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לימוד תורה

Justice, justice shall you pursue

The Parasha in our everyday life – Parashat Shoftim 5782

Rabbi Eliezer Shenvald - Head of the Hesder Yeshiva 'Meir Harel' Modiin

The calendar is studded with dates that evoke memories, thoughts and lessons learned every year. On August 14th, 2006 (20th Av) finished the Second Lebanon War, and the cease-fire came into effect, after 34 days of fighting. Every year around this date, an image of the day the war ended reappears out of the "bottom drawer" of the Northern Command. The commanders' conversations and feelings of frustration; the moods and cynicism in Israeli society. But this is not the only memory. The memory of the intense experience of working together - shoulder to shoulder, day and night, with the wonderful, dedicated and talented people, who for more than a month tried to do their best for the State of Israel.

In unusual timing, this year on Wednesday the 20th of Av 5782, the media dealt with the court's ruling, which ordered the cancellation of the state witness identity publication ban, who was recruited to incriminate Brigadier General Gal Hirsh, allegedly claiming tax evasion. The ruling was another step in Gal's fight in a case that has been ongoing with a court order for more than seven years! Under torture!...

Some of the images that appear on this day are also the pictures taken with the commanders in that war, during the difficult hours, while fighting, in the field, and in headquarters under missile barrages. And also, the memory of the meetings with Gal as the commander of the division, Operation Room and in the field. And on this day, people watched and missed. A sense of iniquity and injustice, to the man whom the State of Israel owes so much, due to his security actions.

It was difficult not to associate this with the difficult feeling of many people, following the shocking revelation a few weeks before, of a former senior officer at The Department of Internal Police Investigations, first-hand, of what happens behind the scenes in the Israeli Prosecution System. It undermines the public's trust in the judicial system. One of the most important systems in any society. And the sense of responsibility and commitment to the fate of the country.

In our Parasha, the Torah commands the establishment of the legal system in the land before entering the Land of Israel:

שֹׁפְטִים וְשֹׁטְרִים תִּתֶּן לְךָ בְּכָל שְׁעָרֶיךָ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ לִשְׁבָטֶיךָ וְשָׁפְטוּ אֶת הָעָם מִשְׁפַּט צֶדֶק. לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפָּט לֹא תַכִּיר פָּנִים ... צֶדֶק צֶדֶק תִּרְדֹּף לְמַעַן תִּחְיֶה וְיָרַשְׁתָּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר ה' אֱלֹקיךָ נֹתֵן לָךְ.

“You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that Hashem your G-d is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice. You shall not judge unfairly: you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just. Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that Hashem your G-d is giving you”. (Devarim 16:18-20).

This is where the Rambam learned about the obligation to establish the legal system in Israel (Sanhedrin Laws 1a). The Torah defines and emphasizes the mission of the legal system: 'to judge just'. This is supposed to be the guiding principle in selecting people for the legal system:

כשתתן לך שופטים אתה הממנה את השופטים בחר את היותר שופטי צדק

“When you are about to put this legislation into practice, the party in charge of appointing such judges is told by Moshe to select only those who are already known for their sense of fair play and righteousness”. (Sforno ibid). The attribute of justice also prevails over the existence of other judicial attributes.

This is also the obligation of the judges and members of the system to be careful about doing justice:

וטעם הכפל לומר הדיינין צריכין שישפטו את העם משפט צדק וגם אתה צריך לרדוף הצדק תמיד…

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…” (Ramban ibid).

From this verse the Gemara learned that the judicial system should not only act according to the law but also to the extent of the compromise:

כדתניא צדק צדק תרדף אחד לדין ואחד לפשרה

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”. (Sanhedrin 32b)

צדק דין שלך וצדק פשרה שלך לפי ראות עיניך ולא תרדוף את האחד יותר מחבירו:

"Justice is your judgment and justice is your compromise as you see fit and you will not persecute the one more than his fellow”. (Rashi ibid),

גם בפשרה צריך לעשות צדק, שהמפשר לא ירדוף את האחד יותר מהשני

"Even in a compromise one should do justice, not to persecute one more than the other! (HaTur).

And in general, the judicial system should be careful about justice and equality before the law and not create selective enforcement. And certainly not use it as a tool, by biasing the law, to intervene and influence areas that are not within its jurisdiction.

The Rambam also teaches that the obligation to establish a legal system is precisely in Israel and not abroad (Sanhedrin 1b, contrary to the Ramban, in our Parasha in verse 18). There, we see an obligation to do justice without establishing a system. However, from these verses more is implied. That the establishment of a judicial system is the guarantee for the existence of society and the stability of the kingdom in the land:

לְמַ֤עַן תִּֽחְיֶה֙ וְיָרַשְׁתָּ֣ אֶת־הָאָ֔רֶץ - כְּדַאי הוּא מִנּוּי הַדַּיָּנִין הַכְּשֵׁרִים לְהַחֲיוֹת אֶת יִשְׂרָאֵל וּלְהוֹשִׁיבָן עַל אַדְמָתָן

“That you may thrive and occupy the land - The appointment of honest judges is sufficient merit to keep Israel in life and to settle them in security in their land” (Rashi ibid).

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