A few weeks ago we looked at how a judge is trained. A reader emailed to ask why the focus was on the administrators of justice and not on justice itself. I replied that at the appropriate moment I would examine the concept of justice.
That moment is this week when the portion presents us with the immortal words, Tzedek tzedek tir’dof, “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you” (Deut. 16:21).
The sages say a great deal about the doubling of tzedek, and their views have been explained over the years in OzTorah. This year let us draw a picture of tzedek tzedek.
Almost inevitably we see it as a pair of scales with a tzedek on each side, one tzedek balancing the other. That’s what justice is – balance in society, each group, each individual, being balanced against the other, the “haves” and the “have nots”, the “us” and ”them”.
Each side has a duty to the other. Each side has its rights – and its obligations. Justice does not favour either side alone but both of them.
A dream world? Certainly. Difficult to conceive, hard to achieve. The Torah is under no illusions that the ideal can be easily attained. That’s why it says tzedek tzedek tir’dof, “Justice, justice shall you pursue”. You may not get to the goal, but you have to pursue it and make the effort.
Time after time you will agonise over the elusive balance. How do I allow for the rights of others and accept them as made in the image of God (Gen. 1:27) when it will probably entail curtailing my own rights and self-image? How do I ensure that I do not promote my own tzedek at the expense of the others?
No wonder the Psalm for Tuesday (Psalm 82) tells us that the Divine Judge must be present beside the human judges, criticising them for the times when they do not exert themselves enough to improve the balance in their society.