Shoftim and Justice


צֶדֶק צֶדֶק, תִּרְדֹּף

‘Justice, justice you shall pursue’.

This shabbat we read parshat Shoftim, the 48th weekly Torah portion in the annual cycle of Torah reading. The line above is found at the beginning of the parshah.

We believe that no letter or word is superfluous in the Torah, so why the repetition of the word “justice” in the line above?

Tradition suggests that the word tzedek refers both to formal and distributive justice. Formal justice refers to fair courts and procedures while distributive justice means making sure that every person has the minimum of what is necessary to live.

It is this latter kind of justice that forms the basis of the Jewish obligation of tzedakah – often mistranslated as charity but really indicating a just (tzedek) distribution of resources, a religious obligation.

Because of the way the annual cycle of Torah reading is organized, parshat Shoftim is always read the first shabbat of the month of Elul, the month when we are expected to prepare for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – currently known in English as the High Holidays.

The High Holiday liturgy repeatedly states that God has inscribed a judgment against all who have sinned, but teshuvah (repentance), tefilah (prayer) and tzedakah are the three paths which lead to a year “written and sealed” for good.

“Teshuva is a return to one’s true path. … Prayer is returning to God. Charity is actively expressing our concern for others”. (Shimon Apisdorf in Rosh Hashanah Yom Kippur Survival Kit)

In this light it seems quite fitting to read a parshah that reminds us of this imperative. What better time than the beginning of a New Year to reassess what we give and to whom?

So now, as one year ends and a new one begins, let the first check you write this year be to a charitable organization. ” (Rabbi Joseph Telushkin in The Book of Jewish Values)

For a different approach of this repetition in the parshah, you can also turn to Leora’s blog.

Bad News for the Jews

Anti-Semitic, anti-Muslim and fascists slogans and graffiti were sprayed on the walls of a French junior high school last week. It is probably no coincidence that the school is named after René Cassin, the man who drafted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Judging from the slogans, which included references to White Power, the culprits must be extreme-right activists.

– Three young Jewish boys were attacked and beaten up by a group of ten teenagers yesterday evening on their way to shul. This happened in the same district as the June attack. The youngsters said their aggressors attacked them because they had “the traditional Jewish profile” and wore kippot.
I’ll provide update when I have more information.

– The theological commission of the World Evangelical Alliance has reiterated its commitment to proselytize European Jews. One may wonder what the WEA was thinking when they decided to issue their call from Berlin.

Nota Bene: The link provided for the last news is to a Jewish site, no need to boost the WEA’s readership.