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 oppression.
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
Rabbi Berel Wein- Jewish historian, author and international lecturer offers a complete selection of CDs, audio tapes, video tapes, DVDs, and books on Jewish history at www.rabbiwein.com