Deuteronomy 16:18 begins one of the more famous, and very contemporary, portions in our cycle. “Shoftim” speaks about a variety of issues including the usual prohibitions against idolatry, testimony in capital cases, false prophets and a discussion on the role of the king. (see also I Samuel 8). But, without a doubt, the most famous of the passages in “Shoftim” comes from the beginning, when Moses discusses the appointment of judges and tells the people “tzedek tzedek tirdof” “justice, justice shall you pursue” (18:20) This one line, so often quoted, has been looked at for centuries by commentators. It speaks, according to many, not only of the “letter” of the law but also the “spirit”. A society must be run from a basis of equality, fairness and non bias. Indeed, the opening verses of “Shoftim” reinforce this ideal of impartiality: the goal is always, to put this in to current election year speak: “no pay for play”! Justice meant no bribes, no undue influence.
Now, let’s look at an interesting idea. the word “tzedek” is repeated. The Torah could have said simply “pursue justice”. But, justice is repeated, and many have asked, “why?”. At a regular mid-week Torah class at a local JCC, we discussed this with a multi generational class. Chanelling some commentators, some of the students suggested that this second “tzedek” could also apply internally. We are asked to pursue justice in the world at large (“tikkun olom”). This we know as a basic aspect of Jewish thought. Perhaps this verse can also be seen as a command to pursue justice within our own self. Perhaps this can be an interpretation of a subject that we have discussed on Jewish Sacred Aging, that of what some call “tikkun ha’nefesh”, the care and repair of our own self.
This can have distinct application to us. This interpretation can mean that, as we reflect upon our own life and choices, we may come to understand that some/many of our choices in life have been influenced by so many outside forces. Did we choose this to please a parent, to conform to what we “thought” we needed? Were our choices “bribed” by issues that went against our own true self? In the discussion between mind and heart, did we too often follow our mind and reject what we felt (or knew) was right in our soul, only to come to regret those choices? Some call this “rationalization”.
I ask you consider this little interpretation. That second “tzedek” may be speaking to us, to our own soul, to a call to each of us to free our self to make life choices that celebrates our true self, that follows our heart and soul and speaks to our own true moral compass. The confluence of “tikkin olom” and “tikkin ha’nefesh” can bring about a sense of wholeness that can propel us to a sacred future. “Tzedek, tzedek, Tirdof!!”
Rabbi Richard F Address
Rabbi Richard F. Address, D.Min, is the Founder and Director of www.jewishsacredaging.com. Rabbi Address served for over three decades on staff of the Union for Reform Judaism; first as a Regional Director and then, beginning in 1997, as Founder and Director of the URJ’s Department of Jewish Family Concerns and served as a specialist and consultant for the North American Reform Movement in the areas of family related programming. Rabbi Address was ordained from Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in 1972 and began his rabbinic career in Los Angeles congregations. He also served as a part time rabbi for Beth Hillel in Carmel, NJ while regional director and, after his URJ tenure, served as senior rabbi of Congregation M’kor Shalom in Cherry Hill, NJ from 2011-2014.