police, in the idealist perspective therefore, should point us toward religious language toward embodying G-d’s Rachamim by enforcing a justice that is truly just. Judaism teaches that a humble person is one that magnifies a personal vulnerability, rather than hides it. To admit that we are all in need of each other, begins the journey of realizing that we are created in order to be needed. A person that knows that they are needed by another is the holy pathway of self-fulfillment.

Moreover, Judaism teaches us the highest measure of life is that G-d Needs each of us. Otherwise, we would not have been born. So let us sum up, Shoftim V’Shotrim are the precursors to a just and a holy world. They are the uplift of the measure of teaching G-d’s Justice and G-d’s Aspirations for all.  

G-d gave us this earth to continue to work towards Justice, to pursue it, however if one is pursuing something it means that it is not there. Why isn’t Justice the starting point? Is the phrase Zedek Zedek Tirdof, then, in a sense, a confrontation with the reality that there isn’t Justice in our world?  

Everyone feels a victim when power runs amuck and we see that society assigns higher powers and hierarchy of power to people who are only approximating G-d’s Holy Power. On the other hand, to leave off our responsibility in our world only to G-d is irresponsible “Be’olam Hazeh”. To avoid Justice shirks our responsibility of seeking Justice in the world. That’s why the Torah immediately responds with the words Zedek Zedek as something to chase after. How beautifully modest is it to say that I am human trying to find G-d’s Justice. If only we would live in that modesty. That incapacitates our arrogance… so we investigate, always looking for the harm we’ve imposed when we judge, always and then an apology necessarily follows when we’re living for a truce. And a truce with Justice we shall pursue. 

“Zedek Zedek Tirdof”. The first Zedek means that both litigants must accept the judgement as fair and nothing continues until they both give the judgement creedence. But the second Zedek means that each party takes on more of the burden of why the relationship has collapsed to this point and metes out their own, sterner, judgement of themselves and what they must do to recompense and repair. When the righteous person judges themselves harshly, but judges the other leniently, with Kaf Zchut, the benefit of doubt. Tirdof means the urgency of restoring peace is the highest Mitzvah in the march to the messianic era. Zedek Mishpat, Justice for All.

Another interpretation of “Zedek Zedek Tirdof” is that you have to have Shoftim that are Zadikim and Shotrim that are Zadikim in order to have Justice. You need a just system and a just enforcement, but you will always Rodef after that because it is earthly and elusive, says Marutza Bronstein.

Our lives were created to perform Gmilut Chasadim at all costs. We are to assume the mantle of Elijah, the prophet, until G-d sends the right moment. We hold the knowledge that there are 36, ל”ו, souls in every generation, in which their merit acts as the vitality that sustains each generation. However, the number, 36, is also double the number Chai, life. And so, we can see that the role of the ל”ו, are not 36 distinct individuals, but rather we must each superimpose the two lives, Olam Habah, and Olam Hazeh onto one another. We live in a world where we reluctantly must be the arbiters of Justice up until the end of our lives, at which point the True Judge of All Gives each of us the final authoritative judgement of Justice. Our Parshah starts in the middle of a perek, on Passuk 18, and we are all tasked to trace the other 18 for the rest of our lives.

 So what is the right tool to bring Zedek to fruition? Each of us must employ and rearticulate our Rachamim in every exchange. Rachamim (Compassion) is seeing the other with sensitive eyes. G-d’s name, Itself, is Rachmana. We employ, necessarily, Kaf Zchut because we don’t want to mistakenly consider G-d’s creatures as less than holy. The Zohar teaches us that Rachamim is birthed in the harmony of Chesed and Din; Chesed is the individual who looks outwardly, wholly involved in other people’s world, and the Passuk teaches us that the Judge (Devarim 16:19) “shall not recognize those [they] judge” and shouldn’t “take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning”.

We extend a deep Refuah Shleima to US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginzberg. You are a heilege yid and your life work to bring Olam Habah here, in Olam Hazeh, continues to keep the Celestial Gates of Justice open.  

Parshat Shoftim

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