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The Neverending Pursuit

Last week's Torah portion(Re'eh)taught the importance of seeing that all the commandments--especially the seemingly minor mitzvoth--are given equal weight. That idea is expanded in Parashat Shoftim (Deut.16:18-21:9)wherein Israel, and really, all nations are reminded to, "Pursue justice, justice" so that each individual is seen as equal before the law--without consideration to one's social or economic status. The repetition of the word, "justice", conveys many concepts including honoring the letter of the law, yet remaining merciful. God expects our appointed judges to issue rulings mercifully because HaShem is just and merciful to each and every one of us. These days we wonder why so many of those on the bench seem incapable of recognizing what is actually just. But, the Torah tells us why: "A bribe blinds the eyes of the wise."

Torah justice is a template for building Israel into a model for all nations.

In Shoftim, Israel is warned regarding false prophets or soothsayers because God will send them true prophets, "From among your own people, your God will raise up for you a prophet like myself; that is whom you shall heed." Avraham Avinu was the first person in the Torah to be called a prophet. We see this in Genesis 20:7 when God tells the gentile King Avimelech that Avraham, “…is a prophet and will pray for you.” And though the patriarch is known for his compassion for everyone, his pursuit of justice is evidenced in equal measure. This is seen when Avraham gathered a team of men to rescue his nephew Lot.

Avraham's balance of justice and kindness is the very reason he was chosen as the progenitor of the 12 Tribes of Israel, because he would "command his children and his household after him to keep the way of the Lord by doing righteousness and justice" (Genesis 18:19)

Shoftim concludes with the teaching of the Eglah Arufah, which is the pursuit of justice even for a murder victim found outside the city, without benefit of witnesses or even a suspect. This mysterious ceremony in which a young ox is slain in a field that cannot be tilled or planted, serves as a reminder that the pursuit of justice never stops and is the shared responsibility of everyone in the community. The constant pursuit of justice is paramount to the future of every nation but especially necessary for the eventual Redemption of Israel. As Isaiah 1:27 promises, "Zion shall be redeemed with justice, and those who return to her with righteousness."

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