By Rabbi Aron Tendler
The pursuit of justice has challenged man since the beginning of time.
Whether as an essential component for a functional society or the most
illusive riddle in the attempt to unravel G-d's secret ways, understanding
and applying justice is the greatest of all challenges. In Parshas Shoftim,
Moshe reviewed the criteria for justice and established for all time the
expectation that the Chosen People will be "most just" of all the nations.
As Jews, we might resent the judicious double standard that the world
arbitrarily applies to Israel and her people. Nevertheless, we must embrace
the expectations of a critical and unforgiving world that we should be better
than they themselves would be.
Justice isn't always easy. At times, it necessitates that we take strong
measures to support the stability our country, family, and the viability of
our spiritual state. Such strength demands that we be courageous, fearless,
and trusting of G-d's laws.
Central to the Torah's approach to justice is that two eye witnesses are
required to establish the facts in a given case. Circumstantial evidence,
theory, and logical conjecture are not admissible in court as proof, and
intellect is often judged as inferior to legal doctrine. Given our western
view of justice, we consider the inadmissibility of circumstantial evidence as
either foolish, illogical, or both. Parshas Shoftim establishes the principle
that explains why the Torah's judicial system is different than all other
judicial formulations, and why it works.
As Moshe prepared the Bnai Yisroel to leave the desert and enter into
Eretz Yisroel, the issues of leadership and justice became of paramount
importance. Leadership should be much more than competent administration and
foresight. Leadership must also strengthen the nations resolve to fulfill
their obligations as the Chosen People. That obligation is to present to the
world a model of judicial integrity and wisdom reflecting the divine truths of
Hashem. That is why the king was obligated to write his own Sefer Torah and
carry it with him at all times. (17:18,19,20) That is why an entire world came
to sit at the foot of Solomon's throne and drink from his judicious wisdom.
The true test of our leaders greatness is their ability to apply consistent
and fair justice in accordance with Halachik principles and philosophy.
We are told that Hashem is present whenever justice is being deliberated.
This is intended to underscore much more than the importance of the moment or
the seriousness with which judicial deliberations should be approached. It is
intended to focus us on the integral part that G-d plays within the judicial
In the aftermath of tragedy, we recite the Bracha, "Blessed be the
Truthful Judge." This blessing reflects our acceptance that justice is truly
the realm of G-d and we often do not understand the reasons for His rulings
and decrees. As duly appointed judges, we merely administer G-d's established
rules in accordance with our limited intellect and comprehension. However,
considering that He created a system that depends upon our finite
intelligence, at no time does G-d absent Himself from the proceedings. In
fact, Hashem's presence guarantees that justice will ultimately be done. In
the event that we make a mistake in justice, G-d assures us that all evils
will be punished and all good deeds will be properly rewarded.
We are expected to administer His justice with seriousness and properly
researched deliberation; but beyond that, we are incapable of truly
ascertaining the veracity of any given situation. Only the "Truthful Judge",
who knows the hidden motives deep in the recesses of our hearts and minds can
administer perfect justice. Only the Truthful Judge can design the perfect
consequence that takes into account the ripple effect of any one action. In
the end, no one can escape G-d's justice.
The Torah presented very specific criteria for judges and justice. Judges
must be fearless on behalf of justice and truth is determined by G-d's rules,
not our own. Two eye witnesses establish fact and circumstantial evidence is
inadmissible. Although our logic cries out to be heard, the Torah says our
logic is inherently faulty. Underlying it all is our obligation to accept G-d
as the Truthful Judge.
The emphasis in this week's Parsha on listening to the "Rabbis" is equally
important. In 17:11, Moshe demanded absolute allegiance to the teachings of
the Rabbis. "...you shall not deviate from the word that they will tell you,
right or left." Considering the role that the judges play in applying Hashem's
justice; and considering that the entire system is dependent upon judges who
are human and fallible; and considering that the entire system depends upon
trusting G-d to always be there to insure justice; it make sense that G-d
would extend His own expectation for absolute allegiance to His chosen
representatives - the Rabbis.
In challenging the Rabbi's rulings, we challenge G-d Himself. This doesn't
mean that we hide our heads in the sand and deny the potential fallibility of
our rabbis. Just the opposite! We expect our rabbis to make mistakes; but it
doesn't make any difference. G-d is ultimately in charge. So long as the
rabbis do their best to apply their limited understanding of His Torah to the
daily complexities of our lives, we are confident that G-d will take care of
Copyright © 1998 by Rabbi Aron Tendler
and Project Genesis, Inc.
The author is Rabbi of Shaarey Zedek Congregation,
Valley Village, CA.