“Justice, justice, shall you pursue.” These are, without a doubt, the most memorable lines from this week’s Torah portion, parshat Shofetim. The entire parsha is devoted to the theme of justice, in civilian terms, as well as when it comes to leadership of the community. The word “shofetim” itself means, Judges, and the opening lines of our parsha explain that we must set such guardians of justice at our gates. It outlines the obligations of these upholders-of-the-law (to be fair in both the pursuit of tzedek, legal procedure, as well as mishpat, justice as a “cosmic principle that maintains harmony in the world and makes possible the world’s continued existence.” (Kushner, Eitz Chayim Torah Commentary). No small feat for those appointed with the task.
A later commentary, written by 16th/17th Century scholar, Isaiah Horowitz, suggests that we, as individual members of society, also have a role to play in the maintenance of these ideals of justice. He teaches that we must set guardians at the gates of our souls: namely, our mouths, our ears, and our eyes. Our mouths, he says, “that we do not lie or speak malicious gossip.” Our ears, “that we not be eager to hear malicious gossip.” Our eyes, “that we not form the habit of seeing the worst in others.” (Horowitz, Sh’nei Luchot HaBrit).
The work of upholding tzedek & misphat is not only up to the officials, it is incumbent upon us all to bear in mind a measure of compassion and sympathy in our judgment. In this week’s parsha we are reminded of our obligation to pursue justice with effort and eagerness in our daily lives, in our one-on-one interactions with friends, family and stranger alike, and to uphold the importance of caring for one another within that framework.
– Rabbi Callie Schulman