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Blog - Torah Insights

Justice

This weeks Torah portion begins with Moshe’s eloquent cry to the Jewish people to establish courts and to pursue justice:  

You shall set up judges and law enforcement officials for yourself in all your cities that the Lord, your God, is giving you, for your tribes, and they shall judge the people [with] righteous judgment.

You shall not pervert justice; you shall not show favoritism, and you shall not take a bribe, for bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and perverts just words.

Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may live and possess the land the Lord, your God, is giving you.

All agree that justice is important, but justice is elusive. Even in this great country, in the 21st century, there are serious questions whether our criminal justice system is the best we could do to establish justice, or whether we have a long way to go to ensure that every individual can expect receive a fair trial.  

When writing, it’s effective to save the most  powerful point for last. The last sentence is your chance to emphasize your point and to shape the impression your reader will ‘take away’.

The last section of this week's Torah reading is where the Torah highlights it’s understanding of the true test of justice: will society protect the most vulnerable, lonely, least respected, and even unknown members of society?

When an unknown victim is found slain, do we ignore him because there is no one to lobby for justice, or, as the Torah demands, do we force the most prominent members of society to come down to the crime scene, to investigate, to declare that they did not ignore the plight of this person, and to force the story into the headlines?

As the Torah puts it:

If a slain person be found in the land which the Lord, your God is giving you to possess, lying in the field, [and] it is not known who slew him.

Then your elders and judges shall go forth, and they shall measure to the cities around the corpse.

And it will be, [that from] the city closer to the corpse, the elders of that city shall take a calf with which work has never been done, [and] that has never drawn a yoke,

And the elders of that city shall bring the calf down to a rugged valley, which was neither tilled nor sown, and there in the valley, they shall decapitate the calf.

.... And they shall announce and say, "Our hands did not shed this blood, nor did our eyes see [this crime]."

The Torah understands that the test of justice is not “at your gates”, not how we treat the prominent members of society, rather the test of justice is whether the “elders and judges” will leave their ivory tower, leave the city, and search for justice for the unknown stranger.

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