Our Parasha features the laws regarding the arrangement of the Jewish Judicial system; laws such as the requirement to appoint judges and the testimonial laws. The Midrash, on the opening verses of our Parasha, emphasizes that these verses are direct orders from Moshe to the judges, and to the Nation, who are commanded to properly make-use of this system as to ensure its smooth administration. The Sifri interprets the verse of “Justice, justice shall you pursue” {Devarim 16:20} as “Seek after a proper court of law.” This is guidance to opponents in judgment; they should bring their case before a “proper court”, that is, one with a reputation of passing honest judgment only.

The Siftei Chachamim points out that according to the Sifri’s interpretation of this verse, the commandment of “Justice, justice shall you pursue” at the beginning of the verse is not consistent with Moshe’s promise in its conclusion, “…So that you may live and take possession of the Land which Hashem, your G-D, is giving you.” Moshe would certainly not base the Nation’s settlement of the Landof Israelon such a subjective condition, whereas only when the Jews are in need of judgment to settle a case would this commandment apply. If the Jews were living harmoniously amongst themselves and had no need to seek judgment, in what merit would they settle the Land, if the commandment of “Justice, justice shall you pursue” does not apply? This is conceivably the reason why Rashi interprets the words “…So that you may live and take possession of the Land which Hashem, your G-D, is giving you” as referring to the first verse of the Parasha and not the beginning of the same verse. He explains that, “The appointment of suitable judges is sufficient to keep Israelalive and to settle them upon their Land”– the establishment of a straight and honest judicial system is the key to an orderly Nation able to inhabit Its Land. According to Rashi, Moshe is not promising the successful settlement of the Land on condition that they bring their case before a “proper court”, rather on condition that an honest judicial system is appointed, which could potentially pass honest judgment in the case of need.

Understanding these verses contextually could open a gateway to their much broader meaning. The Seforno, in his introduction to our Parasha, remarks that after having commanded the Nation of the general commandments, those Mitzvot which apply to all, Moshe now moves on to establish the institutions which will serve as the backbone of the Jewish Nation that will establish itself across the Jordan; the judicial system being the most significant of them.

This construal is expanded upon by R’ Samson Raphael Hirsch who, in his commentary, concludes that the opening verses of our Parasha are directed towards the elected authorities responsible for appointing the judges – they should appoint honest and righteous judges who are suitable for this position. Moshe’s guidelines regarding administration of the State shines light on the general outlook that the Torah wanted to present to us in this sphere. The judicial system is meant to be affective and efficient, and it is in this vein that Rebbi Eliezer ben Shamua stated in the Psikta that “If there are officers then there are judges. If there are no officers, then there are no judges.” Without efficient law enforcement and application of the law, then the passed judgment is empty and the court’s authority over the people is merely theoretical. This authority will not, and cannot be achieved under a crooked judicial system, one which bends and twists the law or accepts bribes; only with honest and righteous law can this authority be attained. The effectiveness and the authority of the judicial system can only be achieved if the officials responsible for appointing the judges and officers seek after and appoint those persons rightly appropriate for these pivotal positions.

The question can be asked on this explanation, why did Moshe include these officials in commandments, which seemingly are directed towards the judges and the Nation? To this R’ Hirsch answers that these verses are coming to teach a new, fundamental concept in communal life that is “communal responsibility”.

The elected officials must appoint people who are not only honest and righteous, but who pursue and seek the truth in everything they do. This is the meaning of the commandment of “Justice, justice shall you pursue – Seek after a proper court of law” – and do not appoint as authoritative figures people who will pass deceptive judgment, by twisting and bending the law or by taking bribes.