I think my mind has been playing tricks on me all these years. I am looking at the verse, “Tzedek Tzedek Tirdof” as if for the first time. “Justice – Justice you shall pursue, and I am realizing now that the double emphasis is not on the verb pursuing but rather on the quality of that which is being sought, “Tzedek Tzedek”. What is “Tzedek Tzedek”? Rashi explains that one should seek out a good court. Why is a standard, regular court not good enough? What makes a good court and what makes a good court Tzedek Tzedek?
More than 37 years ago my wife and I were just engaged and we were enjoying our first Shabbos together in Monsey. Now please forgive the poor analogy, but if you are in Manhattan you should go to the Empire State Building, and when you are in Paris you need to attend the Louvre, and if you are in Jerusalem should definitely find your way to the Kossel. While in Monsey I suggested to my bride that we go pay a visit to Rabbi Mordechai Schwab, the Tzadik of Monsey. We took the long walk on Shabbos afternoon.
As we were approaching his home, we noticed Rabbi Schwab just exiting his house and about to cross the street on the way to the Beis Midrash. We immediately adjusted our direction and we were able to head him off at the pass on the other side of the street. We wished him “Good Shabbos” and I told him the good news that I was engaged and I introduced my Kallah.
He lit up with indescribable joy and with his eyes darting upward to the heavens, he wished a hearty Mazel Tov and then uttered a few seemingly simple but incredible words that his son later shared with me was his signature Brocho. He said, “The Simcha should be with Simcha!” Then he repeated, “The Simcha should be with Simcha!”, and then he carried on his way.
We stood there in stunned silence just from having stood in his presence and then when we finally spoke again, we were left wondering what he meant by that phrase, “The simcha should be with simcha!” We were taught in school never to define a word by a word. What could he have meant? What was he telling us? When eventually we figured it out, it became the theme of the entire wedding process and everything ever since. When producing a Simcha there is all the stuff of the Simcha, the invitations, the band, the booze, the gowns, and all the other nouns. Then there is the authentic feeling of Simcha. He was telling us that all those details big and small should not overwhelm and eclipse the true and lasting inner joy. What a beautiful Brocho, filled with profound wisdom and enormous practicality.
The Kotzker Rebbe commented on these words which are found in Pirke Avos, “All of your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven!” The Kotzker said, “Even your “for the sake of Heaven” should be for the sake of Heaven”. What does that mean? One of my Rebbeim, who is a very great man, once told me during the month Elul when we were learning Musar together, “The problem with the Musar Movement is that it became a movement!” Mussar and Chassidus and any other manifestation of spiritual idealism will tend to become institutionalized over time. In the process of becoming uniform and regimented it can happen that some part or even much of the essential and original idealism will have evaporated. It’s a constant and ever-present risk from one moment to the next! Spirituality cannot be bottled!
Setting up courts in every city gate and having good judges is a worthy practice but conventional associations have their own set of systemized and bureaucratic habits. Even the best and most idealistic institutions can become stale in their approach. When someone is seeking a legitimate decision then all the details of the case need to be looked at with fresh and open eyes. We used to have a sign in school, “Every child in your class is somebody’s entire world!” Every case is unique and each individual and litigant is profoundly invested in this process of discovering the Torah’s truth. Therefore, the right answer cannot just be an administrative and ceremonious response. The Tzedek needs to be with Tzedek!