One of the most often cited Torah verses is "Justice, justice shall you pursue". Precisely, what is intended by this mitzvah to seek justice?
In order to understand this pillar of Jewish living, we will investigate the linguistic uses of "Tsedek" or "Justice" in different contexts.
צדק -- justice
צדיק -- righteous person
צדקה -- (charity) -- (striving to create justice and equity)
צודק -- you are right
להצדיק -- to justify
צֶ֥דֶק צֶ֖דֶק תִּרְדֹּ֑ף לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־יְהֹוָ֥ה אֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ נֹתֵ֥ן לָֽךְ׃ {ס}
Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.
לֹא־תְקַלֵּ֣ל חֵרֵ֔שׁ וְלִפְנֵ֣י עִוֵּ֔ר לֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן מִכְשֹׁ֑ל וְיָרֵ֥אתָ מֵּאֱלֹהֶ֖יךָ אֲנִ֥י יְהֹוָֽה׃
לֹא־תַעֲשׂ֥וּ עָ֙וֶל֙ בַּמִּשְׁפָּ֔ט לֹא־תִשָּׂ֣א פְנֵי־דָ֔ל וְלֹ֥א תֶהְדַּ֖ר פְּנֵ֣י גָד֑וֹל בְּצֶ֖דֶק תִּשְׁפֹּ֥ט עֲמִיתֶֽךָ׃
You shall not insult the deaf, or place a stumbling block before the blind. You shall fear your God: I am the LORD.
You shall not render an unfair decision: do not favor the poor or show deference to the rich; judge your kinsman fairly.
מֹ֧אזְנֵי צֶ֣דֶק אַבְנֵי־צֶ֗דֶק אֵ֥יפַת צֶ֛דֶק וְהִ֥ין צֶ֖דֶק יִהְיֶ֣ה לָכֶ֑ם אֲנִי֙ יְהֹוָ֣ה אֱלֹֽהֵיכֶ֔ם אֲשֶׁר־הוֹצֵ֥אתִי אֶתְכֶ֖ם מֵאֶ֥רֶץ מִצְרָֽיִם׃
You shall have an honest balance, honest weights, an honest ephah, and an honest hin.I the LORD am your God who freed you from the land of Egypt.
צֶ֣דֶק וּ֭מִשְׁפָּט מְכ֣וֹן כִּסְאֶ֑ךָ חֶ֥סֶד וֶ֝אֱמֶ֗ת יְֽקַדְּמ֥וּ פָנֶֽיךָ׃
Righteousness and justice are the base of Your throne;steadfast love and faithfulness stand before You.
צדק צדק תרדף. הַלֹּךְ אַחַר בֵּית דִּין יָפֶה (ספרי; סנהדרין ל"ב):
למען תחיה וירשת. כְּדַאי הוּא מִנּוּי הַדַּיָּנִין הַכְּשֵׁרִים לְהַחֲיוֹת אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְהוֹשִׁיבָן עַל אַדְמָתָן (ספרי):
צדק צדק תרדף JUSTICE, JUSTICE SHALT THOU PURSUE — go to (search after) a reliable court (Sifrei Devarim 144:14; Sanhedrin 32b).
למען תחיה וירשת [JUSTICE, JUSTICE SHALT THOU PURSUE] THAT THOU MAYEST LIVE, AND INHERIT [THE LAND WHICH THE LORD THY GOD GIVETH THEE] — The appointment of honest judges is sufficient merit to keep Israel in life and to settle them in security in their land (Sifrei Devarim 144:15).
Rabbi Saadia Gaon on Deuteronomy 16:20:
Justice, Justice Shall you Pursuit:
Seek out absolute justice.
צדק צדק תרדוף כשתתן לך שופטים אתה הממנה את השופטים בחר את היותר שופטי צדק אע''פ שאין בהם כל כך שאר תכסיסים הראוים לדיין כמו שלמות הקנין ושלמות הגוף כענין אל תבט אל מראהו ואל גבה קומתו:
למען תחיה וירשת תצטרך לזה יותר בארץ כי חסרון זה ימנע הירושה בה כאמרו בעון בצעו קצפתי:
צדק צדק תרדוף. When you are about to put this legislation into practice, the party in charge of appointing such judges is told by Moses to select only those who are already known for their sense of fair play and righteousness. He will have to look for such people all over the tribe. If potential judges do not have all the qualifications which are desirable in a judge, this qualification of fairness is the overriding quality all must possess. This is what the prophet Samuel was told by G’d when he had to look for a replacement of King Sha-ul among the sons of Yishai. (Samuel I 16,7) He was specifically told to ignore external appearances.
למען תחיה וירשת, such qualities are of even greater importance in the Land of Israel, as a failure to comply would result in the ancestral right to that country being denied to you. Compare Isaiah 57,17 who quotes G’d as telling him that a corrupt judiciary [getting away with sinful greed? Ed.] was a primary cause for G’d’s anger at the people.
