September 2, 2022
This week’s Torah portion, Shoftim (“Judges”), opens with the theme of justice, law, and being reminded of how to live as a virtuous society. We read the famous verse “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Tzedek, Tzedek tirdoff), Deuteronomy 16:20, which is a founding principle of most legal systems.
Yet, as is often the case, the Torah rarely presents one way to approach any scenario, especially if the subject matter is how to live one’s life. Therefore, as expected, a few chapters later in this same Torah portion, we read, “Love your Gd, and walk in Gd’s ways” (19:9). The verse that our sages explain, highlights our mercifulness and ability to demonstrate kindness, love, and compassion.
Following our Jewish teachings is not intended to be easy. The balance of justice and mercy is another example of two competing ideals that define our daily struggle. Justice, accountability, and responsibility are intended to drive us to solve the unanswerable. Mercy, compassion, and empathy are intended to remind us of our imperfections and fallibility.
At this time of year, during the Hebrew month of Elul, as we stride ever closer to the High Holy Days every day, we each struggle to “right our wrongs” and reach out to those whom we might have mistreated. Conversely, while we seek mercy from others, this week’s Torah portion is also an important reminder that we should equally remember to balance our desire for justice from those who might have wronged us.
There was a king who had an exquisite crystal chalice made for him out of the finest and most precious glass created. The king pondered, “If I pour hot water into the goblet, it will expand and burst; yet, if I pour cold water, it will contract and break.”
So, what did he do? He mixed cold and hot water and poured them in together so that the glass remained unbroken.
Likewise, the Holy One said, “If I create the world with the attribute of mercy alone, its sins will be too many; yet, if I create it with justice alone, how could the world be expected to exist? So, I will create it with both justice and mercy, and may it endure!”
It is said that Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg z”l had a painting of the biblical verse “Tzedek, Tzedek tirdoff” in her judge’s chambers to not only remind her of the balance of justice but also to remind every visitor who stepped into her chambers. RBG passed almost two years ago on Erev Rosh Hashanah 5781. Jewish teaching teaches that those who die just before the Jewish new year are the ones whom Gd grants the ability to stay with us until the last moment because we needed them here as long as possible. These honorable lives are even referred to as tzadikim (from the same root word as Tzedek), righteous ones of great virtue.
This weekend, may we all continue to reach out to our loved ones, our neighbors, and our friends and nurture those relationships, right any wrongs, and forgive those who might have wronged us; because we are…