"Tzedek, Tzedek, tirdof." "Justice, justice shall you pursue." How much has been written over the centuries about these three little words in the Torah. Is "tzedek" used twice just for emphasis, or is there a deeper reason? Rashi suggests it teaches us to go to a court that we know to be a good and fair one. It has even been suggested that the it could be interpreted as mean "justice alone" or "only justice" shall you pursue.
Yes, contextually, translating "tzedek" as "justice" makes sense, but are we really capturing the flavor and meaning of these words when we render "tzedek" as justice and not in the more broader sense of its many meanings all stemming from its root meaning of "righteous" ?
Of course, one might ask if "right-ness" or "righteousness" is a broader or more narrower concept than "justice." A fair and intriguing question. Apples and oranges, some might say. I think not--the concepts are all intertwined. We can have justice without righteousness. We can also have righteousness without justice. So it's not as easy as one might think to determine what, it anything, differs between these two ideas.
My personal favorite in understanding the repetition of tzedek, is that it signifies that we must be proactive in our pursuit of justice. We cannot sit idly by when we see injustice. Justice is the responsibility of all of us, not just the judges and the courts.
Yet how often we do sit idly by. Injustice is all around us, and we turn a blind eye, or say there is nothing we can do, or ignore it and pretend it will go away, or say it is not our fault. If all of us do this, who will be there to insure that justice is pursued?
No, my friends, we must not be silent in the face on injustice, in whatever form it takes, and wherever we see it. Being so outspoken could make one pretty unpopular, but it is the price we pay for our covenant, and the rewards it brings us.
Sometimes, those rewards are less than our original hopes. Yet still worthwhile. I again cite the story oft told by Elie Weisel of the one righteous man of S'dom who walked the streets in protest every day against the injustice in his city. He was derided, laughed at, pummeled with fruit. Yet day after day he pursued his cause. One day, a young person came up to him an asked "Why do you continue your protest...can't you see that nobody is paying attention to you?" The righteous man answered "At first, I thought I would change the people and the city. Today, I know I cannot. By continuing my protest, though, I'll keep them from changing me."
Do we simply go with the flow, and allow ourselves, our heritage, our cherished values to be swept up in the tide that is modern society and culture? Do we allow injustice to continue? Or, like Weisel's righteous man, do we keep up our protest so that we might maintain ourselves as best we can against the storm that rages all about us?
To pursue justice for all, we must insure that we ourselves are just. When we succumb to the culture that justifies so many injustices, what are we? It's hard to be a Jew. It's hard to be a righteous person, period, regardless of your religion or belief system. Yet this is what Gd calls upon us to do.
We often ask "where is Gd?" "What is Gd saying to us now?" "Has Gd gone silent?" I say no, we're just not listening, or using selective hearing. Gd's command cries out to us across infinite time and space. "Tzedek, tzedek" shall you pursue. The time to heed that call is now, and at every moment.
Shabbat is normally a time to pursue rest. Yet even Shabbat is no time to be passive in our pursuit of justice. This Shabbat, spend some time examining the world about you. Notice the injustice. And commit to speaking out about them. It will be worthy repayment for Gd's gift of Shabbat. Go, pursue justice.
©2003 by Adrian A. Durlester
Some previous musings on the same parasha
Shof'tim 5761-Sacrifice: From Defective to Greatest
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