Former Shaliach in Cape Town (2001-02)
Currently a Tour guide at the Tower of David Museum


This week’s Parsha talks about the way a nation should build a state and governing system; in the Parsha we can see a wide array of subject that touch on the same theme: the appointment of judges and police officers, how to run a court, the king and his authority, the statues of Cohanim and Levi’im, how to declare war and how to act during a battle, and even the elders responsibility to their constituents.

One of the first verses of the Parsha says: “Justice, justice shall you pursue, that you may thrive and occupy the land that the LORD your God is giving you.” (Deuteronomy 16, 20)
There is a question about this verse – why is the word justice is mentioned twice? Rashi explain that one should always look for a ‘nice’ Beit Din (Beit Din Yaffeh), but what is the meaning of a ‘nice’ court? How is the court’s beauty relevant to the matter?
We can say that nice here is not about appearance, but rather it is the opposite of ‘unclear’. Or in other words, transparent. Thus, one should look for a Beit Din that gives clear verdicts.
From Rashi’s commentary on the second half of the verse, we can add another criteria. Rashi says: ‘it is a good thing to appoint reliable judges who can revive the people of Israel and settled them on their land’.
We can learn from here that we must appoint a Beit Din that has the power to settle disagreements, which will make the people of Israel flourish in their land.

I would like to add another idea, in another verse in the Parsha it is says: “You shall act in accordance with the instructions given you and the ruling handed down to you; you must not deviate from the verdict that they announce to you either to the right or to the left.” (Deuteronomy 17, 11)
Rashi explains that one must always listen to the judges, even when they say that right is left and left is right. What is the meaning of listening to such an order, which is against all reason? Furthermore, surely sometimes one must refuse to unjust or obviously incorrect rulings!.
Moreover, Rashi in his commentary quotes the Sifri, but that is not a binding Halachik ruling, so why does Rashi explains the verse like that?
To answer that we need to remember Rashi’s commentary of the verse we mentioned earlier: it is a good thing to appoint reliable judges who can revive the people of Israel and settled them on their land. The aim of appointing good and decent judges is to establish a just society in The Land of Israel; this is why we must pursue justice. But sometimes in the Galut, when it is difficult, we need to listen to the judges even if they say on right that it is left.

I would like to offer another idea to explain the repetition of the word ‘justice’. The Netziv from Valozhyn explains that justice is written twice because one is for Din – a ruling by the letter of the law, and one is for Pshara – a compromise. Thus, the judge should attempt to reach a compromise when he gives his verdict. But this is also not understandable; how we can force someone to compromise when he does not want to?
Moreover, once there is a ruling we must obey, so it does not matter if we reached an agreed upon compromise or not.

The Netziv explains that in many cases we do not necessarily know wit certainty what the correct judgement is, and therefore we should seek a compromise instead. Based on that, we can also understand what the sages mean when they say that the Second Temple was destroyed because ‘their statements were based on Divrey Torah’ – they insisted to follow the letter of the law, even when they did not necessarily understand it, instead of looking for compromise.  

 

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