Due Justice

Posted on August 13, 2021 by Harold Levin

The following verses resonate loudly to me from this week’s Parsha,¬†Shoftim, from the book of Deuteronomy (16:18-20):

(18) You shall appoint magistrates and officials for your tribes, in all the settlements that the Lord your God is giving you, and they shall govern the people with due justice.
(19) You shall not judge unfairly; you shall show no partiality; you shall not take bribes, for bribes blind the eyes of the discerning and upset the plea of the just.
(20) Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord your God is giving you.

Due justice stands out to me as something which needs to happen anytime there is a question as to whether or not a wrongdoing has occurred. Is due justice always carried out properly? That is an issue which could certainly stimulate hours of lively debate! God definitely set out to ensure this would constantly be the case but interpretation of due justice most definitely is practiced differently by the people charged with enforcing it. The eyes of the beholder definitely impact how justice is distributed.

From the tractate Derekh Eretz, (Pirkei Ben Azzai 3:3), I share the following statement with you, “People should always be in your eyes like thieves, but honor them like Rabban Gamliel.”

The tractate incudes the story of Rabbi Yehoshua, who allows a wayfarer into his home, gives him to eat and drink and then shows him his sleeping quarters in the attic. However, Rabbi Yehoshua secretly removes the ladder to the attic afterwards. During the night, the guest takes all the valuables from the attic and attempts a quick escape. Failing to notice that the ladder has been removed, he falls and is injured. In the morning, Rabbi Yehoshua found him on the ground and berates him: “Fool, you aroused our suspicions last night!”

The passage concludes by reiterating this teaching of Rabbi Yehoshua: though he might have honored the guest as if he were a prince, nevertheless Rabbi Yehoshua was as careful with him as if the guest were a robber, which in fact he was. This is an interesting depiction of how to carefully assess when justice needs to be enforced. Certainly, a surprise guest was welcomed into his home by Rabbi Yehoshua, but, something told him not to let his guard down. I understand completely the need to protect one’s belongings, household, and family, but I worry about the unintentional ramifications.

The authorities put in place to administer justice such as police officers, judges, district attorneys, etc. need to be properly instructed as to how they should carry out justice. Someone needs to guide them in how to do this, someone with the intentions which God bestowed upon his people. Fairness and impartiality need to be exercised consistently and at all times. Quite honestly, this is not happening globally and, I am pretty sure, not within our nation to the level it once was.

Maya Angelou’s words fit well today. She wrote that “It is impossible to struggle for civil rights, equal rights for blacks, without including whites. Because equal rights, fair play, justice, are all like the air: we all have it, or none of us has it. That is the truth of it.”

Let us hold out hope that her words do come true in the near future and that all of us do get the chance to enjoy equal rights, fair play and justice and that:

“Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the Lord you God is giving you.”

Shabbat Shalom!

Harold Levin