True Justice

August 16, 2009

5 min read


Shoftim (Deuteronomy 16:18-21:9 )

In order for there to be peace, there has to be judges and judgment. Being a judge is one of the harder jobs in the world, yet it must be done. We could, theoretically, leave everything up to God. After all, He knows best how to judge people. He knows the truth. He knows our motivations. Let Him decide how and when to meet out justice.

Philosophically that may sound fine, but God instructed us to have judges and courts. He wants us to establish our own system of justice, even though He'll have His way with all the other details of judgment. We have principles to guide our justice. We want to express ourselves as a just society. But if human beings are fallible, then sometimes a judge is bound to make a mistake. Sometimes we won't know all the facts and there will be injustice. What happens then?

Then God's infinite wisdom kicks in and He settles things the way He wants to. Nothing gets unnoticed. Nothing is left unbalanced. Every detail of life is taken into consideration and brought in line with Divine justice. We need a court to decide whether or not O.J. Simpson is guilty of murder. But if he is guilty, and the system pronounces him innocent, he will still meet his ultimate justice - if not in this world, then the next.


When we look at the details of life, we find that the Torah often asks us to look at them from a different perspective than we naturally would. If you think about a secular court system, you want it to take care of victims, protect the innocent, punish perpetrators of evil deeds, and create as much justice in our society as possible. It's a very different viewpoint to look at civil justice as merely an expression of justice rather than taking justice into our hands.

Life is precious. People are precious. We do have to protect people when we can. But people that really want to get around the system, often can. That's up to God. He is really the only one who can judge human beings. We have to do something, but we aren't the ultimate judge and jury.

God really does run the world, despite that fact that He often makes it seem that we're running things. It's His world, and we live in it. As long as we're following His instructions everything runs fine. When we don't follow His instructions, things get unnecessarily complicated.


Right now, in our generation, things seem pretty messed up.

The answer to "what can we do" is both simple and complex. How many problems can you name? It's too many to count. And each problem is different and difficult.

Yet there are simple things we can do that have a ripple effect on the world. Little things that mean a lot.

Hidden inside every one of the Torah's 613 commandments is a principle, a guiding concept that allows us to fulfill the commandment in many more situations than is implied. Many of the commandments are seemingly restricted to certain people or at certain times. Some are only for kohanim, some for women, some for farmers, some only in Israel, some only when there is a Holy Temple, etc. So why do we refer to the 613 as if they all apply to all of us? Because of the principles. Each command is a wavelength that will unite you with the Infinite, whether or not it specifically applies to you.

For example, Deuteronomy 20:19 is a command not to cut down a fruit tree at war. If you don't go to war, and don't have the urge to cut down a fruit tree during a siege, the command seemingly doesn't apply to you.

The Sages say the Torah is teaching more than that. The Torah is trying to inculcate us with a character trait that values beneficial things. A fruit tree is a benefit to many. It shouldn't be destroyed without a very good reason. If you take this principle a bit farther, you won't be inclined to throw away anything useful. You won't be inclined to waste resources. You won't ask for the plastic bag at the store when you could easily carry the four-pack of AAA batteries (with the receipt) out in your hand.

The Sefer HaChinuch says that some holy people are careful with the tiniest objects, even a grain of rice, not to destroy it or throw it away without sufficient cause.

In the U.S. which has been labeled a "throw away society," it seems we have developed a character trait which in a subtle way takes us away from God. Is it possible that some of society's other ills are a ripple effect from our lack of appreciation of useful material?

Spiritual Exercise:

Take something of use in your house that's not being used, and find an appropriate use for it. Or give it to someone who can use it.

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