Less is More
The pursuit of justice is never-ending and true justice in its ultimate
sense is rarely if ever achieved. Is there any punishment that truly deals
with murder or terrible physical or sexual abuse? Ultimate justice is
located in a realm that we are not privy to nor do we understand in any
fashion or way.
Yet in this week’s parsha the Torah demands that we continue in our pursuit
of justice even though we may be aware that the ultimate goal is beyond our
powers and abilities. The Talmud interprets this pursuit as being defined,
in a practical manner, to finding the best possible court of justice to
appeal to for justice.
There is no perfect court, for it is made up of fallible individuals, so the
Talmud only advises us to find the best possible courts that exist at that
time and place. It lists the recommended courts and leading justices of its
day but every generation has to continue its own search for the best courts
and justice systems available.
The pursuit of justice is an unending one but one that is the most vital
component of a positive and harmonious society. A society that does not
respect or trust its judicial system and its judges to be fair and efficient
eventually disintegrates into lawlessness and resulting dictatorship and
The rabbis of Midrash and Talmud commented regarding the opening verse in
the book of Ruth which speaks about the era of the Judges of Israel after
the death of Yehoshua, “woe to a generation that continually judges its
judges negatively!” That is a warning that should be taken to heart equally
by the judges of the generation and their public society.
Because of the difficulty that always arises in attempting to achieve any
modicum of true justice in civil disputes – and with Jewish society, for
good or for better, a litigious society – the Talmud advocated mediation and
arbitration as being the better way to solve disputed monetary issues.
All lawyers in the United States are well aware of Lincoln’s statement that
“a poor settlement of a case is still better than a good lawsuit.”
Unfortunately, that does not appear to be a widely accepted tenet of
behavior in the current increasingly aggressive methodology in the practice
of law. Compromise forces us to acknowledge our imperfections and our
inability to arrive at true and ultimate justice on our own.
The rabbis of the Talmud again stated that a good and fair court composed of
pious scholars will be granted Divine assistance in rendering its decision
in a case that actually goes to final trial and judgment. Even such a court
cannot achieve ultimate justice by its own human means. Divine aid is
required to approach a fair and equitable decision in judicial matters.
Since Divine aid is never guaranteed to any human endeavor, the rabbis
strongly urged the idea of compromise and settlement for all issues in human
dispute. The rabbis in Avot characterized the idea that “what is mine is
mine and what is yours is yours” as possibly being a trait of the wicked
people of Sodom. It allows no room to compromise and to move on in life.
And, perhaps, that is the most practical type of justice – the idea of
compromise and the realization that most instances in life less is more –
that any human society can accomplish.
Rabbi Berel Wein