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Justice Behind It All Torah Talk on Shoftim 5778

This week’s portion, from Deuteronomy, is called Shoftim, judges. It establishes a process for the administration of justice, and includes one of the most powerful statements in all religious, philosophical, or ethical tradition: tzedek, tzedek, tirdof, Justice, justice you shall pursue.

In the Torah, which has no kefel lashon, no extra words, a repetition of a word means that it has additional importance and power. Here, the word for justice, tzedek is repeated, emphasizing that justice is extraordinarily significant. We must be not only fair in life, but truly just. We must find a way to remove our own ego needs in any judging situation and seek not self-justification but true justice.

Sometimes we must even admit that our processes of justice can result in unjust decisions and unfair punishments. That, too, is part of seeking true justice, of being just.

But even more than that, the Torah teaches that we must not only be just, but tirdof, pursue justice, chase after it, make it a goal for our own lives and our civilization. It’s not enough to act well in a place where justice is not the norm; we must strive to change an unjust situation into a just one.

Tzedek, tzedek tirdof—each of us must pursue true justice.

It’s easy to understand that for Jews justice underlies everything good in a society. Without justice there is no peace; without justice, there is no morality; without justice we simply can’t trust our leaders or our government to act well. Sometimes we need to be forcibly reminded that on many issues injustice still remains. We must continue to work seriously to rectify this and so to pursue justice.

Be just, God commands. Never accept injustice as a permanent condition of life. Seek—no, chase—justice, in your own life. Strive for justice in your organizations and institutions. Work for justice in your society—and then good can follow.

It is a great and holy message in a society like ours, in which the pursuit of happiness sometimes seems to be the ultimate goal. But the better pursuit—indeed, the most meaningful real pursuit for us—is justice.

May our actions, and our words, help to make our society more just in this week and in the coming new year of 5779, now less than a month away.

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