The Torah's Path to Justice
This is the ‘law and order’ parsha of the Torah, so to speak. Implicit in
studying it is the realization of the delicate balance between an ordered
society, with some restraints on personal freedom and expression, and, on
the other hand, a society of complete personal freedom but also of anarchy
The judges and police that the Torah commands and authorizes are to be the
arbiters that decide the rules of society and the acceptable behavior of its
citizens. But, they are merely the enforcers of the law. It is the citizenry
itself that sets the limits and mores of the society.
As we have recently seen, thousands of police cannot, by themselves, stop
looting, rioting and other forms of social mayhem. There has to be an agreed
upon social imperative within the society to make for order. Traffic flows
because there is an unwritten but nevertheless binding agreement among
drivers to observe traffic signals and stop lights.
Police can be a deterrent to law breakers but police do not guarantee a
civil or lawful society. Eventually all societies based purely upon police
power falter and fail. Again, witness what is happening in the countries
that surround us. Police states cannot control beliefs, ideas and human
longings. These eventually rise to the fore, unfortunately many times
violently and in revolution, and assert themselves to be stronger than the
power of the police state. Police are only valid as the enforcers of the
public will. When they overstep that boundary they can become a very
negative force in society.
The Torah bids judges and courts to rule fairly, justly and righteously.
There is no judge in the world that enters the courtroom without personal
prejudices and preconceived beliefs. Yet, the Torah still demands that this
judge, burdened by this weight, weigh the matters before him fairly and
decently. The pursuit of true justice is a never ending one.
The rabbis of the Talmud advised us to choose a court that has the
established reputation for being fair, just and wise. The Talmud lists for
us courts and judges that met this description in the early centuries of the
Common Era. Being a judge is always a lonely, difficult position. No one
will be completely satisfied with a judge’s decision. There always are
perceived slights and injustices that occur in all legal proceedings.
The Torah bids all of us - judges, litigants, witnesses and the general
public – to somehow rise above these inescapable human failings and continue
to pursue justice and righteousness as best we can. The prophet challenges
us “to create justice.” All human creations have an element of imperfection
incorporated within them. We should not allow the presence of this
unavoidable imperfection to cloud our general view of the necessity for the
pursuit of justice to continue.
Judges may falter and be found wanting, but the Torah’s insistence upon the
rule of justice and right in society is never ending. Both judges and police
when set upon the Torah’s path of pursuing justice and a moral society
fulfill a vital role in society and government.
Rabbi Berel Wein