צדק צדק תרדף הלך אחר ב"ד יפה למען תחיה וירשת את הארץ כדאי הוא מינוי הדיינין הכשרים להחיות את ישראל ולהושיבן על אדמתם לשון רש"י (רש"י על דברים ט״ז:כ׳) מספרי (שופטים קמד) וטעם הכפל לומר הדיינין צריכין שישפטו את העם משפט צדק וגם אתה צריך לרדוף הצדק תמיד שתלך ממקומך אל מקום חכמים הגדולים אחרי רבן יוחנן בן זכאי ליבנה אחר רבי לבית שערים ור"א אמר (אבן עזרא על דברים ט״ז:כ׳) צדק צדק פעמים שירדוף אחרי הצדק שירויח בו או יפסיד או פעם אחר פעם לחזוק אבל במדרשו של ר' נחוניא בן הקנה ידרשו בו סוד אמרו צדק זו מידת דינו של עולם שנאמר צדק צדק תרדוף וכתיב בתריה למען תחיה וירשת את הארץ אם תדין עצמך תחיה אם לאו הוא ידין עליך ותקים בעל כרחך ומאי צדק צדק תרי זימני דכתיב ( כב יג) מנגה נגדו צדק ראשון צדק ממש זו שכינה דכתיב (ישעיהו א כא) צדק ילין בה ומאי צדק שני שמפחיד את הצדיקים ומפרש שם צדק הוי כובע ישועה על ראשו ואין ראש אלא אמת שנאמר (תהלים קיט קס) ראש דברך אמת ואין אמת אלא שלום שנאמר (מלכים ב כ יט) הלא אם שלום ואמת יהיה בימי וגו' אם כן יאמר הכתוב תשפוט אתה בבית דינך ותרדוף צדק צדק ותשיג אותם למען תחיה לעולם הבא בצדק השני שהוא צדק עליון והוא האור הגדול הצפון לצדיקים לעתיד לבא והוא עוזו של הקב"ה וירשת את הארץ בצדק הראשון שהוא ארץ ישראל:
JUSTICE, JUSTICE SHALT THOU PURSUE. “Go to seek a reliable court. THAT THOU MAYEST LIVE, AND INHERIT THE LAND. The appointment of qualified judges is of sufficient [importance] to sustain Israel and to settle them upon their Land.” This is Rashi’s language quoting from the Sifre. The reason for the repetition [of the word “justice”] is to indicate that the judges should judge the people with righteous judgment, and you must also pursue justice constantly by going from your place to the place of the great Sages: “after Rabban Yochanan ben Zaccai to Jabneh; after Rabbi [Yehudah Hanasi] to Beth Shearim.”And Rabbi Abraham [ibn Ezra] commented: “Justice, justice. It is mentioned twice in order to indicate that one should pursue justice whether it would be to his advantage or loss. Or [it may be mentioned] one time after another for emphasis.” But in the Midrash of Rabbi Nechunya ben Hakanah the Rabbis interpreted it by way of a secret. They said: “Justice — this is His attribute of justice in the world, as it is said, Justice, justice shalt thou pursue. After that it is written, that thou mayest live, and inherit the Land. If you will judge yourself [knowing whence you came, and whither you are going, and before Whom you are about to give account and reckoning] you will live. If not, He will judge you and affirm [His judgment over you] against your will. And why is justice mentioned twice? Because it is written, from the brightness before Him. The first justice refers to actual justice, this being the Divine Glory, as it is written, righteousness lodges in her. And what is the second justice? It is that which frightens the righteous” [making them fearful that perhaps they do not merit the World to Come]. And there [in that Midrash] it is further explained: “Justice is the helmet of salvation upon His head. The ‘head’ denotes only truth, as it is said, The beginning of Thy word is truth, and ‘truth’ is peace, as it is said, Is it not so, if peace and truth shall be in my days? etc.” If so, Scripture is stating here, “You are to judge in your court [to attain] justice, and pursue therein justice and [try to] achieve it, that thou mayest live in the World to Come with the second justice [which alludes to Him] Who is the Higher Justice, this being the great light hidden for the righteous for the Time to Come, and this is also the Might of the Holy One, blessed be He; and thou shalt inherit the Land, the Land of Israel, with the first justice.”
