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Before we begin and delve into the world and definitions of the rabbis, please define the following terms for yourself:
- Righteous Action
- Righteous Person
Offer not just a one sentence definition, but start to collect examples of each and make a list.
Now, let's dive into our sources!
THE RIGHTEOUS PERSON IS THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD? WHOA!
That is some intense language. When I made my list up above, I included some religious leaders, a few good politicians, loving members of my family, people who I trust. What does it mean to call them the foundation of the world?
Also, what is going on in the beginning of our verse? Is the wicked person the storm or just taken away by it?
Does this source feel true to your lived experience? Offer a story that is in conversation with this source, either from your life, your family's stories, or history.
Ok, so how can I be a righteous person according to our texts?
In what ways can and do we devote ourselves to justice, aid the wronged, and defend the defenseless?
Now, what is justice?
According to Rashi, justice is created when we establish courts and install proper judges. Generally, when we use the word tzedakah, we speak of charity, giving to those who are in need. Tzedakah, though, means justice. Do you agree with the rabbis that the way to pursue Tzedakah, Justice, is through setting up the court system?
How does a proper court system help us to flourish in our land?
Next, why does the verse state, "Justice, justice..." Why the doubling up?
Can you think of your own example of where compromise is a necessity of communal life?
If not compromise, what other reason could the text have for the doubling of the word, Justice?
Look through the commentaries below and after each explain the rabbi's claim in your own words.
What does their answer emphasize?
Is the emphasis warranted?
Shnay Luchot HaBrit, Shoftim 101a
Justice, justice shall you pursue. It says "Justice" twice. The first is directed to the judges who judge in accordance with Torah law. There is a second "justice" for compromise or emergency decrees, which are done occasionally by a prophet or king, in order for the world to exist. Therefore, the verse concludes that you may live, and inherit the land which the Lord your God gives you. As the Sages said "Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments therein in accordance with Biblical law." (Shnay Luchot HaBrit, Shoftim 101a)
What is the is the importance of compromise and emergency decrees? How does failure to compromise and strict adherence to the law lead to a community's collapse (i.e. the destruction of Jerusalem and exile of the Jews.)
We've been talking about justice for a while now and the word truth has not yet been raised in our texts. Justice is the pursuit of truth, is it not? Yet, here, truth is presented as a part of justice that is individual, perhaps even relative.
Is truth an inherent part of justice?
And now that we are talking about individualism and relative truths and realities, how do we deem someone worthy of justice/communal aid? Take for example the mitzvah of pe'ah, leaving the corners of a field unharvested for the needy. Who is justified in availing themselves of this resource and who would be acting unjustly in benefiting from this communal support?
So far, our texts have mostly described a world made better by judges and institutions of justice. What dangers lie in the perversion of justice for those that are corrupted and for society as a whole?
Now, let's move specifically into thinking about a capital case, the most serious of case possible to be judged in a Jewish court. What does it mean to pursue justice here?
How does the postponement of judgement make for justice. Should justice not be swift? Why wait a day for a capital case as opposed to other cases where judgement is offered immediately?
Now, moving away from the courts, what does it mean for us to pursue justice? What must we do and who are we responsible for?
Take a look at the texts below. Ask yourself:
- Which of these speak to my experience?
- What stories can I tell that exist in relation to these ideas?
- Does one of these rabbis speak a truth that I live my life by?
Jerusalem Talmud, Pe-ah 1:1 [4a]
The Law does not order you to run after or pursue the other commandments, but only to fulfill them on the appropriate occasion. But peace you must seek in your place and pursue it even to another place as well.
Justice, justice... The great Mussar rabbis say that if one hastens to give tzedakah it is worth double, as if one gave tzedakah twice. Tzedek tzedek - it will be considered as two tzedakahs, if "you pursue" it, if you try to give it as soon as possible.
Hida (18th century Palestine & Western Europe, North Africa)
Justice, justice you shall pursue...With justice, you shall pursue justice. Even the pursuit of justice must employ only just means, and not falsehood.
R' Simhah Bunim of Pshischa (18th century Polan)
Justice, justice you shall pursue...Justice alone is not enough, because there are many types of justice, just as there are many kinds of truth. Every regime has its own justice. The Torah, therefore, stresses, "Justice justice you shall pursue," namely the Mussar of justice, where both the means and the end are just.
Derashot El Ami (19th-20th century Poland & Palestine)
In case the rabbis and I haven't been clear enough so far on the importance of justice and just institutions, let's read three more texts.
Justice, its pursuit, and the institutions that uphold it are the foundation of our community and society at large.
See below, it is what connects us to the generations that have come before us, it is the balancing force to the letter of the law, it is what it means to be human.
Tzedakah: The Untranslatable Virtue - Rabbi Jonathan Sacks
But mishpat alone cannot create a good society. To it must be added tzedakah, distributive justice. One can imagine a society which fastidiously observes the rule of law, and yet contains so much inequality that wealth is concentrated into the hands of the few, and many are left without the most basic requirements of a dignified existence. There may be high unemployment and widespread poverty. Some may live in palaces while others go homeless. That is not the kind of order that the Torah contemplates. There must be justice not only in how the law is applied, but also in how the means of existence – wealth as God’s blessing – are distributed. That is tzedakah.
Tzedakah cannot be translated because it joins together two concepts that in other languages are opposites, namely charity and justice. Suppose, for example, that I give someone $100. Either he is entitled to it, or he is not. If he is, then my act is a form of justice. If he is not, it is an act of charity. In English (as with the Latin terms caritas and iustitia) a gesture of charity cannot be an act of justice, nor can an act of justice be described as charity. Tzedakah is therefore an unusual term, because it means both. It arises from the theology of Judaism, which insists on the difference between possession and ownership. Ultimately, all things are owned by God, creator of the world. What we possess, we do not own – we merely hold it in trust for God. The clearest example is the provision in Leviticus: “The land must not be sold permanently because the land is Mine; you are merely strangers and temporary residents in relation to Me” (Leviticus 25:23).
May you go out and pursue justice!
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