This week’s Parasha contains a very popular phrase, possibly the next most popular mantra of the Jewish people (after the Shmah Yisrael) , especially in our day. “Tzedek tzedek tirdof….” (Devarim 16:20). Some translate it as “Justice, justice shall you pursue.” Others translate it as “Righteousness, righteousness shall you pursue.” The nuances of the translation are enormous. When are justice and righteousness the same thing? When are they different? Is justice a strict application of the law? Or, might justice require an understanding and application of the “spirit” of a law? These are relevant, philosophical issues debated today and every day.
As a people we are and historically have been focused on justice and righteousness for ALL people, not just the Jewish people. It is no wonder that Jews have been on the forefront of EVERY cause for human rights and social action around the world.
The question is always asked why the words “justice” or “righteousness” are repeated in the famous phrase. Is it to get the reader’s attention? Is it for emphasis? Is it a typo? The interpretation that I like best is that the Torah is telling us that we must use justice to pursue justice or righteousness to pursue righteousness. It is not enough to say that our goal is lofty, meaningful, helpful or even holy, if other Torah values such as respect and truth must be disregarded to achieve them. Jews never have believed that the ends justify the means.
Our Torah command to pursue justice or righteousness is a hallmark of our faith, peoplehood and raison d’etre for the Jewish people and part of our mission and prime directive. This is and should be a great source of pride to our people.
* I always welcome your thoughts and comments.