כדריש לקיש דריש לקיש רמי כתיב (ויקרא יט, טו) בצדק תשפוט עמיתך וכתיב (דברים טז, כ) צדק צדק תרדף הא כיצד כאן בדין מרומה כאן בדין שאין מרומה
רב אשי אמר מתני׳ כדשנין קראי אחד לדין וא' לפשרה
כדתניא צדק צדק תרדף אחד לדין ואחד לפשרה כיצד שתי ספינות עוברות בנהר ופגעו זה בזה אם עוברות שתיהן שתיהן טובעות בזה אחר זה שתיהן עוברות וכן שני גמלים שהיו עולים במעלות בית חורון ופגעו זה בזה אם עלו שניהן שניהן נופלין בזה אחר זה שניהן עולין
הא כיצד טעונה ושאינה טעונה תידחה שאינה טעונה מפני טעונה קרובה ושאינה קרובה תידחה קרובה מפני שאינה קרובה היו שתיהן קרובות שתיהן רחוקות הטל פשרה ביניהן ומעלות שכר זו לזו
ת"ר צדק צדק תרדף הלך אחר ב"ד יפה אחר רבי אליעזר ללוד אחר רבן יוחנן בן זכאי לברור חיל
תנא קול ריחים בבורני שבוע הבן שבוע הבן אור הנר בברור חיל משתה שם משתה שם
ת"ר צדק צדק תרדף הלך אחר חכמים לישיבה אחר ר' אליעזר ללוד אחר רבן יוחנן בן זכאי לברור חיל אחר רבי יהושע לפקיעין אחר רבן גמליאל ליבנא אחר רבי עקיבא לבני ברק אחר רבי מתיא לרומי אחר רבי חנניא בן תרדיון לסיכני אחר ר' יוסי לציפורי אחר רבי יהודה בן בתירה לנציבין אחר רבי יהושע לגולה אחר רבי לבית שערים אחר חכמים ללשכת הגזית:
דיני ממונות פותחין כו': היכי אמרינן אמר רב יהודה הכי אמרינן להו מי יימר כדקאמריתו
This distinction is in accordance with the statement of Reish Lakish, as Reish Lakish raises a contradiction between two verses: It is written in one verse: “In justice shall you judge your neighbor” (Leviticus 19:15), and it is written in another verse: “Justice, justice, shall you follow” (Deuteronomy 16:21), with the repetition indicating that it is not enough to merely judge with justice. He continues: How can these texts be reconciled? Here, this latter verse is stated with regard to a possibly fraudulent trial, where the court must take extra care to judge with justice; and there, that former verse is stated with regard to a trial that does not appear fraudulent.
Rav Ashi says: The ruling of the mishna here, that cases of monetary law require inquiry and interrogation, is as we answered, i.e., in accordance with any one of the answers offered by the other amora’im. And those verses were not stated with regard to fraudulent trials; rather, one is stated with regard to judgment, in which the court must pursue justice extensively, and one is stated with regard to compromise.
As it is taught in a baraita: When the verse states: “Justice, justice, shall you follow,” one mention of “justice” is stated with regard to judgment and one is stated with regard to compromise. How so? Where there are two boats traveling on the river and they encounter each other, if both of them attempt to pass, both of them sink, as the river is not wide enough for both to pass. If they pass one after the other, both of them pass. And similarly, where there are two camels who were ascending the ascent of Beit Ḥoron, where there is a narrow steep path, and they encounter each other, if both of them attempt to ascend, both of them fall. If they ascend one after the other, both of them ascend.
How does one decide which of them should go first? If there is one boat that is laden and one boat that is not laden, the needs of the one that is not laden should be overridden due to the needs of the one that is laden. If there is one boat that is close to its destination and one boat that is not close to its destination, the needs of the one that is close should be overridden due to the needs of the one that is not close. If both of them were close to their destinations, or both of them were far from their destinations, impose a compromise between them to decide which goes first, and the owners of the boats pay a fee to one other, i.e., the owners of the first boat compensate the owner of the boat that waits, for any loss incurred.
§ The Sages taught: The verse states: “Justice, justice, shall you follow.” This teaches that one should follow the best, most prestigious, court of the generation. For example, follow after Rabbi Eliezer to Lod, after Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai to Beror Ḥayil.
The Sages taught: When the gentile authorities issued decrees outlawing observance of the mitzvot, members of Jewish communities devised clandestine ways of indicating observance of mitzvot to each other. For example: If one produces the sound of a millstone in the city called Burni, this is tantamount to announcing: Week of the son, week of the son, i.e., there will be a circumcision. If one displays the light of a lamp in the city called Beror Ḥayil, this is tantamount to announcing: There is a wedding feast there, there is a wedding feast there.
The Sages taught: The verse states: “Justice, justice, shall you follow.” This teaches that one should follow the Sages to the academy where they are found. For example, follow after Rabbi Eliezer to Lod, after Rabban Yoḥanan ben Zakkai to Beror Ḥayil, after Rabbi Yehoshua to Peki’in, after Rabban Gamliel to Yavne, after Rabbi Akiva to Bnei Brak, after Rabbi Matya to Rome [Romi], after Rabbi Ḥananya ben Teradyon to Sikhnei, after Rabbi Yosei to Tzippori, after Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira to Netzivin, after Rabbi Yehoshua to the exile [gola], i.e., Babylonia, after Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi to Beit She’arim, and after the Sages in the time of the Temple to the Chamber of Hewn Stone.
§ The mishna teaches that in cases of monetary law, the court opens the deliberations either with a claim to exempt the accused, or with a claim to find him liable. In cases of capital law, the court opens the deliberations with a claim to acquit the accused, but does not open the deliberations with a claim to find him liable. The Gemara asks: How do we say this opening stage of the deliberations? In other words, with what claim does the court begin deliberating? Rav Yehuda said: We say this to the witnesses: Who says that the event occurred as you said? Perhaps you erred?
One of the most often cited Torah verses is "Justice, justice shall you pursue". Precisely, what is intended by this mitzvah to seek justice?
In order to understand this pillar of Jewish living, we will investigate the linguistic uses of "Tsedek" or "Justice" in different contexts.
צדק -- justice