Pursuit of justice is active, not passive

BY RABBI BRAD HORWITZ

“Justice, justice, you shall pursue.” These powerful words, which are found in this week’s Torah reading of Shoftim, serve as the foundation for Israelite society to establish a fair and righteous community through the administering of justice by judges. They occur in the context of God’s instructions about how judges should act in the pursuit of justice. Judges are not to show partiality, not to take bribes of any kind, and must judge fairly.

By using the word “pursue” to teach the value of justice, the Torah teaches that the process of justice is not a passive one. It requires active participation and active advocacy. Justice will not be achieved by merely respecting or adhering to justice. We must actively search justice out and “pursue” it.

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In today’s litigious society, more than ever, when we think of pursuing justice, images of lawyers, clerks, courts, and judges come to mind. While the legal profession is a necessary and important administer of justice, this week’s Torah portion teaches that for a true and just society, the pursuit of justice will take much more than good laws, judges, and administrators of justice.

Repeatedly in the Hebrew text of the Torah, God’s commandment in regards to justice uses the singular form “you.” For example, it states, “Judges and enforcing officers you shall give unto yourself…” One way of understanding the use of the singular form “you,” is that each individual must take upon the responsibility of being a judge or enforcing officer, even if that is not one’s professional role in society. It is not merely the communal collective who is given the commandment, but it seems that God is speaking to each individual who must take the responsibility to pursue justice.

Upon further reflection it is true that each one of us plays the role of judge by sitting in judgment of our own actions and behavior on a day to day occurrence. Every day we make decisions or judgments in our interpersonal interactions. Sometimes we act with pure intentions in our judgments and other times we are motivated by greed or selfishness. If, however, we hold ourselves to the standard of the judges as prescribed in the Torah then we too should not judge unfairly, take bribes, or show partiality. Whether it be our families, friends, co-workers or others we must act with a sense of morality and ethics. Only in this way will real justice be actively pursued and achieved.

Rabbi Brad Horwitz of the Helene Mirowitz Department of Jewish Community Life prepared this weeks Torah Portion.